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Relationship

By visiting her partner my housemate is putting us all at risk | Mariella Frostrup


The dilemma My housemate and I are both working from home at the moment, while her partner – who doesn’t live with us – still has to go to work. They don’t think it’s an issue to carry on seeing each other closely during the current restrictions (and were doing so all through total lockdown during April) with my housemate continuing to visit her partner.

My housemate has suggested that if I was personally concerned about my own health then she’d stop, but it’s not about my personal health. It’s the bigger picture. A few friends have tried in polite ways to point out to them that this is rather reckless behaviour, and that all of us would love to have unrestricted access to our partners and friends, too, right now. It doesn’t seem to register with them.

Their attitude is that they’re not worried whether they get coronavirus, because they’ll probably be fine (we’re all in our late 20s, so not the most at risk). My housemate’s partner comes into contact with multiple people at work each day, so I’m surprised they are being so selfish. How can I communicate this to them without risking upsetting my housemate? After all, we’re in this together, so I don’t have any means of escape if things get awkward.

Mariella replies Fair point. Though being trapped in a house with someone you’ve fallen out with would just make you one of the seething majority at present.

However, yours is a quandary all right – and one that, judging from my mailbag, is being played out up and down the country. Self-styled Covid revolutionaries fuelled either by theories of global conspiracy, a hatred of an overbearing state, a “unique” knowledge of how viruses are transmitted, or a sense of personal priority, are available on every street corner. (Then again, I don’t want to be too judgmental as there are few of us at this stage who haven’t rubbed up against the restrictions in one way or another.)

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It’s unfortunate that you’ve found yourself holed up with a perfect example of one of these misguided Covid-warriors, but your housemate is, I’m sad to say, far from unique and is certainly not exceptional among my correspondents. I’m replying to you in lieu of the man who wrote telling me that his wife embarked on a new relationship, but with lockdown having prevented them from separating as planned, is continuing to rendezvous with her lover all through April while putting him and their asthmatic child at risk. I’ve chosen your dilemma in order to tread similar territory because I honestly couldn’t think of an answer for him. Or at least one that didn’t involve calling the police – his selfish spouse being devoid of the intelligence or sensitivity to comprehend why what she’s doing is absolutely unacceptable.

Self-sacrifice may not regularly feature in humanity’s personal skill-set top 10, but it’s nice to think that when called upon we might rustle up an acceptable level of empathy so as not to endanger those we care about. There’s no accounting for people’s behaviour and often when you think you’ve just heard one of the worst examples of human self-interest another tawdry tale rolls in to top it. This isolation business is extremely challenging and as everyone knows it’s in periods of hardship that our individual behavioural quirks come to light.

I’m one of the lucky ones, I live in the middle of the countryside where being deprived of half my work and the company of friends and extended family, is not compounded by virtual imprisonment inside my house. It’s been interesting to witness the varied interpretations of government guidelines and also to note those who either feel themselves to be exceptions, or don’t seem to grasp the basic principles. There are others who’ve embraced it with gusto.

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None of us wants to live in a police state, but relying on people to behave responsibly and unselfishly is not without challenges. This is not just about whether someone is placing themselves or others in danger, but also about the economic repercussions of a global pandemic that’s sweeping millions into poverty and paralysing our economy.

There are selfish people and civic-minded people, intuitive people and those who don’t quite understand the basic principles of social distancing, or choose not to. Other countries fashioned around a more dominating state have made the rules much clearer and appear to have recovered faster. That’s frustrating for those of us who believe that democracy must prevail, don’t want police patrolling beaches and beauty spots and believe people to be intrinsically good-hearted.

I suggest you try once more to explain the bigger picture to your small-minded housemate. If she fails again to see the light, demand she temporarily set up house with her seemingly irresistible partner and stop endangering you and all his workmates. It might seem like the obvious answer, but sometimes there’s only one.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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