Ask Ada: Dating In The Age Of Coronavirus

Plus: what to do when someone complains about the disabled person in their life.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Dating In The Age Of Coronavirus

Dear Ada,

I started dating someone new right before the coronavirus, and it’s been great. Dating while there has been a pandemic requires creativity, and we’ve had so many dates using video-conferencing apps. I feel like not being able to date in person led us to get closer faster. We really opened up and got to know each other on a deeper level than we would have if we were just going to movies and dinners. 

But now they want to start dating in the “real” world again, and to be honest, I’m not ready. I’m in the high risk category for both age and illness, and I’d like to continue social distancing. How can I keep this relationship alive? Is there a way we can keep dating without seeing each other? When should I start seeing him again?

You need to tell the person you’ve been dating that as much as you’d love to spend time together, you don’t feel ready yet.

Pandemic aside, all relationships require some negotiation when it comes to moving through different stages of the relationship. People aren’t magically ready to take it to the next level at the exact same time, and a healthy relationship requires that people clearly state their boundaries and work together to find a resolution that’s comfortable for both partners.

You can’t quite negotiate how you’re willing to date your new partner if you don’t have the answers to those questions yourself.

But before you tell your partner that you’re not ready, I suggest you reflect on what it is that will make you feel better about transitioning from a digital to an in-person relationship. Will cases of COVID-19 or hospitalizations need to decrease in your area? Do you want the both of you to quarantine for a short period before your dates? Would you rather putting a limit on your social interactions overall? Would you be comfortable with a no-contact in-person date to begin? 

You can’t quite negotiate how you’re willing to date your new partner if you don’t have the answers to those questions yourself (and possibly more!). Start by knowing what makes you feel safe, and only then will you be able to know how you can be flexible.

When it’s your new partner’s time to talk, be receptive to what they share, even if they’re more willing to risk exposure. Ask for details on how they’d like to move forward. Do they want to eat out at restaurants? Take hikes together? Double date? Those are all different activities with varying levels of risk.

If you’re willing, maybe suggest starting with socially-distant picnics in your yard. You’ll be able to see each other in a controlled environment without touching or being too close. Then, depending on your comfort level, you can increase the amount of dates or decrease the distance between you.

It’s so wonderful that you’ve both been able to use this time of social distancing to become close. Because of the emotional connection you’ve formed, I hope you feel safe having this discussion. Remember that growth can be uncomfortable at first, but a beautiful thing can develop from that place of discomfort.

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My Sister-In-Law Is Always Whining About Being My Brother’s Caregiver

Dear Ada,

I’m sick of hearing my sister-in-law complain about how hard it is for her to take care of my brother. A little less than a year ago he had a severe stroke, and now he’s quite limited. He was in a rehab/nursing home for a few months after the stroke to get him to a place where he’d be able to go home, but taking care of him is a full time job. Yet, she won’t hire someone to help, and she’s always complaining and will say things like “I didn’t ask for any of this.” 

How can I get her to stop complaining about my brother? It makes me feel sick.

I’m sorry that you have to hear your sister-in-law complain about how hard it is to take care of your brother. It must feel awful to hear him being spoken about as a burden, especially from someone who vowed to love and care for him.

That all being said, I’d love for you to consider your sister-in-law’s perspective for a moment. Her life was completely changed the moment your brother endured his stroke. And while no one ever wants to think of a person they love as a burden, I think you can understand how major this responsibility is that she has taken on. She’s just become a primary caregiver for the person who was once her equal partner. And remember: caregiver fatigue is a very real thing, and can lead to its own long term health problems.

Is it possible that she’s complaining to you because she views you as a trusted sounding board? Maybe she feels comfortable venting these frustrations to you, because she thinks you won’t judge her for feeling the way she does whereas other people would? 

Maybe she feels comfortable venting these frustrations to you, because she thinks you won’t judge her for feeling the way she does whereas other people would.

Sometimes people simply need to blow off steam and when doing so are careless with their words. You’ve probably been here before — saying something hurtful to a loved one just because you were angry, but not necessarily because you truly felt or believed those hurtful feelings you shared. Moreso because you knew it would hurt the other person or you’d regain control of the conversation.

Without more information about your relationship with her (and her relationship with your brother) it’s tough to determine if she should be treated as a villain or a heroine here.

If you believe that your sister-in-law means well, but might not understand how she comes across, have a heartfelt conversation with her. Ask her how she’s dealing. Tell her that while you understand how difficult it must be for her, it’s hurting you to hear her speak of your brother as a burden.

In this conversation, reiterate your offer to help, and let her know you truly mean it. Everyone offers help after a traumatic event, but not as many people follow through by giving it. Your sister-in-law might not feel comfortable admitting that she really needs more support. “Acting out” and complaining might be the only way that she gets across how overwhelming it is for her, instead of simply asking for others to step up.

Everyone offers help after a traumatic event, but not as many people follow through by giving it.

However, if your sister-in-law truly is spiteful about taking care of your brother, and not just trying to figure out her new role as a caretaker, you’ll have to decide what you’re willing to accept from this relationship. I still recommend talking with her and letting her know how you feel, especially if you haven’t done so yet. Her response will help you figure out how to proceed. You may need to limit your relationship with her, or ask to spend time alone with your brother when you visit.

That being said, if she’s going to continue with complaining and talking negatively about your brother, you might just have to accept her behavior for what it is. Try to block it out when you’re at their home, and distance yourself from her unless you’re visiting. There’s very little you can do to control or change this situation. You can only control how you choose to respond to it.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.