How to tell friends that you’re not ready to meet up in lockdown
At the time of writing, lockdown rules allow people to meet up with someone from one other household, as long as they keep a two-metre distance.
Many of us are eager to meet up with loved ones as soon as possible, but not everyone is ready to go outside yet – and this is causing friction in friendships.
At present, there are two camps: those who are staying at home and avoiding all contact for fear of contracting coronavirus, and those who are happy to head out into the world again (albeit at a distance).
Those in the former camp are finding it difficult to explain why they don’t want to meet up, for fear that friends or family won’t understand – or worse, will take it personally.
Some people are also scared that if they say no now, they won’t get invited to anything once lockdown is over, with FOMO (fear of missing out) taking hold.
‘Stating your position (especially when others are out and about during lockdown with apparent ease) can trigger anxieties about how you will be perceived by your friends, how this will impact your friendship and what you may miss out on,’ Dr Roberta Babb, a clinical psychologist at the Hanover Centre, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Prioritising your (and others) health and safety over seeing your friends during this time can also create feelings of anxiety and guilt.
‘The decision also often leaves people feeling awkward and doing things that they may not want to do (i.e. go out with, or visit with friends) in order to please others, avoid disappointment, “agro” or not let anyone down.’
So, how can you tackle this situation without getting into an argument or hurting someone’s feelings, but also staying true to yourself?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you.
How to tell people that you’re not ready to meet up in lockdown
Firstly, remember that you have the law on your side.
If you’re invited to a picnic party with people from several other households, you are not only OK to turn it down, but you’re also right to do so as you’re following the rules set out by the government – and this is not currently allowed.
But if the ‘we need to follow the rules’ approach falls on deaf ears or you’re feeling the peer pressure, there are other ways to approach this, such as calmly explaining your fears.
Dr Babb says: ‘If you do get an invitation to see a friend, and you do not want to take it up because of coronavirus, it is helpful to thank your friend for the invitation.
‘It is important that you let your friend know that you would like to see them, but you are unable to at this time because of the serious risks that coronavirus still holds.
‘If you have vulnerable people in your household, a vulnerability yourself (i.e. a physical health condition) or caring responsibilities, you may want to explain this to your friend so they can understand the rationale behind your decision to stay home.
‘You can also let them know that your decision not to see them at this time, while disappointing, is not personal or because you do not like them.’
Top tips on what to say to your friend
Carol Ann Rice, a life coach, provides four examples of what you can say in this type of situation:
- Explain your reasoning – whether it be anxiety over contracting the virus yourself (‘I’m frightened of catching the virus’) or putting vulnerable people at risk ‘I have vulnerable members of my family to think about’.
- Ask them for patience – ‘I’m not ready yet – let me get there in my own time’.
- Reassure them – ‘I wish you well and I’m eager to see you but I’m just not ready to go out yet. It’s not personal’.
- Give them options / alternatives – ‘let’s do a phone call, a family / friend quiz or meet up on zoom for a glass of wine’.
Communication is a two-way street, so listen to your friend even if you have different opinions about lockdown.
‘Friendships, like other relationships, require healthy communication to connect us together,’ said Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and well-being consultant.
‘When it comes to communicating our differences, we need to ensure that our communication is objective, without interpreting what it means to our friend.
‘So for example, we should say “I realize that you are comfortable with meeting up”. This shows we identify how they feel, without labelling their perception as negative or trying to decode why they feel that way.
‘We should then express our feelings in a non-judgemental way, helping them to see why we are not ready, and then express our needs, giving our friend the option of choice of whether they can and want to appreciate them.
‘Finally, we make a request, with clarity, about how our friend can meet our needs.
‘They will feel that they have not been judged for having a differencing opinion, and that they have been given the autonomy of choice, rather than being demanded to abide, or told what you think.’
Top tip: avoid texting about these types of issues, it’s better to have a phone call or a video chat, so that you can avoid any messages being interpreted the wrong way.
Plus, as we all know, texting can sound a lot harsher than words spoken out loud.
It’s OK if you’re scared and you’d rather stay at home until lockdown is over, but try to be understanding of your friend’s feelings too.
Lee adds: ‘It’s important to have the cognitive flexibility to realise that the situation is not black and white, and that your friends have no intention of putting you at risk purposefully.
‘It also helps if we consider how our friends communicate and the mindset that they have. If we can listen to them, not wanting to change them, but appreciate them as a friend, then we can speak with honesty about how we feel.
‘If we come from a position of love, empathy and equality, a resolution can be found in which both parties feel listened too, given a choice, and valued by the other person.’
To reassure your friend that your desire to avoid their physical company isn’t personal, you could organise a virtual meet-up as an alternative date.
While it’s not the same, it still presents an opportunity to clear the air or just have a nice time together, without the risks of Covid-19.
This is an incredibly stressful time, but it won’t last forever. You’ll be back to hugging and hanging out in no time – hopefully.