We’ve all done it.
We make plans two weeks in advance to grab coffee with a friend on a Saturday morning, only to feel exhausted the day before, after a stressful week. We then traverse the moral jungle gym of deciding whether or not to cancel on a friend.
It’s hard not to feel like the worst person ever when I have to cancel on my friends. I’ve subconsciously adopted this narrative that if I make plans with someone, they then have ownership over a portion of my time. This leaves me, and undoubtedly the other person, feeling locked into an unspoken agreement that we can’t cancel unless we have a Really Good Reason. The only circumstances that count as Really Good Reasons, it seems, are sickness and/or death.
Most of the time when I need to cancel plans, the reasons aren’t so drastic. Sometimes I’m just really pooped after a busy week at work, or I’ve overbooked myself with social engagements and just need some “me time.” Needing me time doesn’t always feel like a valid reason when I’m about to type that “I hate to cancel, but…” text message. Needing me time feels like code for “I’m flakey and unreliable” or “I just don’t want to hang out with you.”
I feel this way because that’s what I tend to think of my friends when they cancel on me for similar reasons. The unspoken contract works both ways. So, when someone cancels on me without a Really Good Reason, I make judgements about their character, or assumptions about how they feel about me.
Yet, changing the way I think about my time has altered my view on cancelling plans in the most refreshing way. When I recognize that I am in complete ownership of my time, regardless of whether or not I’ve made plans with someone else, I feel less of a moral dilemma when I need to cancel on someone for the sake of my own wellbeing. There is, in fact, no contract that binds me to plans I’ve made with someone. And I should never feel bad for making space for myself, when I truly need to.
This shift in thinking has not only changed the way I think about cancelling plans, but also the way I think about being cancelled on. When I acknowledge my friends’ full ownership over their time, I can take their cancellations less personally. I am able to recognize, when a friend cancels on me in the name of self-care, that their decision to cancel is less about how they feel about me, and more about how they feel about themselves.
Still, I realize that not everyone has come to this understanding in the same way that I have. Cancelling on someone, even if it feels justified to me, can still come off as rude or careless to the friend I’m cancelling on. I’ve discovered that there is an effective way to cancel plans that is thoughtful and leaves both parties feeling respected.
1. Cancel one or two days in advance.
One way to soften the blow is to cancel plans a few days in advance if you foresee yourself needing some alone time on the day your plans have been made. This will give the other person time to make new plans if they’d like, and is more considerate of their time.
2. Just be honest.
Honesty is always the best policy when cancelling plans. Making up stories and excuses never comes off as genuine. It’s perfectly fine to admit that you’ve overbooked yourself or that you need some self-care time. More than likely, the other person will appreciate your honesty, even if the initial news stings a bit.
3. Affirm that their time is important to you.
Letting the person know that the cancellation is not reflective of how you feel about them helps to affirm that their time is important to you. A great way to do this is through verbal affirmation of the friendship in addition to providing an actionable next step. Which brings me to my next point:
4. Make it your responsibility to reschedule.
Offer some dates and times that work for you to reschedule your plans. Be open to any dates they might suggest as well. Coming to the table with dates and times to reschedule signals to the other person that you do really value their time and friendship.
A thoughtful cancellation message might go something like this:
“Hey, I know we planned on grabbing coffee this Sunday, but I’ve had a really long week and need some alone time. I want to spend time with you, though, and would love to reschedule. How about dinner on Tuesday night instead?”
One way to avoid cancelling plans altogether is to schedule your alone time in advance. As an introvert, I know that I can only take so much social interaction in a given week. So, when making plans with friends, I try to plan around pockets of me time that are off-limits to anyone else. Of course, I’m not always successful in protecting that me time, but I am working on prioritizing time for myself as an essential part of my self-care routine.
Do you have any tips for cancelling plans thoughtfully? If so, feel free to let us know about them in the comments below!