On a recent Saturday that Rebecca Wolfe said she spent at home, she was strolling along the beach with a man she met on Hinge — but her mother doesn’t need to know that.
Wolfe, 27, told her mom that she spent the evening watching movies with her roommate. In reality, the man she’s seeing paid for her to take an Uber from her home in Queens to where he lives on Long Island. He cooked vegan Thai food, she said, and they spent time outdoors before she headed home.
Given that health experts emphasize keeping our distance from each other during the pandemic, Wolfe doesn’t plan to tell her mother about any of it. Maybe she’ll mention it after Thanksgiving, if things with the man keep going well.
“I’m still not fully sure how she would receive it,” Wolfe said. “I think there’s so many ways it could go, where she’s either disappointed in me that I’m dating someone new during a pandemic, or she’d be really happy. But I think if I bring up, like, he Ubered me out to Long Island, she’d be like, ‘That’s crazy, why would you do that?’ ”
Everyone has different levels of risk tolerance, and opinions vary widely about what kinds of activities are acceptable right now: Is outdoor seating at a restaurant okay? What if we wear masks except when we’re eating? How about if we’re the only family there?
We all make our own choices. Many of us are just lying about them.
Angela Evans, a psychology professor at Brock University, sent a questionnaire to 451 adults in the spring to ask about their physical distancing practices, their potential symptoms of covid-19 and whether they have concealed any of it from others.
“We thought there would be relatively high rates of lying,” Evans said. “But to be honest, the rates that we saw were much higher than we anticipated.”
One-quarter of the people surveyed said they had hidden their distancing behaviors to some degree. About one-third of those with covid-19 symptoms lied when asked about it, and 55 percent concealed their symptoms in some way.
Most of the time, people lie to protect how others perceive them, Evans said. We want to fit in, so we pretend our beliefs match up with those of our friends and family.
Add the stigma of spreading a potentially dangerous illness, and Evans said we’re extra-motivated to craft the reality that we want others to see.
For Mark Plimpton, that alternative reality is one where he spends all his time at home in Anchorage, rather than flying 10 hours to Northern Virginia to see his brother three times during the pandemic. After he got some judgmental Facebook comments about his first trip, he said he decided not to share any photos of the other visits.
He didn’t lie, per se, but he went out of his way not to advertise what he was doing.
When Plimpton, 56, first went to Virginia around the Fourth of July, he posted a photo of himself riding the District’s Metro, wearing a mask. In response, he said he got some comments and private messages implying that he should not have traveled and expressing worry that he wouldn’t return home safely.
Plimpton suddenly felt self-conscious, even though he thought he had made the right decision by going to see his brother.
“I guess part of the thing that kind of made me a little bit mad about it was, most of these people, they live with their families or they have family in the local area around them,” he said. “I don’t, and the only way I can see my family is by getting on an airplane and traveling to the East Coast.”
Emily, 36, is also worried about judgment from friends. She said she is going out of her way to avoid telling the members of her group chat that she is hosting a Thanksgiving celebration for about 25 people next month.
The decision was centered on her grandmother, who has dementia and whose mental state is quickly declining, said Emily, who agreed to speak only on a first-name basis so that her friends wouldn’t find out about her plans. Cut off from her church community and unfamiliar with technology, Emily’s grandmother has felt depressed this year, and Emily said she couldn’t bear the thought of her spending the holiday alone.
So Emily said her family will get together outdoors, wear masks when they’re preparing the meal, leave windows open in the bathroom and serve food in small groups so people don’t crowd inside the house. Despite those precautions, Emily said she’s not comfortable telling her friends, who sometimes seem to try to one-up each other with who’s being the most cautious about the virus.
“It’s like there’s always somebody from either side judging you,” Emily said. “Either you’re being too cautious, or you’re not taking this seriously enough and you’re causing the plague.”
Sasha, a junior at the University of Delaware, said she and her five roommates decided at the beginning of the semester that they had to get approval from the group if any of them wanted to see a friend in a socially distant manner. She also spoke on the condition that only her first name be used because she worried about social retribution.
Sasha said she abided by her house rule until about two weeks ago, when a guy invited her out for coffee on the spur of the moment. She thought about asking her roommates for permission to go but changed her mind and hoped she could fly under the radar.
She and the guy sat outside at the coffee shop, Sasha said, but ended up inside his home, maskless.
When her roommate developed muscle aches and fatigue two days later, Sasha said she panicked and assumed that she must have contracted the coronavirus from her coffee date and brought it into the house.
Once her roommate tested negative, Sasha decided to come clean — but all of her roommates already knew where she had been. Sasha said she had forgotten that they previously shared their phones’ location data, and her roommates looked up where she was when she was gone for a while.
They weren’t particularly happy with her, she said, and they had a group discussion about the importance of being honest about where they were going and who they were seeing.
In retrospect, Sasha said she thinks she hid her coffee date because she was tired of having to plan outings in advance during the pandemic.
“It was like a piece of my day that I could reclaim just for myself without having to ask permission, and I think in the moment that was what felt really nice,” she said.
As for the guy, Sasha said she doesn’t plan to see him anymore. She told him honestly that she didn’t want to become the roommate who unwittingly infected everyone else with the coronavirus.
“Obviously, he wasn’t super thrilled,” Sasha said. “But he said he understood.”