Dear Dan: My question is on managing “gray area” intimacies during the pandemic. I have a lover/friend that I’ve been hanging out with—fucking, drinking tea, going on hikes, eating ice cream, watching movies, and other activities—for about nine months. He’s 36 and was married for ten years and due to that experience he’s been a bit emotionally “boundaried” but he’s still really sweet and a good communicator. I’m in grad school doing a double masters, so the small amount of time we’ve been spending together has worked well for me. Here’s the issue: he’s also an ER doctor. Do I keep seeing him during this pandemic? I just moved to the city where we both live for my grad program and he’s my main source for connection, comfort, and support here. Every time I see him we both feel tremendously less stressed and our connection feels emotionally healthy. I just know he is bound to be at a huge risk for exposure and since he’s not a committed partner and we don’t live together, I don’t know if he falls within or outside of my physical distancing boundary. It seems like the best thing to do from a logistical perspective is hole up with my cat and not see another soul in person until a vaccine is invented or something, but I don’t know when that will happen.
—Physical Distancing Do’s And Don’ts
Dear PDDD: “This is really a matter of a personal risk/benefit calculation,” said Dr. Daniel Summers, a pediatrician who lives and works near Boston. “What PDDAD is willing to accept as a risk may be different from what someone else would.”
And there’s definitely a health benefit to getting together — we are social animals and isolation is bad for us — but your lover is at high risk of infection. And when front-line health care providers get infected, they tend to get sicker than the average person who gets infected, according to CNN, which is something else you need to factor into your risk/benefit calculation. Additionally, does your boyfriend’s workplace—I’m going to call him your boyfriend for clarity’s sake — have the protective gear he needs to minimize his risk of exposure?
“We’re all doing our best to take as many preventive steps to lower our risk of being exposed,” said Dr. Summers, “but there’s still a maddeningly unacceptable shortage of personal protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves nationwide. I hope he has sufficient access to these things. But is there a risk he could get exposed to the virus at work? Definitely.”
Dr. Summers lives with his husband and four children and in addition to the precautions he takes at work — where he may be seeing patients with coronavirus (he doesn’t know for sure because tests still aren’t available) — Dr. Summers strips down to his underwear on his front porch of his home when he gets home from work. His clothes go straight into the washing machine, he goes straight into the shower.
“I’m still afraid of bringing it home,” said Dr. Summers. “But with four kids home from school, my husband’s sanity depends on my being present as much as I can. So for me, staying away isn’t an option. That’s not the case for PDDAD. She has to decide whether the un-definable risk of exposure isn’t worth it. Or, alternatively, she can decide the connection she has with him is important enough to her own well being that the risk is worth it. But only she can make that decision for herself.”
If you decide the risk of infection is too great — or if your boyfriend decides the risk of infecting you is too great — you can still be there for each other. You can Skype and Zoom, you can text and sext, you can leave groceries on his porch and wave to him from the sidewalk. But if you decide to keep connecting with each other in person, PDDAD, you should minimize the amount of time you spend moving through the city to get to each other’s places. And that means — emotional boundaries be damned — picking one of your apartments to hole up in together for the duration.
You can follow Dr. Summers on Twitter @WFKARS and you can read him at Slate’s Outward.
Dear Dan: I’m pro sex workers, and believe adults should do whatever they consent to, but I’m curious if that applies during the current pandemic. I know of a sex worker who’s still offering himself to clients, who are apparently still hiring him. (He regularly posts of his exploits on certain social media sites.) Should the authorities be made aware of this?
Dear JC: If the authorities want to start rounding up reckless idiots who are endangering others, JC, the beaches of Florida might be a good place to start. Or the Oval Office. And if your first impulse is to involve the authorities then you aren’t “pro sex workers,” JC, because the authorities — particularly the police — are a danger to sex workers. Instead of calling the cops, reach out to this guy on those social media sites and encourage him to see his clients virtually, i.e. instead of face-to-face (or face-to-whatever) meetings, he should go full camwhore for the time being. So if you want to want to help, JC, and not just police or shame, you should hire this guy to do an online session. (And everyone should bear in mind that sex workers are suffering right now too because most are being responsible and not seeing clients. Their incomes have plummeted to zero and they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits.)
Dear Dan: I’m a queer poly woman and I have a two-part question about sexting/Skype sex. I didn’t used to think twice about shooting off a nude or a nasty text in my twenties and I’ve never have qualms about casual relations. But for me there has always needed to be a baseline of friendship. After getting burned a bunch of times — especially by straight men (queers and other genders are generally way kinder) — I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. Fast forward a few years, after doing a lot of work I started feeling myself again.
I started talking with a man that I’d met through mutual friends and flirted with a little in the past. I was upfront with him and told him I would be down to get dirty again sometime but needed to build up some form of friendship first. He enthusiastically agreed and started talking to me about this and that every other day or so. We were talking about meeting up person when the coronavirus lockdown happened and now my libido has shot through the roof. We ended up exchanging photos and got off on FaceTime together. After that, crickets. I would send an innocuous question and get a two-word response. I feel really disrespected and used but at the same time I can see how he doesn’t owe me anything. I was in a similar situation like this before where a man told me that no matter what he wanted our friendship to be a priority and then ghosted me immediately after we slept together. My questions: What can I do in the future to avoid this sort of situation? And, while we’re all in lockdown, do you have any advice on how to be hot over video when you’re generally a clumsy spaz?
—Female Resents Insincere Efforts Necessitating Deceit
Dear FRIEND: Unfortunately, FRIEND, there’s no surefire way to prevent people from lying to you about being friends in order to get into your pants — virtually or eventually — or to prevent them from changing their minds about being friends once they’ve gotten into your pants. (The former is more likely, but the latter does happen.) Your only options are relying on your bullshit detectors to weed out people you think might be playing you and getting better at shrugging off, blocking, and forgetting the dishonest people who manage to get past your bullshit detectors.
As for tips about being hot on Zoom or FaceTime or Fox Nation or whatever, I’m afraid I can’t help you there, FRIEND, as I am the clumsiest spaz that ever spazzed. I hate having my photo taken and if a room is dark enough for me to feel comfortable getting naked in it, it’s usually too dark for someone else to see me — whether they’re in the same room with me or sitting in front of a computer on the other side of the world. But someone who’s more at ease in front of the camera (and with whom I’m currently quarantined) tells me that slightly dimmed lighting is better than harsh lighting, leaving something on is hotter than taking it all off, and — if you want to maintain your anonymity — keeping your face and any identifying tattoos out of the shot is a good idea.