My friend rejects social distancing – I don’t want to offend him

May 27th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

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? 

Confused

Dear Confused,

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!

Best wishes,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Owning your dating/courtship life is a great idea.
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23 comments

Bob Wood says:

Conversely, if you are comfortable with seeing Mr X go right ahead and enjoy your meeting. If the man you are dating and other friends do not like it is their problem. We cannot please everyone. It is more important to respect and be true to your self than to be blown around by the opinions of others. It is a mark of good character and integrity to stand firm on your own beliefs.

Linda Smith says:

That is some tough love and no frills advice. This young lady needs to learn to say “no” or she will be bullied.

Audrey Benjamin says:

Perfect answer! My husband, who is a psychiatrist, would say: “You should have been psychiatrists.” (That’s an ultimate compliment from him.) Taking responsibility for one’s own part in any interaction is the mark of a mature mindset. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to help make a person aware of that…as I think you did. By the way, I suspect that “friend” is actually interested in being more than only a friend to this woman. Whether he is or not, she is giving in to his manipulations without realizing she is also giving away her own power.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Audrey–
It would seem that not only is Dr Benjamin a psychiatrist but so are you! I know a little more about the situation than we published–we often edit in order to conceal identity and avoid causing any possible embarrassment. Indeed, a while back, Mr X who is a very nice man, did date our correspondent and missed the opportunity of a long term relationship with her. It seems likely that some of his behavior might flow from feelings of having ‘missed out’ when the opportunity existed. But of course that is not knowledge; just the opinion of us psychiatrists.
Cordially
RDL

celesta says:

I really especially appreciate one of the lines in your response:

“…hoping that somehow they’d infuse you with the necessary strength to do what your soul has already told you that you must do?”

That really slapped me in the depths of my spirit tonight for some reason. Greatly said. It belongs in the annals of current-day Jewish wisdom. Not just food for thought, but an entire 3-day banquet. Oh that all of our actions, words, deeds, and thoughts were thoroughly governed by a God-submitted, -aligned, and -united inner man.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Celesta,
Cordially
RDL

Deborah Christensen says:

Best answer I have seen. I especially like that you want her to own up to the fact that she put herself in this position, it didn’t just happen!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

No, it didn’t just happen, Deborah-
You are certainly correct. God did not create us to be tennis balls floating down the gutter of life.
Cordially
RDL

Al Hoffman says:

Rabbi, Well said.
Open rebuke is better than secret love. A phrase from Shlomo in modern tongue.
You know we often show care by directness. People are later thankful for our speakin up. Well done.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Al,
Though, I think you may have been fortunate in your encounters. Only rare and big-hearted people thank those who spoke directly and painfully to them.
Cordially
RDL

wow. great answer. I get in so much trouble for “shooting from the hip”. I can’t stand it when my friends say they didn’t have a choice, or I’m between a rock and a hard place. I am so going to repost this.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Debra–
You’re right!! Whenever we feel that we are ‘between a rock and a hard place’ it is always worth asking ourselves exactly who put us there. Rocks and hard places are not malign independent entities roaming the neighborhood seeking out sorry victims. We are NOT tennis balls floating down the gutter of life
Cordially
RDL

Janice says:

I heard this saying years ago and it has stuck with me: “We are never accountable for someone else’s actions but we are always accountable for our reaction to their action.” We must always own up to our own words/actions – no excuses.

Kirsten Van Ooyen says:

Dear Rabbi and Susan,
This ‘Ask the Rabbi’ could turn into a very helpful Podcast! Believe it or not, being destructively docile (I love that), is an all too common phenomenon and can derail some of the most promising growth experiences and opportunities. Please elaborate and help in this area with Ancient Jewish Wisdom.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

What an interesting idea, Kirsten–
Thank you very much. I’d not thought of that but I like it so much that it might appear in the very next upcoming podcast https://rabbidaniellapin.libsyn.com/
Cordially
RDL

Vanessa says:

Yes please!!!, turn this one into the next podcast. The teachings you share are life changing.

Sydney says:

Thank you for drilling down past all the superfluous details here. I admit I was still swirling in them by the time I read your response and was left astonished by the end.

I recently heard a friend say, “But that’s not true. We always have a choice,” when responding to someone lamenting the sudden loss of social norms we’ve been experiencing.

A long way around to, I’m grateful you both, and the above mentioned friend, have cut right to the heart of the matter without getting caught up in all this wrapping of social distancing, et al, that seems to be bogging us all down when it comes to thinking things all the way through as of late. Your swift route to clarity is very much appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to respond to this young woman’s query.

Carolyn says:

I might disagree on one point: she should tell her strictly following the rules friends that she sat outside with this non government guidance following person if she is going to be around these friends. Her cautious friends may feel she has been exposed and they may want to avoid her for the two week period. They have a right to know who they are associating with as far as mask wearing and social distancing. They might have health issues she knows nothing about.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Carolyn–
We see your point but it is neither our concern nor our responsibility to help enforce the decrees of the authorities with which we may or may not agree. Our responsibility was only to help our correspondent learn better to handle what we call destructive docility. Therefore telling her what to tell her friends and relatives fell way outside our purview which is why we told her early in our response that the only part of the entire sorry saga that concerned us was the arrival of Mr. X and her handling of that interchange. Sometimes when you try to do too much, you end up accomplishing less. For this reason in our Ask The Rabbi feature, we try to confine the circumference of the problem and its solution.
Cordially
RDL

Mark Z says:

My Rabbi, this was great reply to confessed. As I read her note, I pictured a very young lady.
As an aside I’m going to write to Hillsdale College and ask them to consider you as a speaker one day.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

No Mark,
Not a very young lady. Thank you for the connection to Hillsdale. I spoke there a long time ago–definitely time for a revisit.
Cordially
RDL

Tanya says:

I could glean a bit from the paragraph about meaningless gossip. Its causing me to question how much of my communication is actually meaningful, and it encourages me to know that i could handle certain situations without emotional support from others.

Susan Lapin says:

Tanya, we’re glad those sentences spoke to you as they were aimed at ourselves and every reader. Ancient Jewish wisdom has a great deal to say about proper and improper speech and most of it is completely opposite from the prevailing customs of our day. Asking ourselves whether the words we speak are purposeful and necessary is a lifetime challenge.

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