I have two dear friends whom I adore and who are self-proclaimed Germaphobes. They aren’t what you might think of as the classic Germaphobe because they don’t have separate houses from their families like Howie Mandel. He is a major Germaphobe. My two friends? They are the Lite version. Sure, their heart rates may go up a few notches if you offer them a bite of your half-eaten cookie. They’ll politely, yet firmly decline it, but they won’t freak out over it. At least not while you’re standing there.
I met Kaitlyn* when we decided to rent a house together while attending graduate school. At first, I didn’t suspect she was a Germaphobe. In fact, she hides her Lite version of Germaphobia so well, I would bet very few people today know this fact about her. But when you share a house with someone, you are privy to all of their daily routines and preferences: placement of the utensils at the table, where and how they hang up their bath and hand towels, and the discrete washing of hands when they think no one is looking. It didn’t take long before I realized I was residing with a Germaphobe Lite.
My friend, Martha*, is someone I’ve worked with for the last fifteen years. She and I first worked together in a day treatment classroom with kids ages 5-10. As you may already know, classrooms are ground zero for all any and all germs on the planet. Then, if you add in 8-10 children who have emotional regulation difficulties, poor social skills, and occasional body fluid regulation problems (sometimes on purpose) and you have what most Germaphobes would call Armageddon. But not Martha. She was so committed to working with these traumatized souls that she developed ingenious ways of doing her job while keeping the Grim Reaper at bay. Having lived with Kaitlyn, I quickly picked up on her germ-avoidant ways and discovered I in was in the good company of another Germaphobe Lite.
Because I have learned the ways of the Germaphobe (read: I’ve become a Vicarious Germaphobe Lite) and am a generous soul, I will share with you how to be friends with one. Follow my handy guide and you, too, can have deep, lasting friendships with these endearing, lovely people.
1. When befriending a Germaphobe of any kind, the most important thing to keep in mind is that they see you as a walking sack of illness-inducing germs. Don’t worry, though. You’re in good company. In the eyes of a Germaphobe, each and every one of us is completely marinated in highly contagious viruses and bacteria that can, at any moment, put you and them on death’s door. This will help you understand the look of terror they get when you offer them a sip of your tasty beverage after you’ve already taken a drink.
2. Assume that when you come up to a Germaphobe Lite with your hand extended for a handshake or your arms out wide for a hug, only 10% of their mind will be focused on how glad they are to see you. The other 90% of their mental faculties will be preoccupied with figuring out how soon they’ll be able to sneak away to sanitize themselves. Don’t be offended. Look at it as them doing a generous public service act because they are single-handedly preventing colds and flus from being spread from person to person. The buck – and the germ – stops with them. Personally, I think they should be given an award for this. Don’t you?
3. Never, ever, under any circumstances, touch their food or any communally shared food with your bare hands in their presence. Even if you just washed your hands as though you were about to perform brain surgery on your favorite relative, don’t do it. If you do slip up and touch something, just know the Germaphobe will avoid it like it’s biohazardous material. Judicious use of recently sanitized utensils is highly recommended when dining with the Germaphobe. It’s also just good practice.
4. Also on the Germaphobe’s mind? Surfaces. Namely, the public surfaces out there in the world that all of us germ-infested people touch and contaminate with our germs. Door knobs. Banisters. Railings. Buttons on elevators. Key pads for your PIN at stores and ATM’s. Copy machines. Menus, condiment bottles, and salt and pepper shakers at restaurants. Arm rests and tray tables on planes.** Handles on the grocery cart. Light switches. Floors. All of these are surfaces are viewed as potentially lethal. Don’t be surprised if you see a Germaphobe engaging in parkour-worthy moves in order to avoid direct contact with them.. If they are somehow forced to touch one of these surfaces, I recommend not standing between them and the soap.
5. If you are feeling sick, have a headache, have been around someone who has been or is presently ill, or are even thinking about a time you were under the weather, know that you are now the Germaphobe’s biggest nightmare and the embodiment of Death. Consider yourself whphx12d and limit all communication with them to email and the phone. Don’t expect to get within forty feet of them for the next month. That’s just common courtesy on your part. With bacteria and viruses mutating all the time, who knows how long you’re contagious for?
Follow these simple rules in good faith and you, too, can have fulfilling and sanitary friendships with a Germaphobe. Go forth, wise readers, and be friendly in your least germ-spreading ways. We will all thank you.
*Names have been changed. One can never be too cautious when it comes to germs.
** In the spirit of full disclosure, I developed this one after I thought about the grossness of surfaces on planes. That’s what happens when you hang out with Germaphobes. They completely infiltrate your mind with their Germaphobe ways. But in all fairness, have you ever considered how rarely the airlines actually clean the tray tables and arm rests or how many people who do not wash their hands after sneezing or using the bathroom have touched them? I’ll bet you are now. You’re welcome. That’s why I came up with the ingenious idea of always bringing disinfecting wipes with me when I fly. With the speed and stealth of a ninja, I wipe down my tray table and arm rests before my fellow passengers have fastened their seat belts. Feel free to do the same the next time you travel. If we all work together, flying will become much more safe and sanitary, one disinfected tray table at a time.