DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a work friend who calls me every day. Since social distancing began in March, our place of work has been closed. My friend lives alone and has always depended upon our workplace as their sole means of social interaction and access to the internet.
They do not have a computer at home, and they take pride in their “non-smart” flip phone. Their only source of information is the TV. When Friend calls, they want to know everything I have done during my day. Then they angrily rehash all of the day’s COVID-19 news and other disasters.
Sometimes I just can’t bear the thought of speaking with them, and let the call roll to voicemail. After a few days, I feel guilty and call them, only to get an accusatory, “Why didn’t you pick up? Where have you been?” (As if I could be anywhere but at home during this pandemic.)
I feel as if I am one of Friend’s only lifelines during this crisis. I don’t want to be cruel or cause any mental health issues by ignoring them or denying them the opportunity for human conversation, but their daily needy calls are making me stressed and depressed.
I should have nipped this in the bud long ago, but did not. How can I politely set healthy boundaries for both of us while not feeling like a terrible person for wanting less contact?
GENTLE READER: Your desire to help a co-worker drowning in isolation is admirable, and your desire not to be pulled under with them, understandable. What balance to strike will have to depend on your available time and your patience.
Once you have made a decision about how much you can do, Miss Manners counsels you to stick to it -- rather than wasting more time questioning yourself. This will be easier if the friend is rude enough to take a tone with you for not calling back sooner.