Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Sleeping through the end times: Over the last couple of years, my friends have increasingly catastrophized everything from adulthood to the news, while I remain appropriately (I think) concerned, but relatively OK (we’re all in our mid- to late 20s and come from mostly comfortable backgrounds).
For example, my friends’ COVID social media posts even now tend to be along the lines of “how can you expect me to go to work/do the grocery shopping/brush my teeth when the world is ending around me?” I regularly mask, social distance when possible, and take other precautions, but I also recognize that we live in an area of relatively low transmission, and I don’t see the world ending outside my window. Lately they’ve taken to worrying that the Ukraine invasion means that our comfortable American suburb could be wiped out by nuclear bombs at any time, and they complain about how they’re “done with living through the news.”
We all live fairly sheltered lives, and frankly we’ve barely been touched by these or any other events like them. I’m concerned by the news and try hard to stay informed, but I don’t see death lurking around every corner, and I’m not suffering through any existential crises that are worth mentioning at a time when innocent people are being bombed.
The problem is, my friends accuse me of being disconnected, insensitive, and overprivileged because I’m sleeping at night and not consumed with worry. I think that their insistence on making their own (rather immature) angst at the center of these events is a pretty embarrassing form of privilege in itself, though I haven’t voiced this directly. How can I defend my own normal functionality and tell them to buck up without sounding like an insensitive cable news anchor?
A: If your friends are so worried about the state of the world that they can barely work, I’m surprised that they have bandwidth left over to monitor and critique your emotions. If one of them wrote in, I’d tell them to redirect that energy to do something, however small, to help out as the world seemingly ends.
I really don’t think you should have to defend yourself to these miserable “friends,” but I suppose what you could say is that what’s actually “privileged” is falling apart over headlines when nothing bad is actually happening to you. Do they think they’re helping the innocent people being bombed by worrying? If they’re having a hard time coping, that’s totally fine and understandable, but it’s not a mark of superiority. Maybe you could say something like “We’re all safe and doing relatively well because we haven’t been directly affected by these tragedies. I feel I have an obligation to be grateful for that. I understand that everyone is wired differently and I hate that you’re feeling down, but I would rather relieve my stress by taking whatever small actions I can to make things better for others who aren’t as fortunate as I am.”
My boyfriend’s sister “Clara” recently got divorced and moved into a fixer-upper with her kids. She has been working on it for a while but it has been a slow go. My boyfriend and I took a week of our vacation to come down and help her out. He worked on landscaping and fixing the porch while I painted and replaced tiles in the kitchen. I have extensive experience in home renovation since I worked for my uncle flipping houses in college. I worked on that kitchen every day—I was even able to update her cabinets cheaply with finds from a charity store. I also took long baths around 9 every night. I run and asked Clara if I could use the tub after the kids had gone to bed. I usually was aching after everything and liked to rewind with a book and a bath. She said it was OK. I did finish the kitchen before we left and Clara thanked me. I was pretty pleased with myself until Clara added me accidentally to the wrong group chat.