The “bubble” in this era of social distancing has become our metaphor for the people that we can touch, eat with, and generally behave normally with. For families, it is clear who is in their bubble. For those who live alone, they don’t have anyone in their bubble. For housemates? Well it turns out that there is quite a bit of variation on how housemates have understood the instructions to social distance.
This has surprised me. I assumed that housemates – or as I prefer to call them — home-mates would band together, realize that they are in a bubble together and work as a household to make sure that their home is free of contagion.
There are certainly shared housing situations where maintaining a bubble and being careful about what comes into the house, such as washing hands and groceries, and not seeing other people is the standard practice. In fact, in our closed Facebook group, Hello Home-Mate, one member commented how happy she is now with a home-mate’s rather OCD behavior. I gather by that comment that prior to Covid-19 the same behavior, of compulsively keeping things clean, might have been irritating.
I heard from another person who had taken our class, Discovering Shared Housing, that though potential home-mates were scheduled to move in May 1, after some back-and-forth email discussion they chose to postpone their living together so as not to expose the householder to the risks because the young couple who had planned to move in are “essential workers” and are in the public sphere daily.
But what happens when you live in a five-person house and two people have heart commitments to people who don’t live in the house and feel that they should be able to visit them, have their people visit them in the house, and in fact do?
There is no protective bubble around that household.
Though it might not feel this way to the inhabitants, as long as any member of the household is not prioritizing the community’s safety over their own desires, they are each person for themselves. I would understand if others in the household felt that they had to social distance within the home, wearing a mask, staying six feet away, and washing surfaces compulsively.
It’s so tricky and so new for all of us. I’ve never included “What are your habits around social distancing?” as a housemate interview question!
There’s so much information flying around the Internet, I found this, “The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them” to be particularly clear and helpful about personal risks, exposure, and how to minimize exposure. What’s so difficult about this disease is the spreading of the virus by people who have no idea that they are carrying the virus and shedding it around. According to the article, a full 44% of all infections come from these people.
But it’s so hard. It seems to me that there might be an in-between place, a place between full social distancing and ignoring the need for it. And that in-between place is expanding your bubble to include another bubble — but it needs to happen very, very carefully.
How to Expand Your Bubble
In an article by Gideon Lichfield in the MIT Technology Review, the author describes steps he is taking to expand his bubble. I think it’s very interesting and am sharing it with you so you too can be considering what you might be able to countenance. (And they are not so different from what makes sharing a home work!) His own explanation of these nine guidelines are quite clear and worth reading:
- Agree to have no hard feelings.
- Think about the risk.
- Talk about why you want to bubble up.
- Agree to follow the same rules, whatever they are.
- Talk through your daily routines.
- Accept that none of you is being rational.
- Agree on what you’ll communicate about, and then over-communicate.
- Maybe don’t post on social media.
- Give yourselves a trial period.
As the author explains, it’s possible that in exploring whether to “bubble up” or even having to agree to it, something happens that someone else doesn’t like. Losing the friendship isn’t worth it. This fits with his sixth item. There’s so much differing information swirling around that no one really knows what is best and this stuff is scary, so we’re likely to be more emotional than rational. And along with that if you are having a great time in your expanded bubble perhaps don’t advertise it, as it might not be so welcomed by those struggling with their own social isolation. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Fortunately, we have the tools to do that, whether by telephone, text, email, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime. And none of that is like actually being with someone in person!
As I write this, we are approaching two months of social distancing. It seems to me that expanding your bubble could be a good next step — if you follow the guidelines above!
Here’s some other articles you might be interested in: “Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You” and “Don’t Listen to Debbie Downers, Naysayers, and Limiting Beliefs”