After months of isolation, states are reopening and many Americans have rushed out of their homes to experience a taste of freedom... and overpriced eggs Benedict. Depending on the state, bars and restaurants are back in some form or another. This means that brunch, once a benign flex of privilege, has become an ideological battleground.
The question: Does going out for French toast on a Sunday afternoon or sipping on a frozen margarita at a curbside bar after work with friends make you a garbage human?
It depends on who you ask. Optics-wise, it’s impossible to ignore viral videos such as the one showing bougie boozers lunching on a street corner while protesters pass by in the background. Who can sit in the sun and drink a mimosa when over 130,000 are dead? How can the sight of a waiter in a face shield and N95 encourage you to ask for a refill?
And then there are those who want to support their local spot and feel a little bit of old school normalcy by shoveling blintzes and hash browns into their unmasked faces. What’s worse, they might ask: a street full of outside tables buzzing with activity, or one where the storefronts are shuttered and the “For Rent” signs are up?
No one can agree on anything, it seems, and everyone thinks they’re right. As people map out their coronavirus pods or consider tiptoeing back into social summer rituals, how are they going to come to a consensus with their friends about what’s OK?
Vanessa Gordon is used to being “extraordinarily social.” As the publisher of a Hamptons-based digital publication, East End Taste, she would go out every weekend before the pandemic began. Now, she’s holed up at home with her physician husband and toddler daughter. That doesn’t mean the invitations have stopped.
“Some people still want to socialize and get together,” Gordon, 31, said. “A lot of people are out here doing what they usually do [in the summer], partying, but under the radar. That’s happening here.”
Gordon said she turns down “everything” across the board. She begins with a polite “thanks for thinking of me,” and throws in a, “for the safety of those around you, I choose to limit the people that I see.”
It works for her. Others told The Daily Beast that the coercion they feel from friends who want them to go out resembles “peer pressure” not seen since high school.
“I have two sets of friends,” Rachel Kapur, who lives in Manhattan, said. “I have the friends who are staying home and not going out. Then I have friends who are going out and sending me pictures of them going out, hanging out. It’s extreme. You’re either out there or playing it safe. I don’t know why there can’t be an in-between.”
This week, Kapur went to the dentist and took a selfie of her outside, wearing a mask. “One of my friends messaged me saying, ‘Oh I’m so happy that you’re finally going out and running errands,’” Kapur recalled. “I thought that was so rude. I haven’t seen my parents in three months. I want to stay home now. It’s crazy how people judge you for staying home.”
Some of Kapur’s friends send her pictures from their adventures at house parties, Central Park picnics, and vineyard frolics. “One girl even said [in a caption], ‘I’m living my best life,’” Kapur said. “That’s your best life? That’s really sad. I was having a wonderful life before the virus, traveling, going out, meeting friends. This is not my best life right now. I think there’s this mocking of people who are staying in.”
Kapur delicately declines all invitations by reminding her friends that she does desperately want to see them. “It’s not a question of how close you are to me, it’s a question of being careful,” she said. “Right now, I don’t feel comfortable until we have a cure or medication.”
Samantha Rucobo, who is 25 and lives in Austin, describes herself as having some “health anxiety,” especially as cases in Texas continue to tick upwards.
“I think that I diagnose myself with coronavirus 10 times a day,” she said. “There’s a spectrum of what my friends are OK with doing.”
A few weeks ago, Rucobo went to brunch with some friends to a popular breakfast place in town. “There were groups of more than 10 people hanging out, waiting for a table,” she said. “My sister was like, ‘You’ll be fine.’ People make little remarks like, ‘You’re OK, live your life, don’t be controlled.’ You almost feel left out because you’re not traveling, you don’t feel comfortable going out, it freaks me out just to use a public bathroom.”
One 38-year-old mother from Greenville, South Carolina who asked that her name not be used has spent the past month figuring out her coronavirus comfort zone.
She likes having a small group of girlfriends over for wine in her driveway, with everyone spaced six feet apart. But she did not enjoy the dinner she shared with eight other friends in the parking lot of a local diner.
“I didn’t know until I got there that it would be such a big group,” she said. “I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, so I didn’t turn around and leave. I sat there the entire time, not comfortable with it, thinking, ‘My husband’s going to kill me, my mom’s going to kill me, I’m going to disappoint all the people I was looking out for.’”
Things got worse when a friend posted pictures of the night to Facebook. “I was sitting there in shame,” the woman said. “My mom called me asking when the picture was taken and why was I there. That was a little too far over the line.”
Now when her friends ask for a repeat of the night, she comes up with excuses. “I say I’m not trying to drink as much this week, or that I’m watching the kids,” she said. “I don’t want to be in that situation again, so I remove myself from it. I don’t like those friends any less, and I still have FOMO seeing them out together. It just makes me uncomfortable.”
Abiola Abrams, a personal coach and relationship expert based in New York, has not spoken with her cousin in months due to a disagreement about social distancing parameters.
“She showed up a couple of months ago to visit my senior citizen parents,” Abrams said. “It was unannounced, supposed to be a surprise. This cousin, who I love dearly, showed up out of the blue. I love her, and I was happy to see her, but I told her she couldn’t talk to my mom or aunt directly. She took it personally, so it’s important to emphasize to people that this is not personal. We’re protecting each other.”
“People are taking this very personally because it can feel like this is a rejection of intimacy,” Abrams continued. “It reminds me a bit of being a kid wanting to go out and play, but not being able to until your chores are done. It feels like we’re having those discussions [about meeting up with friends[, but we’re talking to adults instead of children.”
If you turn down a brunch or picnic, Abrams says it helps to “acknowledge the awkwardness” of the conversation.
“That helps remind your friend or loved ones that you’re not saying you have all the answers either,” she said. “You’re not coming from a place of superiority, you’re just doing what’s best for you. We’re all figuring this out together.”
Shari Foos is a marriage and family therapist who works as an adjunct professor at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
“Someone invited me to a surprise party for somebody else’s birthday; they said it would be socially distant,” Foos said. “Are you kidding me? I’m going to go to a party and see people I love and remember not to get too close? We have to deal with the anxiety about being judged all the time, but when it comes to life and death—OK, don’t like me for turning you down.”
Foos added that it helps to give an “it’s not you, it’s me” apology when declining plans. “The simplest thing to do is to always come from an ‘I statement,’” she said. “Talk about yourself; don’t talk about coronavirus as it relates to the world or politics. Just say, without apologizing for who you are, ‘I wish I could do this, but it feels like a risk.’”
Aly Walanasky is a writer who lives in New York. She would love to leave her 400 square-foot studio apartment for lunch with a friend, but does not feel safe yet.
“A friend and I discussed my reluctance to experience curbside dining or drinks,” Walanasky explained. “It wasn’t enough that we have different views about what is OK to do and what is not OK to do right now, I [also] got the serious impression that people who feel this way need to be ‘right’ to validate their own feelings and practices as OK. For that to happen, I have to be ‘wrong’ for being cautious.”
Still, Walanasky isn’t going to “de-friend” anyone for going out to dinner. “But when people start posting about how masks are stupid and things need to be opened up, and all of this is overblown, it makes me see them as someone who cares more about themselves than other people out there,” she said. “Sure, they may survive this. But other people may not. And if they are OK with that... I’m not so sure that I’m OK with them.”