Dear Pan: Coronavirus Spoil Sport

Fortune Cookie, with Pan-Cultural Advice

We love advice columns.  But so much of what passes for advice is really the conventional wisdom of one particular culture, at one moment in time.  For “Dear Pan” we reach out to our global network of advisors for a broader set of perspectives.  Enjoy the world’s first pan-cultural advice column!  Add to the conversation in the comment section below.  And, if you find yourself perplexed, send us your query at  

Dear Pan,

I consider my housemates from college some of my oldest and dearest friends, even though we rarely see each other anymore due to kids, living far apart, the usual.  We’ve been in touch more over Zoom, during the coronavirus lockdown, than we have been for years.  That’s how I learned that one friend–call her Susie–is planning a surprise visit to another friend, Gwen, for her 50th birthday.

This all goes back to something touching that Gwen did for Susie 20 years ago.  Susie was depressed after breaking up with a fiancee and feeling like turning 30 alone in New York City was the end of the world. Gwen flew from North Carolina and surprised Susie with a birthday weekend of shows, clubs, presents, the works.

Now Gwen is turning 50, and she’s depressed.  She’s divorced and sheltering with her mother in Michigan, and her birthday is looming while she’s far from friends and in lockdown. 

Susie wants to return the birthday surprise.  She told me (after swearing me to secrecy) that she’s already bought the tickets.

I see so many problems with this plan! Susie hasn’t taken social distancing very seriously, and Gwen has.  Susie doesn’t have a lot of money, and part of the surprise is, “Surprise, I’m staying at your house!”  Further:  Gwen’s mother is old, and still holds against Susie that she was Gwen’s source for marijuana in college.  

I’ve told Susie in no uncertain terms that she has to coordinate with Gwen and not make the trip a surprise.  But Susie refuses, saying that more than any of the New York shows or food, it was the unexpectedness of Gwen visiting that popped her out of her depression. She also pointed out that I’ve always been the hypochondriac of the group, and I’ve certainly maintained a much stricter quarantine than either of them.

Should I tell Gwen, and ruin both the surprise and the trip? For all I know, Gwen would be thrilled to have Susie visit, and I’m guessing her mother has plenty of spare room.  


The Coronavirus Spoil Sport

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  1. Dear Spoil Sport,

    I cannot tell you how happy I am to write back! I have my cupper here, ready to answer your question, since your “call-her-Susie” friend doesn’t seem to know the first thing about friendship! friend is obviously seeking in some was to repay Gwen for cheering her up at critical times in her life! A 50th birthday is depressing enough, but adding the virus and living with mother to it? Dear me! That’s a Hallmark Channel Movie!

    Best of luck with this!
    What Gwen did for Susie 20 years ago was done back in the day none of us wore masks, and crowded each other in grocery store lines! Re,ember those fabulous rubber dividers for the grocery belts? Ah, I miss those! Since Susie was depressed after breaking up with her fiancé and was actually feeling alone in New York City (?), tGwen’s visit must have felt like a relief. Gwen turning 50, may not be why she’s depressed. She’s sheltering in with her mother in Michigan, during the pandemic.? Now is the winter of her discontent! Know what would depress her more? Having her birthday ruined by a clueless, albeit well-meaning, friend flying on a plane and bringing eighty thousand little friends to her dismal digs with her aging mother! Oh, hello! If Susie hasn’t taken social distancing very seriously, and Gwen has, this is a fat disaster waiting to happen.
    Since Susie s quite deaf to your advice, I’d contact Gwen ASAP and spring the news on her before it’s too late. I also suggest sending Gwen’s sweet aging mother a batch of quality marijuana edibles in a gift basket, and sign it from Susie Q. That might liven Michigan up!

    Good for you for maintaining a much stricter quarantine than either of them! If Susie person comes looking for you after you’ve spilled the beans to Gwen, do not open that door! Who knows where she’s been!


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