Q: Restaurants are reopening, but you still have anxiety about the coronavirus. How should you respond when friends want to get together at a restaurant?
A: What I see happening as people develop quarantine fatigue is a battle between FOMO (fear of missing out) and FOGO (fear of going out). Which fear is more likely to rule the day has to do with each person’s psychology and perception of risk.
There is data-driven science that indicates that going to a public place where you will not completely social distance and you will not mask, in order to eat, comes with some risk of contracting COVID-19. How much risk will vary. And the way individuals confront the risk can depend on how they handle their fears.
Knowing that you are potentially exposing yourself and, thereby, your loved ones to COVID-19 by dining and being served by a group of strangers, you might decide not to do it to avoid the danger. Or you might decide that the risk is tiny and “to heck with it” — you will charge ahead and just do it.
What gets tricky is when the members of your group have different mechanisms for managing anxiety. One person wants to go to restaurants and bars, and another wants to avoid any situations that don’t permit social distancing and masking. Be willing to openly and nonjudgmentally share your feelings. Be understanding that these are highly stressful times that bring out myriad anxieties in most of us. Avoid blame and accusation, and don’t use peer pressure to try to force someone to change their mind.
Trust that you can talk and maintain a friendship, even when you choose to be different from one another or disagree. It’s OK to say you’re not comfortable yet, something that real friends will understand.
DR. GAIL SALTZ, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the “Personology” podcast from iHeartRadio.
A: There are a few ways you can respond, depending on what you think is the safest option for yourself and others. The important thing to keep in mind is that communication is crucial when we are adapting to new norms.
If you’re feeling anxious about getting together with your friends at a restaurant, you could let them know that as much as you would like to spend time with them in person, you would prefer to meet virtually to reduce the risk to everyone you come in contact with. If your friends decide to honor your decision and have a virtual dinner gathering, you can suggest some fun ideas, like ordering dessert to be delivered to your friends. Or set a budget and order food for one another like Secret Santa.
If you’re comfortable with meeting in person, but would prefer to meet outdoors rather than in an enclosed space, you can suggest picking up to-go orders separately from a restaurant and setting up a picnic outside with enough room for everyone to space themselves out.
If your friends insist that they want to get together at a restaurant, let them know you still have anxiety or concerns about gathering in an enclosed space. You should express your appreciation for their invitation and suggest they get together without you this time. Let them know that you’ll join them in the future when you feel more at ease about dining in a restaurant.
Etiquette post-COVID-19 isn’t just about being kind and respectful; it’s also about being considerate about other people’s health and safety by taking appropriate preventive steps. Remember to not be hypercritical of others and yourself, as we are all adapting to this new normal, especially since everyone is taking varying degrees of precautionary measures when it comes to their health and safety. In the end, the core values of etiquette, which are kindness, respect and courtesy, will continue to ring true.
BONNIE TSAI, etiquette expert and founder of Beyond Etiquette