I have to be honest. As a confirmed introvert who struggles to say no, I bail on someone at least once a month. (Remember in the Friends pilot when Phoebe whips out the one-liner, “I wish I could but I don’t want to”? I’ve lost track of the number of times it’s been quoted back to me.) Being flaky is a less than attractive quality, but it happens. Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are certain moments when it’s okay to bail and others when it’s a true faux pas – and, critically, how to tell the difference. Here’s how to bow out of plans as gracefully as possible.
Be careful about which invitations you say yes to in the first place
Everybody is guilty of promising to attend the equivalent of their old boss’s festive potluck/second cousin’s friend’s housewarming weeks in advance – then dreading it when the moment actually rolls around. If you’re someone who cancels a lot, the moment to say a firm but polite no is when you receive the invitation rather than the day of a get together. Yes, sometimes that’s difficult – ours is most definitely a “yes” culture – but just remember: at this point, you’re in no way obliged to go and are perfectly within your rights to say that you have other commitments (even if those other commitments involve nothing more than putting on a Glossier Moisturizing Moon Mask). If you’re someone who loves going out under any circumstances, it’s still key to only say yes to a reasonable number of events. My golden rule? Leave yourself at least two nights free every week. Even the world’s bubbliest extroverts still need a moment to catch up on life admin.
Know who your friends are
And gauge whether it’s okay to bail accordingly. The other day, I cancelled a sushi date with a girlfriend, and she immediately texted back the hallelujah emoji. Her schedule can be pretty hectic, and I know that she’s typically as relieved as I am when somebody ditches her. Then there are the people in my life who – bless their hearts – will cross London on the bus during rush hour rather than ditch me, and I try to extend the same courtesy to them. This is especially true when someone is hosting you. If you’re going to see the sort of friend who will have planned a dinner menu, handwritten place cards, and matched the table linens to his or her outfit, then, frankly, it’s rude to cancel unless there’s a serious emergency. If, on the other hand, you’re dropping in on someone who’s likely to open the fridge and say, “Huh, I thought there was leftover Chinese in here?”, it’s far more acceptable to tell them you’re ordering (fresh) takeaway to your own home instead of coming over.
Be honest about why you’re cancelling
Both with yourself and others. If you’ve just worked an eighteen hour shift, have a migraine, and/or are generally a shell of a human being, then you’re entitled to feel like you deserve a night in by yourself rather than heading out on the town – just make sure that the person you’re cancelling on has a clear idea of why you’re bailing on them. If, on the other hand, you’re just desperate to put on sweatpants and rewatch the Sex and the City movie, you need to have a word with yourself and go out. There is a difference between self-care and laziness. Of course, if there’s more to the story than general burnout and you’re dealing with a real mental health issue, all of the above goes out of the window. No one worth having in your life is going to be annoyed if you cancel plans because you’re having a seriously hard time. A gentle word of advice: let people in on what you’re going through. It usually helps.
If you decide you really are going to bail, do it with grace
Timing is key here. As soon as you realise that you’re going to cancel plans, let all of the relevant people know – even if you feel deeply awkward about it. (NB: if anybody is already on their way to meet you, you’re officially too late.) If you’re only supposed to meet one or two people, call them on the phone rather than firing off a WhatsApp, which can seem thoughtless. In the case of a larger gathering, ring the organiser or host and let other people know via text. (This would also be the moment to reimburse anyone who is out of pocket for any reason.) Never – I repeat, never – ghost anybody. You owe people a justification as to why you’re ditching them. That’s not to say that you need to give them every detail of the events that led to you lying in bed in the fetal position. Just make sure that it’s obvious you’re sorry and that you’re cancelling for a good reason.
Be proactive about making amends
It’s a smart idea to reschedule with a person or group as soon as you cancel. Of course, it goes without saying that getting bailed on can make you feel as though you’re not a priority in someone’s life, so do whatever you can to counteract that. If your original plans were quite ambitious, be more realistic the second time around. There’s no need to make a day trip to the Cotswolds if meeting for an espresso at a local coffee house is more appealing. Finally, if you really let somebody down, then make sure to go the extra mile with your apology as well – whether that means sending a bunch of peonies to their office, writing them a note on beautiful stationery, or treating them to a spa treatment as your next outing.