May 25, 2021

How to (politely) break up with your pandemic pod

Daily Briefing

    Writing for the New York Times, Jancee Dunn spotlights "five tales of how quarantine bubbles popped, imploded, or refused to burst."

    June 3 webinar: 'Stay Up to Date' on future of behavioral health after a year of isolation

    Background

    According to Dunn, as people are being vaccinated, many are looking forward to socializing more broadly and expanding the limited circle they've maintained throughout the pandemic for safety purposes.

    But the process may be more intense than thought, she writes, in part because the quarantine has magnified our relationships with other people. "If your relationships were already fraught, the quarantine made them more fraught," Margaret Clark, a psychology professor and director of the Clark Relationship Science Laboratory at Yale University, said.

    And that's particularly true for someone's "pandemic pod," a group of people who have essentially served as surrogates for all other relationships, Dunn writes. "We all have a variety of relationships that serve different purposes," Clark said. "Without them, more responsibilities fell on those you were with."

    As a result, breaking up your pod can be emotionally challenging, potentially spurring feels as varied as "guilt, despair, regret, scorn, and even glee," said Schekeva Hall, a clinical psychologist, said. To process those feelings effectively, Hall recommends giving yourself and your pod group some space to gain perspective and discern how—and whether—your relationship will continue in the future.

    5 pod 'breakups,' explained

    To illuminate the range of reactions to a pod breakup, Dunn spotlights five people who have dissolved, or plan to dissolve, their "quaranteam," including:

    1. The pod that couldn't commit

    Melissa Petro, a freelance writer in New York City, formed a pod with four friends and their families—a group that initially provided "the community we had always longed for," Petro said.

    But the podmates, despite agreeing "to a set of strict safety standards, began to stray," Dunn writes, with members going to the hairdresser, allowing family to visit, or taking the train into the city—infidelities that turned into arguments.

    Ultimately, the group broke up before Thanksgiving, Petro said. And while they've seen each other since the breakup, it's not quite the same.

    2. The pod that isn't as so excited to return to 'normal'

    Joe Silva, a radio host, formed a pod with four friends, movie buffs who—in Silva's words—spent their pod time "test driving 'brunch beers' and debating the grim rise of Disney+."

    But despite what Silva described as a civilized breakup, the pod found they couldn't enjoy themselves or fully relax when they took their first post-breakup outing to a movie theater. "It wasn't until we got in the theater that we realized how damn conditioned we'd become in the pod," he said. "No one enjoyed those post-quarantine Milk Duds as much as we thought we would"—although he hopes, with time, that those Milk Duds will "taste more like freedom."

    3. The pod that can't break up

    Similarly, Anika Jackson, an entrepreneur in California who formed a pod with 13 family members, said she's just not ready to face the idea of a breakup. "I'm tearing up just thinking about it," she said, citing the benefits of living their "authentic selves" together during the pandemic, rather than seeing each other just over the holidays or on social media.

    For now, she and her siblings are "taking baby steps," Dunn writes. "We've all started socializing more with other people," Jackson said, "but when I think about breaking up, I'm still very emotional."

    4. The insecure pod

    Lucia O'Sullivan, a psychology professor who formed a pod with another family of four, worries that after being each other's primary source of socialization for so long, the other family may be sick of her and her family after the pandemic.

    "You're so aware that your primary source of all socialization has to be this other family," she said. "And I spend a lot of time having these strange insecurities, and thinking, 'Oh, they’re sick of us, they're rolling their eyes and they don't want to hang out.'"

    She added that once New Brunswick permits larger indoor personal gatherings, her family's "pod family is not going to want to see our mugs for a while."

    5. The pod that can't wait to break up

    Maya, a woman in Brooklyn who is still enmeshed in her five-family pod, said the experience has been exhausting and stressful—a dysfunctional family "with all the drama that goes with it."

    While the pod has agreed to stick together until June, the end of their children's school year, she said everyone in the pod is "so ready to leave." Maya added, "I've never lived communally since college. I want a social life beyond these folks. I am never, ever going to do this again" (Dunn, New York Times, 5/21).

    Stay Up to Date: The future of behavioral health after a year of isolation

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    The effects of continued and prolonged restrictions on daily life has impacted the mental health of the world’s citizens in profound ways. But the health care system is ill-prepared to deal with the massive challenges that a year of isolation, fear, and anger are certain to have produced, especially among children. This week on Stay Up to Date, we'll discuss the outlook not only for demand for behavioral health, but who is poised to succeed in treating it.

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