Should I social distance from my casual lover? | Savage Love | Chicago Reader

Should I social distance from my casual lover? 

Advice on whether to hook up with an ER doctor during a pandemic.

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click to enlarge JOE NEWTON
  • Joe Newton

Q: 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 Dos And Don'ts

A: "This is really a matter of a personal risk/benefit calculation," said Dr. Daniel Summers, a pediatrician who lives and works near Boston (@WFKARS on Twitter). "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 undefinable 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.

Q: 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? —Just Concerned

A: 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 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.)  v

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