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How to Tell Your Friends You Can’t Hang This Thanksgiving

I appreciate the Friendsgiving invite, but there’s this thing called COVID. Have you heard of it?

In more normal times, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to get passionately drunk with old friends and baste your former high school anatomy partner. But this Thanksgiving is all about limited exposure, and while your buddies are probably already planning casual meetups, you see the pretty goddamn clear and obvious value in not spreading COVID, and plan on staying home instead. So how do you let them down easy?

You can start by chilling out and understanding that pretty much everyone is in a similar situation this Thanksgiving, so your friends should hopefully be more understanding than usual. “If there’s anything that I’ve learned and observed during this pandemic, it’s that everyone has different levels of comfort regarding safety protocols and precautions,” says licensed clinical social worker Leah Aguirre. “It goes beyond the mask. Some people are comfortable with small groups, especially if they know the whereabouts and safety measures everyone has taken when they’re out in public. Other people have been quarantining — or mostly quarantined — almost this entire time and aren’t comfortable in the slightest to see or be around others, aside from those they live with, immediate family and partners.”

When it comes to actually responding to your Friendsgiving invite, Aguirre says being straightforward is your best bet, as scary as it may seem. “The only way to navigate this is to be direct and share what you’re comfortable and not comfortable with,” she explains. “I also know that a lot of friend groups and families are collectively deciding to get tested prior to holiday events and gatherings. So it’s basic informed consent — knowing the circumstances before making a decision or agreeing to attend an event. This could be asking about the group size, having an idea of the whereabouts of those attending the gathering and determining if it’s indoors or outdoors. One might want to ask if the host or group expects people to maintain six feet of distance or wear a mask when they’re indoors and close to one another. Then, with that information, you could decide what feels best and most comfortable for you. It can really be a simple, ‘Hey, I’m not comfortable with being in large groups, so I’m going to sit this one out this year.’”

While you might be tempted to beat around the bush in an attempt to keep feelings from getting hurt, Aguirre says this is likely to only make things harder for you and everyone else involved. “I don’t think lying or dancing around the issue makes sense,” she says. “We’re all aware of what’s going on, and if someone were to get pushback or be given a hard time about not attending an event or wanting to spend time in person, that’s indicative of the person protesting and their own shit, for lack of a better word.”

If you want to put in some extra energy, it may also help to shower your friends with compliments and love — and possibly send them something nice — while denying their invitation. “Lead with safety first, and get to the heart of what it means to invite your friends for a Thanksgiving meal — in other words, what they mean to you,” says interpersonal relationships researcher Mariana Bockarova. “Let them know that because of COVID, you feel more comfortable having Thanksgiving with only your household, but that you want to thank them for their friendship and let them know how much they mean to you. If you could put into words the sentiment of your friendship and what it means to you, it will help keep the meaning that they’d normally derive from sitting across from you at the Thanksgiving dinner table. You might also consider sending a card, making them a takeout meal or sending a small token of appreciation to mark the holiday with them, even if it doesn’t include the normal rituals in which they’d partake under any other circumstance.”

If your friends are still giving you a hard time, maybe put it this way: Basting your high school anatomy partner is cool and all, but not if that means giving them COVID. Plus, if you can hold off this year, there’ll be more people still alive to celebrate with next time around.