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My fiancé and I are doctors in medical specialties affected by the coronavirus in a midsize US city. Like so many in health care and in the world beyond, we’ve spent the past few months horrified by this disease and shocked that some people don’t seem to be taking it seriously. Given that we regularly care for Covid-positive people at work, we recognize that we could be vectors, and we’ve been as vigilant as possible in our own lives.
My fiancé’s sister is getting married this month. Despite our frequently voiced discomfort, the current plan is for a 95-person wedding—grandparents and all!—with absolutely no Covid-19 precautions in the groom’s parents’ backyard (outside, at least, but their home will be open to everyone). The engaged couple get their news from far more conservative sources than we do, don’t know people who have been sick, and don’t think it can happen to them. Ideally, we could talk this out and end up with a wedding that, though perhaps not exactly what we would do, would at least feel a little more responsible. Unfortunately, it appears that will not happen, and their only concession has been to say that they will understand if we decide not to attend.
It feels as if any decision we make is wrong. My fiancé desperately wants to be at his sister’s wedding, but it is hard to imagine spending 36 hours in a series of situations that are risky and socially negligent. It’s also hard to imagine not being there at all. Do we go? If we do go, do we wear masks and attempt to physically distance despite the fact that this will be completely out of place and seen as a political statement? If we don’t go, how do we bow out gracefully while preserving what we can of our relationships?
—Believer in Science
I sympathize; decisions like this one are extremely stressful, especially when they involve people who don’t interpret the pandemic in the way that we do. As painful as it will be for your fiancé to skip his sister’s wedding, I don’t think you should go. It would be too stressful to enjoy and would put you and many others at risk. I also suspect you’d resent it in the long run, since your fiancé’s family has made no effort to meet you even partway. The only good news about their intransigence is that you now have nothing to feel guilty about. You and your boyfriend should send an especially nice gift and write the couple a heartfelt letter. In the letter, note that given your constant exposure at work, you’re worried about infecting family members and other wedding guests. Let the couple know you love them and that this has been a painful decision. Don’t reproach them for their ignorance or for being jerks about this. It’s their wedding, and you want a good relationship with the family in the long run. Emphasize that you’d love to take them to dinner or on a weekend away to celebrate their marriage when this is all over. Then don’t torture yourself any longer! Let it go.
One of my BFFs has a $3 million home in New York City and left it behind in March to ride out the pandemic with his family in a $7,000 per month house in the country, where he can work from home and live the life. I’m feeling much class resentment toward this friend, as my family can barely afford to live in the city and I have to breathe Covid-19 air at work every day. Said friend has a Wall Street job, which, in my eyes, is a job with no purpose other than to generate money for the rich. All I keep thinking is that the $7,000 a month could have been used to pay rent for three or four of the many needy families who now face eviction. But then I also think, “What if I had that kind of money? Maybe I would only think of myself and flee the city too.” What should I do with my feelings about this?
You’re right to feel resentful. It’s enraging that people whose work exists solely to enrich their fellow one-percenters get to ride out the pandemic safely and luxuriously, while essential workers like you, for all the cheering and hero worship tossed your way, struggle, risk your lives, and even die. The situation reveals the appalling logic of American-style capitalism.
To ease your resentment, you could demand that for every insensitive reference he makes to his garish lifestyle, whether on Instagram or in conversation, he must make a $1,000 contribution to an organization fighting evictions or to a union strike fund. If you don’t want to be so confrontational—for most Americans, class differences aren’t fodder for comfortable banter, even among close friends—consider gently turning his wealth to your advantage. Perhaps your family can use his fancy NYC home when he’s not there. Some families are riding out the pandemic together in pods, or groups of people who spend time indoors only with one another. Can you pod with his family, at least for the summer? This would enable you to get out of the city and enjoy their lovely country rental on the weekends you don’t need to be at work.
I love your effort to put yourself in his shoes, however, because it helps us get to the heart of the problem: Our system rewards selfishness. Now that he’s made money, your friend should quit and use his privilege to contribute to society—or at least give tons of money away. Suggesting that he do this might make you feel better, but in our present world, the risks and penalties for not being wealthy are so high (especially during a pandemic and an economic downturn) that it’s unlikely he will sacrifice all that much. Besides, capitalist men often morally justify their work by feeling good about how well they are providing for their families. Try persuading him to join a socialist organization as a high-end donor. That way he can contribute to the eventual elimination of his own parasitical class.
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