Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Partying in a pandemic: My partner and I live in a small apartment building with six units in a major California city. We know everyone in the neighboring apartments, some better than others. About six months ago, three twentysomething guys moved in across the hall. They were nice and polite, and they commenced throwing regular parties. This was not a problem and they even gave us a phone number if things got too noisy. Of course this all ceased once our city went on lockdown. They now all work from home and we’ve spoken only once recently from across the hallway. However, it seems very clear that they threw another party last night, as evidenced by the noise and the people we saw and heard leaving the building, none of whom live here. My spouse is inclined to let it go as we do not have any close contact with them. We are taking all the precautionary measures (hand-washing, sanitizing items and surfaces in common areas, etc.) when entering and exiting our building. But I find myself increasingly bothered by our neighbors’ selfish and dangerous actions. It’s all I can do to not text them, “WTF, you assholes?!!!”.
A: There’s an obvious happy medium between cursing them out via text and doing nothing—knocking on their door, keeping 6 feet back, saying hello and making brief, pleasant conversation, then asking them to stop hosting parties as long as shelter-in-place orders last. These guys gave you their numbers (before this lockdown, to be sure) as a gesture of goodwill, so you have some reason to trust that they’ll be polite and open-minded. If that doesn’t work, then you can take your husband’s advice, avoid them whenever possible, and take all possible precautions in your own life. And if you simply can’t trust yourself to stay friendly in person, then go ahead and say something over text—but run it past a friend or two first to make sure that you’re not putting them unnecessarily on the defensive and that you’re clearly explaining the importance of practicing social distancing.
This is really hard. It’s deeply important to public health not to throw parties during a lockdown, but it’s not at all helpful to, say, call the cops (both because of the usual risks of police brutality as well as the fact that jails are notorious coronavirus vectors), and there’s a limit to how much you individually can convince someone else to change their behavior. Give it a good-faith effort, then divorce yourself from the outcome as much as you possibly can and focus on your own home. I hope they listen!