A support bubble should be a beautiful thing, shouldn’t it? The chance to finally hang out with people you want to spend time with inside their bubble. It’s all about togetherness and being able to meet 3D-humans in real life, without being wrapped in masks and gloves.
But for a friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, the whole thing became a nightmare of interference and rejection and left her feeling worse than when she was living the single lockdown life.
This guest post is also a much bigger lesson in listening to others and not assuming that you know what is best for them.
Oh families, we love you but sometimes you make us mad…
Perhaps I've been too smug…
… about how well I've been coping with lockdown. But living alone has had advantages – no kids to deal with; no partner with whom to share my table/broadband/personal space 24/7. No need for 'discussions' about noise during online meetings. I can put the radio on when I want or work in silence when I need to. And I've been very strict with myself about keeping 'home' life separate to 'working at home' life. It's worked. Largely.
But it's not all a bed of roses. The hardest part, which I acknowledged right back at the beginning, is that there is no one I can hug.
Now, after three months plus, that's getting to me.
…who lives with her partner some 100 miles away from me has been 'massaging' the social distancing rules more and more over the past few weeks. When Boris said we could meet people in someone's garden, she quickly grabbed the opportunity… and if there were eight, nine, more people wanting to join the meet-up, that was 'fine'. As was going into their houses when the weather turned chilly; she was in as quickly as a cat appearing at your feet upon hearing the rustle of the Dreamies packet.
It's not easy for me to see my friends while keeping to the rules (and I am one to stick to rules) mainly because of the London effect – living in a flat, friends scattered far and wide, no one is getting on public transport right now, lack of loos…
Meanwhile my sister, having been reinvigorated by seeing her friends again, has been banging on more and more that I should be getting out and doing likewise. She doesn't hear the reasons why that's simply not practical for me.
Oh and as she also doesn't work, she has all day, every day, to pootle about visiting people. I have a very busy full-time job that I'm just about managing to keep up with at home, so evening social visits are pretty much out and at the weekend I have chores to do – for me and for my 85-year-old dad who lives (also on his own) up the road.
…means that people living on their own can now form a 'bubble' with another household. Seconds after his announcement, my sister was on the phone, banging on big time about how I should definitely be creating a bubble with someone.
I appreciate she means well. But seriously, butt out of my life, will you?
She was even telling me she had thought about contacting a local friend on my behalf to suggest she invite me into her 'bubble'.
I'm going to swear now.
How bloody dare she!
My (single) life…
…works because I have wide circle of friends, each of whom enriches my life in a unique way. There isn't one single friend I would choose over the others. And it is absolutely no business of anyone’s to nominate someone on my behalf.
But on and on she went, saying the same thing over and over again. How I needed to get out. I needed to see my friends. I shouldn't be shutting myself away indoors. I shouldn't be afraid to go out…
Before this phone call had started, I was quite happy with my current life. I mean, no one is truthfully enjoying lockdown – are they? – but hey, I can see how life could be a lot worse.
To shut my sister up…
… more than anything, I agreed to text said friend and suggest 'bubbling up' with her. She lives with her husband and two grown-up children, and they have a full complement of parents so (as my sister kept on pointing out) it's not like they had a lone family member they needed to bring into their household. I didn't know of anyone else this friend would be inviting into her bubble (believe me, my sister made me go through every one of this woman's family and friends I knew of to consider it).
My friend and I always meet up on a Thursday. Obviously for the past three months (actually, more), we've met via Zoom. That week I texted my friend.
'Hey!' I said, breezily. 'Here's a thought: As you're the friend who lives closest and whom I see the most, would you wanna be my 'bubble mate' – you could come to mine tonight?!'
The great thing about WhatsApp…
…is you can see when someone has read your message.
The worst thing about WhatsApp is you can see when someone has read your message. And hasn't replied immediately.
Which means she's going to say no.
I know she's going to say no.
If it were a yes, she'd have replied by now.
Twenty minutes later, her reply came through. She'd clearly spent some time composing it.
'I'm very flattered that you have asked but I will decline as I really want to keep all avenues open to be able to go into Mum and Dad's asap. Isn't your dad going to be your bubble buddy? Hope you're not offended and I'll certainly be up for the garden meeting as soon as the weather improves. Is Zoom OK later and you're not upset? xx'
My bubble burst
Truth is, I was upset. Very upset. Disproportionately upset. And what was worse was that I knew I couldn't blame my friend for that. Her decision had been in no way a reflection on our friendship.
Indeed, I felt awful to have put her in that position. I had made her think about me being lonely, and forced her to say to me 'sorry, I can't help you'.
It wasn't her who made me cry. It was a week's worth of pressure building up at work; the fact I'm tired; the fact I am missing all my friends (and their hugs). And the fact my sister just keeps on reminding me about all these things.
I did have the Zoom call with my friend. We talked about bubbles. 'I'd have thought you'd be forming a bubble with your dad, anyway,' she said. We chewed that over a bit – but I concluded it would make more sense for my sister to be in his bubble so she can get to see him properly when she visits and could stay for a couple of days – or even pick him up and take him home with her for a bit. I see my Dad twice a week anyway and we have a nice socially-distanced chat as I drop off his shopping. He doesn't ask for more. Knowing him, he doesn't want more.
And the other thing is… Boris's bubble is to extend a support network to someone who has been on their own for 12 weeks. Someone like Dad. But equally, someone like me. Someone who perhaps needs support herself.
Three days later…
…and I'm still dealing with the fallout. I had a garden meet-up with my local friend this afternoon and it was glorious. My sister is still seething. She'd read on my blog that I'd been upset and had confided in a couple of friends. She was incandescent with rage, demanding to know why I hadn't called her when I'd needed a pick-me-up (she has no clue that she is a large part of the reason behind my mini meltdown). Who had I called? What had they said that had been 'just right'? Why hadn't I called her?
As tactfully and patiently as I could, I explained that I was perfectly within my rights to speak to whatever friend I wanted to about whatever I wanted. And she had no right to know who I'd spoken to, much less what had been said.
She's still not happy. She's 'hugely hurt and offended'. And while I'm sad to hear that, I can't help how she has reacted. I don't believe I did anything wrong.
But it does mean I probably won't hear from her for a good few days. In her own way, she sees this as some kind of punishment to me.
If only she knew how treasured that break is…
Thanks to my friend for the guest post. Hopefully it’ll sort itself out in the end. I’ve had run-ins with my dear siblings in the past and the longer-term benefit has been that we are all much more careful now about what we land on each other, when, and what topics we talk about – because at the end of the day, we'd rather get on despite our differences.
So today I’ll give a shout out to my own lovely brother and sister, and all extended family. We may not always agree but we’d be there for each other if the proverbial hit the fan. I love you, man!
Peace and love, fellow hippies. x
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