Wait … How Do We Live Together?

Credit…The New York Times

Hello! This is a conversation about anxiety and uncertainty. But before we dive into that, we’d like to present you with the opposite: Here’s everything we know about how to live now. If you already feel anxious or alone or have questions, start there.

And, if you only read one thing about our new world, make it this.

Moving on! This week, Taylor Lorenz, Miya Lee and John Herrman, reporters and editors on the Styles desk, discuss how to live with other people now.

John: There’s lots of good advice out there about social distancing — what it means and how to do it — from trustworthy sources. But people aren’t making these decisions about being alone … alone.

Taylor: My group chats have all collectively shifted back and forth on what the right way is to handle things. Plenty of people seem to be looking for someone to just tell them, individually, what to do.

John: This seems to manifest, often, as asking permission: Friends asking friends, “Would that be OK?” Parents asking adult children, “So, not even that?” Partners! Siblings! Neighbors! All curious and confused, and in theory trying to help — but also putting each other on the spot and shifting responsibility. It’s tense.

Taylor: It sometimes defaults to the person who is most cavalier about the whole thing. I stayed inside my apartment for 10 days, but then when friends convinced me it was OK to go out, suddenly I began going for walks.

Miya: Yes, definitely tense. This weekend my family had a 16-hour fight about whether to let my brother come home and live with us — and how we would quarantine him if he did.

Taylor: That’s a good point, Miya. So many desperate kids have been trying to convey the seriousness of this to boomer parents (and, sure, vice versa). Couples, too, aren’t always seeing eye to eye. I’m also seeing a lot of people posting on their Instagram Stories about staying in, sort of bragging about how maximally quarantined they are.

Miya: Yes! And (rightfully?) shaming others who are seen outside or going to bars — well, back when that was still allowed.

Taylor: I went for a brief walk this weekend after not being outside in 11 days, but I was too scared to post on my Story that I was even outside.

Miya: I also think people have to project their virtual selves into the future, because this pandemic and our consciousness about it is changing day by day.

John: In smaller social groups — or families — you end up either highlighting latent authority structures (some not great!) or creating them on the fly: appointing a friend, or person in a relationship, as a kind of corona captain. That person ends up on the receiving end of everyone else’s messy feelings, and also subjects others to their own.

Taylor: It’s very real.

Miya: Such a burden also to feel this responsibility. It can put people in the position that if they’re not careful enough, not smart enough or vigilant enough, then it’s their fault if they get sick, or if others do. But it’s not a personal failure to contract a virus during a pandemic.

John: I guess all of this is to say: If you find yourself being passive aggressive about What to Do, or asking permission, or giving permission, consider how you’re shifting stress and labor and responsibility. This is a great time to be as forgiving and collaborative as possible, even if you find yourself sounding incredibly cheesy. This is completely new stuff! Talk about it like it’s new. Talk about it like we’re little children in a classroom learning how to share!

Miya: Maybe come up with a household constitution. Like, “This is what we’ll do when we re-enter the house and if you don’t comply you will be voted off the island.”

Taylor: Ha ha, a corona constitution? I think you’re right. Having a shared and agreed-upon set of rules helps eliminate those in the moment decisions.

John: More “Love Island” than “The Circle.”

Miya: Also to circle back (sorry) to online quarantine behavior: the performance of productivity (exercising, cooking, writing, cleaning, crafting) by people may be annoying but also reveals a need to find meaning or something redemptive in this. There really is no silver lining, but people want one.

Case in point: the nature-is-returning narrative, like people sharing pictures of the clean canals of Venice that turned out not to actually be of Venice or any different than usual.

John: It is annoying. Be forgiving about that too. But take notes for later. 😉

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