The Least Our Freeloading Son Could Do Is Practice Social Distancing

The Least Our Freeloading Son Could Do Is Practice Social Distancing

My wife and I have a 25-year-old son who has sadly failed to launch. He lives in a shared apartment with many roommates. Still, he brings his dirty laundry home and eats dinner with us frequently because, we suspect, it’s free. He hasn’t found anything like a career path. We can almost deal with all of this. What we can’t deal with is his irresponsible behavior during our national period of “social distancing” to help contain Covid-19. When we challenge him about his partying and hanging out with large groups of friends, he shrugs us off — as if he wasn’t endangering himself and others. Any advice?


Let’s start gentle, then get tough (as needed). Stop saying your son has “failed to launch.” It’s too soon to know and would likely hurt his feelings. Being 25 is harder today than it was when we were kids — and that was before Covid-19!

The gig economy, sky-high rents and staggering student debt loads have hamstrung many young people. But I won’t be your son’s apologist, either. When he brings home dirty laundry, let him wash it. If he turns up for dinner, have him do the dishes.

As for all-important social distancing, I mostly disagree with the army of pundits who ascribe recklessness like your son’s to the “invincibility of youth.” When I was 25 and terrified of H.I.V. transmission, “invincible” is the last name you would have called me. I’ve also seen many responsible young people in action in recent weeks.

No, personal sacrifice for the greater good (and not merely for people whose names we know) is a muscle that must be exercised to become strong. And it hasn’t been asked of us seriously as Americans since World War II. We’re out of shape!

It’s being asked of us now, though. Speak calmly with your son about his duty to you and the community. Then add some teeth: Shut down the free laundry, food service and other perks until he falls into line. Allowing him access to your home while he behaves irresponsibly puts you at risk and makes you complicit in the spread of this pandemic.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

I am a European student enrolled at an American college. When we were asked to leave campus for the rest of the semester, a good friend invited me to stay with her family nearby. I agreed, and I’m extremely grateful to her. The problem: We share a bedroom and stay together for most of the day. The lack of privacy is killing me. Is it rude to ask for time alone? I don’t want to hurt her feelings.


What a generous friend (and family)! I totally get your concern. But everyone needs private time — including your friend, I bet. She may think she’s being a good host by sticking close. Tell her you’d like to take a solitary walk to clear your head, if she wouldn’t mind. (She won’t.) Many of us are feeling cooped up now. But carving out some breathing room is a basic necessity of self-care.

I have a friend with whom I eat at restaurants. She never agrees to share dishes we order, even when portions are huge and much goes to waste. (She also refuses to take uneaten food home with her.) Many times, I’ve suggested splitting a pasta or salad and asking the server to bring it on separate plates. She refuses! Finally, she told me that asking restaurants to split orders is bad manners. I feel insulted. I come from a culture where sharing food is part of the emotional connection of a meal. Your thoughts?


Remember the good old days of in-restaurant dining?

My favorite objection in courtroom dramas is “asked and answered.” It cuts down on repetition. With due respect to your culture, once your friend let you know she was uncomfortable sharing food, why keep pressing her? You asked; she answered.

In your defense: Requesting that servers split orders doesn’t seem like bad manners to me. Many restaurants are happy to oblige; some charge an order-splitting fee. But badgering people is wrong. And doing so until they inadvertently hurt us is one of the prime reasons.

I take yoga classes at a small studio. They have moved classes online for the time being. The online classes are free, but the studio suggests a donation of $5 per class. The problem: I’ve been laid off because of the pandemic, and even though $5 sounds like nothing, I have no idea how long my small savings will last or when I’ll return to work. Is it wrong to skip the suggested donation?


Take the studio at its word: For now, classes are free. If you feel uncomfortable not making the suggested donation, email the studio manager to discuss your predicament.

Let him or her know you’ll do your best to make it up to the studio when you’re back on your feet. For those who can afford to make more than suggested donations to small businesses you value: Now is the time! We really are all in this together.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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