Why It's So Upsetting To See Your Friends Not Wearing Masks (And How To Change Their Minds)

Photo: Joanna Schroeder 
How To Convince Someone To Wear A Mask
Health And Wellness

COVID-19 was easier to face when we were all in it together. We were a part of something.

We were all home, doing our part, and sending love and support to the essential workers who couldn't stay home.

But something has changed in the last few weeks, especially since Memorial Day weekend. People want to hang out with friends, and they won't wear a mask.

We've been numbed to the massive deaths due to COVID-19 — currently more than 130,000 Americans dead and over 525,000 deaths around the world. COVID-19 has killed more Americans than any flu season since 1918-1919, the so-called "Spanish Flu". But somehow, Americans are just kind of "meh" about it now.

It's not just the armed militia-types in Michigan who are rebelling against mask requirements and other restrictions.

Our friends and neighbors, even liberals and progressives who tend to take a more socialist perspective, seem unwilling to wear a mask ;or practice social distancing, despite the proof that it is better for ourselves and society.

But can you convince someone to wear a mask for coronavirus safety without making them mad or alienating them?

My Instagram stories show my friends hanging out with neighbors, going to parties, crowding together on beaches and never wearing masks and it's really starting to affect me.

In fact, on the night we learned of the death of 41 year-old Broadway performer (and husband and father) Nick Cordero, I saw a dozen Instagram stories of friends socializing outside their bubble without masks.

I started sobbing. It felt like all these good people have just stopped caring. It feels personal.

RELATED: 10 Stylish Face Masks To Buy That Donate Money To Coronavirus Relief

COVID-19 is a community-spread disease. And as much as I'd love to lock myself away from society, I can't.

I am the mom of an asthmatic son, I am over 40 and have asthma, my husband is over 50, and my mom and step-dad live in the guest house of our property. Not only are they over 70, my step-dad has an illness that is very severe and is one of the more dangerous conditions to have, should he contract COVID-19.

In addition, my husband is a TV news producer, considered an essential service. He goes to work every day.

RELATED: 50 Fun Ways To Improve Your Life While Social Distancing During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Turns out, there is a model for how to get more people to wear something they don't want to wear — something that can be a little uncomfortable and takes a bit of the fun out of things.

Yes, you know what I'm thinking ... masks are like condoms!

After reading a super helpful Instagram post by Dr. Jill McDevitt, sexologist and sexual health consultant, I'm feeling a bit hopeful that we really can convince people to wear masks. 

 

If you want to know how we get people to comply with wearing face masks, ask a #sexologist.  It’s not our first rodeo when it comes to convincing people they should wear a barrier for protection from a deadly virus.  Here’s what we’ve learned from 4 decades of research on #condom use: .  You can’t shame, guilt, or judge people into compliance. Does not work.  Don’t lie. Don’t pretend wearing it doesn’t suck.  Normalize it. Make wearing the default, the norm.  Be consistent with the messaging. Schools, workplaces, government officials, health workers, and movie stars all need to be saying the same thing.  Make them accessible. They should be free or at cost. They should be distributed in communities so wearing it is as easy as possible.  Teach people to keep one on their person, in their purse, car, by their front door, etc. Having one on hand greatly increases the likelihood it will be used.  Be honest, but not fear-based, about their risks of transmitting the virus without wearing one.  Help people learn the communication skills needed to talk to others they encounter who don’t want to wear one.  Target social marketing to different populations. A college student and a boomer will have very different reasons for non-compliance. Speak their language.  Improve their design to make them fit better and more comfortably. #yesthosearedicks #penismask #askasexologist #askasexeducator

A post shared by Jill McDevitt (@sexdocjill) on Jun 28, 2020 at 12:09pm PDT

This is brilliant. 

But how do we learn those specific communication skills needed to convince someone to wear a mask?

And how do we do that without shame, guilt or judgement? Because right now, I'm feeling super judgemental and I know it's not helpful.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Make Your Coronavirus Face Mask More Comfortable 

For answers, I reached out to Dr. Jill McDevitt herself. 

The first thing she told me was that my hurt, fear and even anger over the mask issue are justified.

Even just reading that was such a relief to me. 

She also shared a few reasons people may refuse to wear a mask, and this insight is helping me have more empathy for the mask-resisters — even though I know they are absolutely wrong in their choices. 

"They might also feel embarrassed about wearing one, or they could be digging their heals in as a way to maintain some sense of power and control in a totally chaotic situation in which they feel powerless."

As far as talking to people who won't wear a mask, here are her suggestions.

Start with a simple question, such as these:

“I noticed you’re not wearing a mask today. I’m curious — can I ask why?”

“Do you need a mask? I have a spare.” 

“Oh no did you forget your mask? No worries, I have an extra you can have”

Brilliant.

"This is disarming, and solution-based," she told me. "If they legit did forget a mask, problem solved. If there is something holding them back from choosing to wear one (fear, misunderstanding, confusion, ignorance, etc) questions provide an opportunity to provide information or reassurance."

RELATED: 5 Ways Social Distancing May End Up Helping Your Dating Life

Conversations with friends and family may look different, and allow us more of an opportunity to relate on a personal level. Dr. McDevitt says there is a lot to learn from effective conversations about safer sex. 

Here are a few of her specific, non-judgemental ideas to help you talk to someone about wearing a mask for coronavirus:

“Yeah, it sucks wearing them sometimes. Trust me, I’m not a fan either. But thankfully this is not forever, and in the meantime, they allow us to be safer when we’re together.”

“I feel you. They make masks with ear loops/neck ties/bendy metal nose pieces so that it doesn’t keep slipping off/hurting your ears/fogging up your glasses. I can help you find one that’s more comfortable for you.”

“I love spending time together, and wearing a mask makes me safe. I understand your choice not to wear one, but also understand that I can’t hang out with you without a mask. If you change your mind, let me know so we can get together!”

“I’m worried about COVID-19. If you were wearing a mask, I could relax and enjoy our time together more because I wouldn’t have to worry as much.”

Finally, Dr. McDevitt told me that using positive reinforcement can really help create a culture of positivity around masks, and encourage people to wear them more. 

Here are a few of her suggestions for how to do this:

“I love your flamingo mask! Super cute!”

“Look at you all! This is why I love this town/restaurant/office/park/store — everyone rocking the masks!”

“Thank you for wearing your mask”

She notes that it may be "motivating for the people not wearing a mask that overhear these compliments others are getting."

Sounds good to me. I will take anything I can get at this point. And tapping into the positive feelings I have when I see people wearing masks is something that will hopefully put me in a better frame of mind, too. 

Sometimes it feels like our lives during this pandemic are directionless. It's hard to know what's accurate and every choice feels like a new challenge. Add in the fact that so many of us are already lonely and feeling disconnected from our networks, the idea of offending someone or alienating a friend is even more overwhelming.

But when you have tools, it's easier to feel confident. Hopefully these tools will empower more people to speak up and advocate for more people to wear masks.

Our nation's health — and so many people's lives — literally depend upon it. 

RELATED: The Terrifying Racism I Faced For Being Asian During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and media critic whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, Time, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Esquire, Vox, and more. Follow her on Twitter for more.

Subscribe to YourTango's newsletter to keep up with us for FREE

- Our best articles delivered straight to your inbox
- The latest in entertainment and news
- Daily horoscopes and love advice

Dr. Jill McDevitt is a sexologist and sexual health consultant. She is the resident sexologist at CalExotics. Follow her on Instagram.