Friendship cancellation policy

I had a really interesting chat with a friend yesterday where we talked about the nuances of cancelling on people.

There is a real art and etiquette to doing it in a way that doesn’t offend, inconvenience or downright hurt someone’s feelings.

I have friends that are renowned for last minute cancellations; they cancel more than they show up. It’s become a bit of a joke, but it’s not actually funny. It’s sad and disappointing.

Carefully chosen gifts languish, birthday cakes go stale and specially cooked meals – considering all dietary requirements – go uneaten.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all agree on a universal cancellation policy?

If you’re feeling exhausted or simply not up for socialising, it’s OK to cancel. We all need to honour and care for ourselves.

There are plenty of times when I’ve been in a group message thread where it feels like people are keen to cancel but no-one is saying it. Instead, we dance around it saying things like, ‘Happy to come but also happy to postpone.’

No-one wants to be the ‘bad guy’. But is it really bad to be honest about our capacity? I don’t think so.

If you’re sick, have a migraine, have a kid who has puked all night or your car really has exploded in a spectacular fire ball visible from outer space, well, OK.

But equally, if you’re just feeling a bit sh*t and you’re too broke/tired/anxious/depressed to be with people, that’s also OK.

I propose – and this might be radical – let’s start telling the truth.

It’s OK to say, ‘Hey, I love you but I am not up for <insert activity here> today. I’m sorry if that causes you any inconvenience. I would love to see you soon’ (or some fitting variation on the above).

Just be considerate so that your friend is a) not out of pocket, b) not left high and dry waiting somewhere, c) hasn’t spent a heap of time preparing, or d) hasn’t booked babysitters/petsitters/plant whisperers.

I am a chronic people pleaser and my first instinct is to say yes to everything and everyone. I hate letting people down. It really does hurt me to say no to things, especially if I think I’m hurting someone else’s feelings.

Nevertheless, I know I need to be more realistic about what I can cope with. I have two kids, one of whom is under one. Some days I feel – and look – like I have been through a threshing machine. It’s boring but I just need to sit at home and rest.

Because here’s the truth of being middle-aged. Half the time when someone cancels on us, we’re secretly thrilled. We can finish our book club book! We can clean out the linen cupboard! We’re really that boring!

I issue this statement with one caveat: don’t pull out of things all the time just because you’re feeling shy. This is a risk. If you stay in your comfort zone, it starts to shrink until you have mopped yourself into a very lonesome corner. You will miss out on a lot of fun and connection if you continually bail, and people will also stop inviting you.

What do you think? Can we all agree that it’s OK to cancel and also stop saying yes to things if we’re as likely to show up as Elvis?

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