Care and Feeding

My Neighbor Is Punishing Me Over My Adult Son’s Vaccine Choice

Why should his decisions affect my friendships?

Two women side by side crossing their arms and scowling
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Dear Care and Feeding,

This has been a difficult year, and I am trying to respect boundaries set by friends and family when it comes to COVID. I always err on the side of safety and will not put my husband and myself in what I consider risky situations in regards to our health. We are both in our 60s and healthy. We both are vaccinated, although two of our adult children are not. I can’t convince them to get the vaccine; however, we still see them. I respect their choice even though I don’t agree.

I have a neighbor who I’ve become very friendly with over the past two years. We are very compatible when it comes to our beliefs in various things. However, she completely blindsided me a few days ago, and I’m having a hard time letting it go. She told me that she will not be inviting us (my husband and me) into her house, and she would not be coming into our house because my son is not vaccinated. My son does not live with us, but comes over once a week. I respect my friend setting her boundaries, but I think what is hurtful to me is that right before she told me this she just returned from a trip where she traveled on multiple airplanes. She also goes to a neighbor’s house once a week to play games with other neighbors. I suppose I should have asked her at the time if she was vetting all her friends and neighbors about their exposure to unvaccinated people, but I was taken by surprise by her statement and basically told her that I understood she needs to do what makes her feel safe.

Now I have no desire to do anything with her anymore. Am I being petty? Should I ask her why this sudden change? I admit she hurt my feelings. She feels everyone should be vaccinated, and I feel like she’s “punishing” me for my son’s decision. I’m good at letting people go that make me feel bad. Life is too short.

—Judged for Unvaxxed Family

Dear Judged,

I wouldn’t assume that she’s “punishing” you for your kids’ choices—she is making the choices she feels are most likely to protect her own health and that of her loved ones. I think it’s a mistake and perhaps uncharitable to assume that her personal health decisions have anything to do with attacking you or sending you a message.

Things are hard enough for everyone; we’re all attempting to calculate a level of risk we find acceptable while still living our lives. You shouldn’t judge your friend for drawing a line she feels is necessary right now. Nor do you need to set yourself as the judge of all her other choices—she might have felt she needed to go on that trip to see family; the neighbors she plays card games with could well be vaccinated. Risk is cumulative: Just because your friend has accepted one type of risk does not mean she has to accept them all.

Those of us who are able and have chosen to get vaccinated are doing the best we can. We’re all going to accept different risks because we either want or feel we have to, while mitigating overall risk by not behaving as we did pre-pandemic. I don’t think we should hold decisions around precautionary measures against one another.

—Nicole