On this week’s episode of The Cut, co-host Jazmín Aguilera talks about dealing with the anti-vaxxers that are in our lives. Lux Alptraum shares how she broke up with her longtime personal trainer over the issue. Then, the Cut’s Angelina Chapin tells the story of one woman whose parents picked their anti-vaxx ideology over going to their daughter’s wedding.
To hear more about navigating relationships with people who share different values, listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also read the full transcript below.
LUX ALPTRAUM: The moment I knew I was done was right after New York made it so that anybody in a physical-fitness environment was going to have to be vaccinated. He works out with people at gyms, and he was going to be barred from working out at a gym now.
JAZMIN AGUILERA: Lux was very vaccinated. Chad was … very not. And their relationship had become … very complicated. Back in 2009 though, when Lux started working out with Chad, things between them were a lot simpler. And Lux needed something simple in her life.
LUX: I had the worst year of my life, there was some difficult stuff going on with a family member and health. I was in a lawsuit, and it was destabilizing, so having somebody to work out with and deal with my frustrations was good. He never asked me about work, and he never wanted to know too much about me. And I’m showing up and doing the work.
At one point, I was dating somebody, and it was their birthday, and I gave them a session with him for their birthday. So then he knew my partner at that time. He would tell me some stuff about his personal life. He told me about when he got married and I was like, Okay, you’re telling me this, I’m just going to listen to it.
JAZMIN: Over time, Lux maybe kinda sorta unwillingly got to know Chad. And some red flags started to show up. Like the way he would talk about 9/11 when September rolled around. Chad was … dabbling in conspiracy theories. It was upsetting. But, he was just Lux’s personal trainer, right?
LUX: I think a therapist is a very close analog. It’s a professional relationship, but it’s also very personal, and it can bleed together. Even if you’re unhappy with the relationship, you can often feel trapped, and it’s weird because you’re the customer, you should have control, but because it becomes very personal, it can be really hard to get out or it can feel can rapidly feel disempowering, even though by all metrics, you are the person who is in power. So I just kept seeing him and trying to push these flags out of my mind because they weren’t my business.
JAZMIN: So, how did your workouts with him change when COVID hit?
LUX: So initially when everything shut down, and when nobody knew anything, there was maybe a month or two period where we didn’t see each other at all. Then in April or May 2020, it had gotten a little bit warmer, and I was comfortable being outdoors and masked, so for a lot of the pandemic year, we were working out outside. There would be enhanced cleanliness protocols. I didn’t get the sense at the time that he didn’t take COVID seriously. He was happy to wear masks. He seemed to care about cleanliness. But every once in a while, he would say things that were a bit concerning, but it was still 2020. There were a lot of things we were finding out about COVID and a lot we didn’t know about yet. Everyone had their conspiracy theory. He got really into this idea that if you took a lot of vitamin D or vitamin C, you would not get COVID. It was at a time when everybody’s looking for an answer, so you can kind of forgive them, but I didn’t have any major red flags at the time.
The red flags started when the vaccine was available. That’s when it like really ramped up and it went from being like, Okay, like there are some things that are uncomfortable to like, Oh, this is a dysfunctional relationship for me. I got my first shot, I think January 12, very early in January, before most of the people that I know were eligible to get vaccinated. I mentioned I got vaccinated, and he expressed some hesitation. And initially, the hesitation was framed as, Well, I want to wait and see how people are feeling in six months. Then it’s like, Okay, maybe they’re just cautious. He is an immigrant and black so it was more understandable for me that he would be hesitant for several reasons. But the weeks went on and as eligibility opened up, it became more and more clear that he was not interested in getting the vaccine. And first, there was a period where I would be annoyed, and then I would go work out, and then I’d feel good. And then I’d be like, Okay, whatever, because I was vaccinated. I’m mostly protected.
But there was one day when he comes and he’s like, “You know what? I’ve decided there are three topics I’m not talking to people about: religion, politics, and COVID-19.” He sorta laughs at this but then proceeds to tell me about how he’s suspicious of the vaccines and how he doesn’t need to take the vaccine because he’s so healthy and he never gets sick. And then there would be mentions of conspiracy. He said, “I saw this video of a woman on YouTube and she’s a nurse, but she’s been disabled since she got the shot.”
JAZMIN: Okay, so at this point, Chad seems like he’s spending too much time on YouTube. And Lux started to consider a break-up.
LUX: Then I would have a good workout. I’d be like, I don’t know. I’ve been seeing him for so long. This is a long relationship. I’ve gotten a lot of benefit out of it. Maybe he’s gonna change his mind. As it got into late summer, it got worse. I would wake up and I would be angry and I wouldn’t want to go see him. Then there was a period where I would just fight with him. I knew when I was fighting with him, that it was not productive. And I knew that that was not how you persuaded people, but I was also so angry.
JAZMIN: This is the culture war brought to real life. It’s personal medical decision meets massive public-health crisis meets online radicalization …. meets fitness. A true 2021 Category 5 shit storm in miniature, played out between Lux and her personal trainer Chad — and setting aside the biggest public-health crisis of our lifetimes, Lux just wanted to work out, you know? That was what she loved about Chad in the first place. No nonsense! Only fitness! But now he seemed to not only be full nonsense but be very chatty about it!
LUX: He would often phrase it as, like, Can’t we all just get along like you do your thing and I do my thing. He was framing it as this personal thing that was sort of like, I’m not going to tell you what to do so you shouldn’t tell me what to do, except that what he does, his choices, implicitly affect other people.
Two things made me very uncomfortable. One is that we would fight and fight and then he’d be like, I love you. I would never do anything to hurt you. And that is crossing a boundary for me. But the turning point for me was a time when had just gotten back from visiting his family and at one point, he’s like, I feel like I’m just being pummeled from all sides. I got the impression that his family had perhaps been pressuring him to get vaccinated. There were fights and then he’s like, And now I’m being pummeled by the government. Then he compared himself to the kids from the Hunger Games and how the elites don’t care about him, how they’re taking advantage of him and manipulating him. At that point, I was just like, I’m done.
There was this breaking point for me because here’s this person who I am paying money to and he refuses to do this thing that I think is incredibly important and really, is about my safety. But I feel this loyalty to him because we’ve been working out together for over a decade and I know that he’s probably taking a hit because of all of the things having to do with the pandemic, even beyond his stance on vaccination. I’m sure he took a pretty big hit last year. I know that that’s a struggle, so I feel bad. But then why don’t I feel empowered in this relationship to say, This is not working for me. I don’t want to do this anymore.
JAZMIN: It took a little more time, but Lux worked up the courage to stop working out with Chad. It wasn’t some big blow-up fight or tearful good-bye. She just did what I would do and kept it vague. She sent a text.
“Hey, I’m sorry, I’ve been out of touch. I’ve had some things come up. I need to put training on hold for a little bit, but I’ll be in touch when I can start up again.”
Pretty standard as far as professional break-up texts go. She didn’t stop working out though, she just started using a class pass, going to places she knew had a strict vaccine policy. And she regained some of that anonymity she craved with Chad in the first place. There were no vaccine debates between reps or savasanas. No culture wars allowed in spin class!
But as weird as breaking up with your trainer or your therapist or anyone you have a personal and transactional relationship with — imagine this scenario playing out when the problem to solve isn’t just “How am I going to work out?” and becomes “Will my mom be able to come to my wedding?”
ANGELINA CHAPIN: I first got interested in this story because I saw a tweet from a woman saying, “My parents just told me they’re choosing not to attend my wedding rather than being vaccinated.” She was freaking out and it had 60K likes and people were replying, We’ll be your surrogate parents.
JAZMIN: This tweet went viral and that’s when Angelina realized that going into wedding season, this kind of vaccine showdown was going to affect a lot of families and communities, so she started calling around. And as a note, the interviews you are about to hear are a little bit grainy and we have changed the names and identifying information of the folks featured … well because these stories are very personal and also very difficult situations.
ANGELINA: Weddings are so emotionally complex anyway, that it felt like this is sort of the frontline of the battlefield when it comes to disagreements over vaccines. Everything’s just so heightened.
BRIDE: I called my mom, she answered and I was crying. She was like, “What’s wrong?” And I told her, “Stephen’s parents aren’t going to come to the wedding because you’re not vaccinated.” And she was just like, oh, like she felt it too.
ANGELINA: And not everybody told me a story of their parents. Some people talked about best friends or other family members, but while there were some of your more prototypical Fox News watching conservative anti-vax parents, there were also people who were surprised that their loved ones had these views.
COLLIN: Gary has been my best friend since the third grade. We had gone through every major thing in life as bros, blood cannot make us any closer. Through all the highs, I was there. I was there when his son was born. But there is some vaccine hesitancy, and I had to tell him, “You know I love you, just wanted to put it out there, we wanted you there.”
ANGELINA: So I found Amy. She is a 30-year-old Canadian lawyer who at the time, was getting married in September, and leading up to her wedding, she was stressed because she knew that the most important people in her life didn’t want to be vaccinated. It was really important to her that everybody at the wedding was, so she was in for a huge uphill battle.
AMY: We knew that my immediate family were the only guests that were likely to not get vaccinated. We were considering just mandating vaccinations for all guests anyway. It turned out that the synagogue was saying that anyone who walks through their doors has to be vaccinated. We thought, Oh, great, looks like this saves us from looking like assholes.
ANGELINA: She was relying on an honor system, just sort of trusting that everybody would RSVP if she asks the question, are you vaccinated or not? So she just threw it out there and hoped that they would be truthful, but she always knew that when it came to her most immediate circle, her parents and three of her four siblings, that it was going to be an issue. She was kind of braced for that, but I think in the back of her mind, she was like, It’s such an important day. They will put their belief aside.
They are Evangelical Christians, a pretty classic stereotype. They watch Fox News, they think vaccines cause autism, they’re pretty anti-Establishment. So she’s the liberal black sheep of the family and has spent the past decade distancing herself from them and trying to navigate that relationship. The relationship was already pretty tense
AMY: Our wedding is this expression of our ideals and values as a couple, so it felt inconsistent with who we are to not take steps to make sure that everyone was safe. Especially since we did a lot of thinking through the worst-case scenario and how we would feel if someone caught COVID at our wedding and it would ruin the event, at least for me.
ANGELINA: So she sent an email to her family laying out the concerns. Sort of “Look, we have friends. They want to bring their kids who are under 12 to the wedding. And those friends aren’t comfortable having the kids around people who are unvaccinated. So, you know, we want you there. We love you, but please don’t make us choose between having our friend’s children and you, because you can be vaccinated and the kids can’t.”
So they send the email, then they leave to go camping for a week in a place where they know they’ll have zero internet access. In essence, they’re sort of throwing this grenade — they know it’s going to cause a major fight — and then running for the hills so they don’t have to deal with it right away. Of course, they’re going to come back from this camping trip and there’s going to be debris and fall out and they have to pick up the pieces. But I think they were secretly hoping things would calm down or just “out of sight, out of mind, let’s just go commune with the trees and try to get our blood pressure low.” But that was not effective when they came back. Things had not calmed down, especially with Amy’s sister, who was super pissed off.
AMY: She went nuclear and sent me this huge, long ranty email about how she can’t stay silent anymore, about how much I love being a victim, and how unfair it is that I would ask them to compromise their values, how selfish it was. But I was insisting on this at my wedding.
JAZMIN: Did she actually show you the email?
ANGELINA: Oh, she showed me the email and it was super intense
AMY: I have it here. God. She said, “You talk a lot about your stress and anxiety about planning a wedding during a pandemic, but you don’t seem to care about the stress and anxiety you’re causing your own parents.”
AMY: “Mom and dad are not being unreasonable by not wanting to put an unsteady substance that is not FDA approved into their bodies, but people who feel unsafe coming to your wedding because of the small number of attendees being unvaccinated should also not be driving a car or grocery shopping at the risk of a violent collision or some canned peaches falling from a shelf and causing lasting burn damage. If you do not wish for us to come to the wedding and would prefer the attendance of minors, who would likely rather be doing many other things that night than watching their parents get drunk, I can respect that. What I can not respect is you sacrificing the integrity of your family to maintain your position as a victim.”
God! It felt like this is a really angry email that you write and don’t send.
AMY: We had a follow-up phone call where I told her that she was super out of line. She said, Well even though we disagree about this, I hope we can still have a relationship. I said, That’s kind of up to you. She said, How’s it up to me? And I said, I told you several times that the things you said hurt me and that I need you to apologize. You haven’t even acknowledged any of that and then she said, Okay I acknowledge it. I said, Well I’m hanging up now.
ANGELINA: And have you spoken since?
ANGELINA: Okay. But it’s your belief. She’s not coming.
AMY: She changed her RSVP after that to say she wasn’t coming.
JAZMIN: Wow. It’s like, We’re not willing to get vaccinated for this, but we wish we could be there. We’re not going and if you choose to enforce this, then fuck you pretty much.
ANGELINA: Yeah. They took it extremely personally. They just kind of blew up at her, but shockingly, that is not even the most confusing part of this story
JAZMIN: Oh my God. Why?
ANGELINA: So in the weirdest twist of all, Amy revealed to me that she found out her mother was actually already vaccinated and could have come.
AMY: I happened to know that my mom did get vaccinated at the beginning of August or something because she had wanted to go on this trip with my grandma who’s 87 in September. My grandma said, I don’t want to go on the trip with you unless you’re vaccinated. She still says she doesn’t want to come to the wedding.
AMY: She says it’s because she doesn’t want to come without my dad and he’s not vaccinated. I think she just wants to punish me for refusing to, from her perspective, be flexible.
JAZMIN: Jesus Christ.
ANGELINA: None of this drama is super unexpected when it comes to weddings, they always bring up weird personal dynamics and things that have been festering for years. But I think with the vaccine, the stakes are so much higher. This isn’t some squabble you’re having over the color of a bridesmaid dress. This is a life or death issue that people really care about and take personally. It’s sort of shorthand for, Do we share the same values? Do you care about me? Do you care about the world in the same way? It’s just really so much more intense, even though at the end of the day, the result is the same, which is that your family doesn’t show up to your wedding day,
AMY: I’m sad that my family had an opportunity to demonstrate that even though we have different values, they still really care about me and want to be a part of my life and they didn’t take it. It said some pretty sobering things about what I can expect from them just in life generally. I think that fundamentally changes the nature of my relationship with them because it’s clear that even at the time that’s important to me, their values still come first for them. I don’t foresee a lot of contact with them after this, to be honest. There’s a kind of relief.
AMY: I would rather not have her there than have her there and find out that she feels this way about me later.
ANGELINA: It’s not just the wedding that is the source of stress for Amy right now. These kinds of choices that we make have consequences beyond just whatever that particular event is, it’s something that affects the relationship in a long-term way.
AMY: I think a lot about what’s going to happen when I have a baby. I’m not even gonna want to tell my mom I’m pregnant. I’m not going to want to share that with her because of how much she made this experience about her feelings and her rights. A lot of the attitudes from my family has been like, I can’t believe you were not willing to make this tiny concession so that we can be at your wedding, not understanding that it’s not a tiny concession, but that people need to be able to give full and informed consent to the things that they choose. One of the things that they need to be able to choose to do is not going to an event with unvaccinated people.
ANGELINA: Yeah. Amy got married and they had a nice wedding. She sent me a lovely picture of her and her now-husband walking down the aisle. Her parents stayed out of it. She said they sent a card, which in her words was pretty anemic, just like one sentence, sort of like “blessings daughter,” not super personalized. They sent her a duvet as a wedding gift but she hasn’t heard from them since. So it’s not something that’s been repaired.
JAZMIN: I guess that’s just the way things work out sometimes.