In defence of the bail-out text
You hit send. Your palms are a tad sweaty and your heartbeat quickens slightly as you try to shake off the guilt you feel. Minutes pass before your phone vibrates. You pick it up and let out a slow sigh of relief: someone else can’t make it, the group dinner has been postponed.
I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of such a text a few times recently. It’s a cycle we’re all familiar with, the dread, guilt, relief, repeat that comes with cancelling pre-made plans knowing (or assuming) that the person at the other end will be disappointed and it will be all your fault. And yet, we relish the relief that follows a successful cancellation as we have license to go home and be in bed by a reasonable time.
So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to make so many plans in the first place? When a blank iPhone calendar lays before us, we can be so easily tempted to fill every blank space with something until the point where your WhatsApp group is riddled with iterations of: I can’t do Monday, Tuesday or Thursday and have to get up early on Saturday so shouldn’t do anything on Friday, so Wednesday? Only to regret, 3 weeks later, not having left your Wednesday evening free to do sweet FA.
There’s work commitments. Gym sessions. Book clubs. Birthdays. Engagements (new). Haircuts. Leaving drinks. Just because we’re young drinks. Studying for the unlucky few. Ballet lessons. Rugby training. Evening courses. Catch up dinners. Cinema trips. Gigs. Date night-ing. Endless ways to spend your time with countless numbers of people.
But then there’s the equally important private commitments that don’t get solidified in our digital diaries. The new Netflix documentary viewing. Book club reading. Blog writing. Life admin. Room tidying. Hair washing. General getting an early night-ing.
At 25, there’s a certain expectation to say yes to every plan. And not just a pressure put on us by peers, but one put on us by time: our days of no responsibilities (aka children) are limited - getting closer and closer if my engagement-ring-and-baby-bump-riddled Facebook feed is anything to go by - and so we quite rightly want to carpe every diem to avoid future regrets.
Then the day comes around. You’re already feeling not quite up for it on your way to work in the morning, you’ve had three busy evenings in a row and all you can think of is the bed that you so recently dragged yourself out of. By 11am you’re 80% certain that you’ll send the text at lunchtime to cancel. Then comes the dreaded “We still on for tonight?” text; they beat you to it. Decision time. Plead for their forgiveness and cancel or honour your duty and push your way through it?
Think of a time when you have ever cancelled, or thought of cancelling, because you just don’t feel like it. How did that go down? I feel there is something to be said for honesty in situations where you would rather just go home, put on your jammies and gobble down a bowl of pasta in front of the Masterchef semi-final. Rather than meet your friend for dinner as planned, chit chat until 8:45pm when it’s just about believable that you need to run for a train because you have an early meeting tomorrow. If you’re going to be there but not really be there, instead dreaming of said-jammies and said-Masterchef, isn’t that more rude and disrespectful of someone else’s time?
True, it is valid to argue that if someone really values you and your friendship, they would make the effort even in cases where external factors have worn them down a little bit - inexcusable cases are of course when the other person’s needs to meet up are greater than your own, they might be going through a tougher time themselves that trumps your bad mood or tiredness. Effort is as essential for friendships as romantic partnerships and you shouldn’t bail on a friend and just rely on the sturdy waters of friendship to soften the blow every time - never forget that their time is just as valuable as yours and they deserve your respect just as much.
But at the same time, we also need to recognise that whilst we can plan dinners 4 weeks in advance, we can’t plan what emotional, mental or physical state we’re going to be in. We all know that a tough week at work can smash your spirits, and there are personal battles that sometimes can’t be lessened by confiding in a friend in a busy restaurant, or how insufferable sleep deprivation can actually be. Perhaps we should all have the understanding that maybe this just isn’t the right time for our pre-arranged Friday night drinks - if the people you’re meeting care about you, then they’ll also understand that whilst you should be making the time, maybe this just isn’t the right time.
I am not giving myself, you or my friends carte blanche to bail on every single plan they ever make and to feel no guilt for doing so, nor am I promoting an anarchical society built of people who don’t honour any of their plans, or who never feel remiss for bailing on someone last minute. It’s become so easy to cancel with a few flicks of a thumb that we can do it lightheartedly, sometimes underestimating the disappointment on the other end. We’re living in a disposable society, which includes disposing of our plans. This is infectious, relying on it too much is poisonous, breeds poor values and can have an impact on your friendships. Cancel your plans too much, and maybe people will just stop making plans with you.
But equally, we should hope that our friends are mature and emotionally experienced enough to know that sometimes we do need time to ourselves, we may not have had the foresight to keep our Wednesday evening free, and that’s not always a need that we can plan in advance like we do our pub trips. Sometimes the most valuable and healthy thing you can do with your evening is decompress on your own, saving your companions from your miserable company.
There is a very fine line between selfishness and self-care when it comes to plans, but sometimes that line reads “I’m really sorry but I’m not going to make it tonight.”