You Need Help: My Partner and I Disagree About Our COVID Risk Reduction Practices


I (38, they/them) and my partner “S” (41, she/they) have lived together for 5 years, dated for almost 6. We’ve made it through some intense relationship challenges (unsupportive parents, deaths in the family, fertility treatments, a miscarriage and ultimately deciding against being parents, being in lockdown together, medical emergencies), and while our relationship is not perfect, we are both committed to working together and try to see most issues/problems as us vs the ‘problem’ instead of us vs each other. This is the longest and healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. I love S and I can’t imagine my life without them. However, we’ve come to an impasse in our diverging COVID risk appetite and desires, and I’m honestly not sure what solution or compromise we can find.

Since early COVID we’ve been pretty locked down. Neither of us have participated in indoor dining since spring 2020, and we’ve skipped weddings and funerals that lacked COVID precautions. We’ve been on two trips — to AirBNBs we could drive to — but those were more work-from-elsewhere trips than actual vacations. Our relationship pretty much revolves around our apartment and our dog.

I do have a queer book club I’m a part of that currently meets monthly with rapid testing beforehand (love you all!), and my job is hybrid, so I’m able to get out of the apartment and go to the office (masked) a couple times a week, or I’d probably be going even more stir-crazy. The thing is, I think my view of living in this timeline, where public COVID precautions aren’t being taken, has shifted. My partner’s view has not.

It seems like my partner would be happy living her best homebody life (she works fully remote), rarely going on dates outside the apartment, and saving most of her COVID risk for meeting up with friends and going on work trips. I guess it just feels like she isn’t willing to expand her COVID risk appetite for our relationship, but will for her friendships or work, and that feels unfair. With the non-existent public health response to COVID, I don’t see it going away anytime soon, and I’m ready to figure out how to try and thrive and experience life (safely). I’d like to do that with my romantic partner.

When I imagined my future with S, I thought we’d be experiencing life outside of our apartment together. I don’t need to do everything with her, but I want to do some things together at least, and while we’ve been on a handful of masked dates and rapid-tested hangouts with friends, S isn’t really interested in what she perceives as unnecessary risk. I’m starting to resent feeling like she has a different risk appetite for hanging out with her friends (they’ll even eat outdoors at restaurants) or going on work trips (they can fly to NYC for a week and go out with her team, but won’t go on a vacation with me that requires a flight and very little interacting with other people?) than she does for our relationship. When I’ve tried to talk to her about it she makes me feel like I’m being unreasonable for wanting her to examine her (IMO hypocritical) COVID risk appetite.

I don’t know how to move forward from this. I can’t believe that this might be the thing that we break up over, but she feels like I’m asking her to compromise on her health, and I feel like she’s prioritizing her friends and work over our relationship. I just don’t know how to even begin to talk to her about it without her making me feel like I’m asking an unreasonable thing of her. Any advice would be much appreciated.


To start off, I want to back up for a moment here: you and your partner have faced issues with your parents, bereavement, a fertility journey, the loss of a pregnancy, a decision, ultimately, to not try for another one, other medical issues AND a pandemic? And all within the past five years? You don’t need me to tell you this, but life has been THROWING it at you. You must be exhausted!

I don’t mention this to dwell, but to honor the fact that you’ve managed to face some complex and traumatic issues — far more than many couples face in such a small handful of years — and from what you tell me, you’ve managed to face them together, as a team. In order to have done this, there are things that each of you must’ve consistently brought to the table, like compassion, patience, and space for one another’s experience. You’ve held on to each other through some really rough seas, and now that the waters are starting to calm, an important but slightly less urgent issue, the issue of COVID risk reduction practices, is shaking your relationship up a bit.

Honestly, I get it. This far into the pandemic, it feels like we all have a touch of crisis fatigue, and I bet you two are dealing with more than your fair share of that. And sometimes, after dealing with an active crisis as a team, it’s the period afterward that can start to pull us apart. There’s now more time and space for your individual needs and feelings. It’s not surprising that this is when the resentment is starting to build!

I think the breakdown here isn’t that you have slightly different ideas about what life will look like in the next phase of the pandemic, but that you’re not currently able to meet each other with as much empathy and patience as perhaps you once did. You feel your partner is being “hypocritical,” she feels you’re being “unreasonable,” and you don’t get any closer to finding ways to move forward.

I appreciated all of the detail in your letter, because your different ideas of how to tackle COVID risk reduction both seem really reasonable to me. Your partner sees you at home, and so she wants to take more of her exposure risks when it’s necessary for work, or in order to see their friends. That makes sense! Meanwhile, you want to build a life with your partner that doesn’t just happen within the walls of your apartment. That also makes sense!

In order to get past this to a space where you can communicate in healthy ways, you’re going to have to work your way through those resentments. I don’t know what exactly that will look like for you, or whether it will be possible, but I do know it will begin with a willingness to, well, begin — one that has to come from both of you. Whether you have the means and opportunity to do some couples counseling, you find a book or resource that you like online, or you simply commit to having some pretty honest dinner table/comfy sofa/under the covers conversations, I think you’re going to have to name your resentments, talk through them with as much compassion for one another as you can possibly muster, and then, once you’ve acknowledged them, to be able to truly set them aside and agree to move forward into the next set of conversations — the conversations that are actually around the group project of making a life together, one where your collective and individual needs are met: a life where you can thrive.

COVID risk and harm reduction is complex, and the choices that we make now are both deeply personal and constantly evolving. The choices you’re making currently seem valid and reasonable; your partner’s choices seem reasonable too. I hope that with some work, you’ll both be able to get to a place where you can see just how close you’re still sitting to one another on this, and embark on this next phase as a team. I wish you all the best! 💙

You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Darcy, a.k.a. Queer Girl, is your number one fan. They're a fat feminist from California who doodles hearts in the corners of their Gay Agenda. They're living through a pandemic, they're on Twitter, and they think you should drink more water! They also wanna make you laugh.

Darcy has written 376 articles for us.


  1. From the headline, I was expecting way bigger differences in your COVID risk appetites. Is it possible that this is actually only tangentially about COVID, and more about differences in love languages that aren’t being communicated effectively?

    Like, is it possible that quality time is one of your primary love languages, and going out together would make you feel loved? And maybe your partner has different primary love languages, and isn’t getting the fact that this is about how you feel loved and secure in your relationship rather than about you wanting to be less cautious for no specific reason.

    I think there’s also a cousin to love languages, which is that different people feel differently about where they want to spend time with their loved ones. I’ve dealt with this with my girlfriend. For me, it matters a lot to spend time with her at home; there aren’t many people I’m comfortable being chill at home with, and it feels intimate and cosy and loving (we don’t live together, but I’d probably feel the same if we did). For her, it matters a lot to go out and have little adventures and experience new things with me; that’s what feels intimate and loving. Both of us like doing both things, but we’re different in which feels really important to us. I get the sense that your partner might be more like me, and might not intuitively get that going out together would be really fulfilling for you. I wonder if framing the conversation like this, rather than making it about COVID, would make it easier to arrive at compromises on risk you’d both feel comfortable with.

  2. Hi LW! I wonder if formalizing or systematizing the way you talk about covid risk in your relationship could be useful to you both. From your letter, I get the impression that you and S both have a pretty similar sense of how risky any individual action is, and how much overall risk you’d both like to take on, but you disagree about how to distribute it amongst the possible activities in your life. So what if you and S sat down together and came up with a point system? I’m imagining something like, only personalized to you two. So going to your office masked would be x points, dinner outside with friends would be y points, and you both don’t want to go over z points a week. You could then describe your problem to S as “I’m not upset because I want us to be spending more points total, but because of our limited points budget, I need doing things out together to be one of the priorities.” I think that might help you two both see how much you agree on in terms of covid risk, and help you compromise on where you spend your covid risk in a way that feels easier to discuss. I also wonder if your partner feels like they have to spend her risk on work and friends in order to keep them (do the friends worry less about covid risk than you two?) but that your relationship is not in danger of that because you two have similar values and risk tolerance around covid.

  3. I can kind of see why the partner, S, makes exceptions for friends and work. Sometimes – even if it scares me – I kind of feel like I have to leave the house to do some (low-risk) socializing in order to maintain my friendships – I live with my wife and we are not about to lose touch! I’ll kind of stress out about it but feel like it’s literally what I have to do to have anyone to interact with other than just my wife! We love each other, but it’s important to have friends & contact with the outside world. Naturally you have to leave the house for that. But S feels comfortable enough with the letter-writer to be honest about her needs, even if it may seem stodgy at this point. It doesn’t seem fair to me to begrudge S their limited out-of-house activities when the LW does so much more, out of an idea that it is hypocritical. Everybody has to figure out what they are comfortable with and seems to make judgements on people who have different comfort levels in either direction.

    That being said, I’m not trying to shame the LW – I just can really put myself in the shoes of someone who is on the more anxious side. Surely there are date ideas that even S would consider a non-risk or low enough to be comfortable – like a picnic with just the two of you. My wife and I are pretty much on the same page about covid, and I might even be slightly more anxious about it, but she has really settled into the hermit lifestyle and it can be hard for her to leave the house now. Last weekend there was a nice warm day so I got her to go with me to an outdoor lunch and we realized it had been so, so long since we’d been on a date! If you’re living in an area where spring is coming and the weather warming up, I honestly think that makes things so much easier and better covid-wise because it’s easier to spend time outdoors which is safer. (Alongside the seasonal depression subsiding.) Smoother sailing really could be just around the corner with the change in temperature!

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