Dear Rabbi & Susan,
I am caught between a rock and a hard spot. There is a member of our community who does not believe in social distancing or abiding by any of the government-mandated precautions against COVID-19. While my father was in the hospital, I was very firm with him about not visiting my home. To gain access to the hospital after Shabbat, I would need to pass the hospital regimen and wanted to take no risks.
Secondly, the fellow who I am dating takes social distancing seriously. Finally, others of my friends are frowning upon this person’s disregard for following guidelines and testing everyone and the protocols in place.
This person showed up at my house, on Shabbat, with no warning. I answered the door and I was shocked to find him there. The person just stood there until I would allow him in so I ushered him to the deck. He then invited me for an upcoming holiday lunch and I told him that I would attend if we were outside. Now, I think I have made a mistake in accepting the invitation.
The situation has upset the person who I am dating and I am afraid to tell any of my other friends. This person will be angry if I back out of the invitation.
What should I do?
Despite the risk of sounding harsh, we must tell you that you are not caught between a rock and a hard spot. You yourself actively crawled down into a hard spot and then you carefully and diligently reached for a rock and pulled it down against you making sure to wedge it firmly into place. Rocks and hard spots are not malign machines that autonomously track you down. Own it! You created this awkward situation. Right? Right!
So the real question is not how to get out of this one; it’s how to stop seeking out rocks and hard spots to wiggle into.
Regardless of what this person, let’s call him Mr. X, believes about corona, and regardless of the extent to which others ‘frown’ at Mr. X, as you put it, it is only his behavior and your response that matters. So the relevant portion of your letter starts with him showing up unexpectedly on your doorstep on Shabbat.
Imagine that someone threatens to amputate his pinky unless you agree to date him. That places you under no moral obligation to comply. This person showed up at your door and you interpreted his standing there as a threat to cut off his pinky finger unless you invited him in. Actually, he stood there long enough to tacitly inform you he’d be offended not to be invited in, but it’s the same idea, of course. What you did not say was, “I wish I could invite you in, I really do, but while these corona circumstances exist, I am not going to, so have a good Shabbat and I look forward to talking with you on the phone tonight.” Instead, you opened the door in a wide invitation and Mr. X naturally sauntered serenely into your house. You did it.
Here’s another point to consider. Why is the extent to which others ‘frown’ at Mr. X, relevant? It is only his behavior and your reaction that matters. Your choices might be influenced by the concerns of the man you are dating or your other friends, but in the final analysis, you need to decide how you feel about social distancing, masks and everything else that is directing our lives today. You, Miss Concerned, need to take control of your own life.
It doesn’t matter whether accepting the lunch invitation was a mistake or whether you’ve just changed your mind about wanting to go. You simply notify Mr. X by phone or text that you regret the change in plans but you will, after all, not be able to join him for lunch. Will Mr. X threaten to cut off another of his remaining fingers by choosing to be unhappy, offended, hurt or angry by your change of mind? He gets to choose his own reaction. Incidentally, not respecting your decision and radiating offense and anger on an issue such as this is a no more legitimate reaction for a friend than cutting off a finger would be. If you want this ‘friendship’ to continue, you need to be a stronger partner in it.
There was and is no reason to report what happened to the person you are dating or to any of your other friends. God frowns on purposeless gossip and telling your friends this sad saga is purposeless gossip. What possible reason could you have for telling them other than hoping that somehow they’d infuse you with the necessary strength to do what your soul has already told you that you must do? This is only between you and Mr. X. You can solve it quite easily without the cheering reassurance and encouragement of your other friends. Just do it.
We urge you to ask yourself if you slide into these predicaments in other areas of your life, such as business and family. Or is this destructive docility reserved for your social life or perhaps just for this specific individual? Gaining insight into yourself is most valuable. Each time you force yourself to act and react appropriately to these types of circumstances, you strengthen yourself into a better person and make it ever less likely that you’ll fail again.
So, pick up the phone and own the situation!
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
Owning your dating/courtship life is a great idea.
The two books will raise questions and provide guidance.
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