I’d Love to See You, But...
Texting and Facebook make it simple to blow off plans, but flaking out too often can cost you. Reform your reliability, starting now.
I was the first person to RSVP when I opened the Evite a few weeks ago: “Woo-hoo, can’t wait to celebrate with the birthday girl!” But now it’s 9 p.m. on the big b-day, and I’m still curled up on the couch in my after-work stretchy pants (you know the ones). Nothing could be less appealing than putting on heels and heading out. I fire off a quick text message: “Crazy week. Just left work in total shambles.
Sorry I can’t make it tonight. Happy b-day!” I feel a little bit guilty but mostly relieved that the night is mine again.
Chances are, I wasn’t the only friend who bailed on that soiree the day—or even the hour—of: In a recent Women’s Health poll, 49 percent of women said they occasionally cancel at the last minute, and 6 percent fessed up to flaking all the time. In a case of 21st-century irony, the same technology that makes it so easy to make plans—text messaging, Facebook events, constant access to e-mail—also makes it ridiculously simple to cancel them. The pattern is
so predictable that 50 percent of the women in the WH survey said they don’t lose their cool when a friend ditches because they half expect it anyway.
But while tech may be the enabler of all this chronic canceling, the root is a psychological concept called “present bias,” or “the very human tendency to favor the rewards of today over the rewards of tomorrow,” explains psychologist Meg Jay, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor at the University of Virginia and author of The Defining Decade. In other words, we want to do what feels good right now. It’s the same mindset that has us digging into dessert when we’re dieting or ordering another drink at a Tuesday happy hour when we have to be up at 6 a.m. on Wednesday. (YOLO, right? BTW, that’s “you only live once.”) Text messages and e-mail make plans especially vulnerable to present bias, says Jay, because they remove the immediate downside of canceling: the awkward phone conversation with an irritated pal. Disappointing a friend digitally is far less emotionally trying than fessing up in a call.
The Cost of Copping Out
Long-term bonds are sturdy enough to survive a few last-minute “Rain check?” texts, says Jay. But let flaking become a habit and you could slowly be pushed out of your own social circle, warns psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., author of The Friendship Fix: “Logistical reliability and emotional reliability often go hand in hand. If people can’t count on you to show up physically, they’ll be less likely to rely on you emotionally and confide in you or share secrets.” And as people stop depending on you, they may, in turn, not be there when you need them, she adds.
The most immediate repercussions of canceling show up in your midlevel relationships. They have a smaller emotional impact on you but have big implications for, among other things, your career. “Old coworkers or casual acquaintances are the ones who are going to bring new opportunities to your doorstep—new jobs, potential partners, and professional connections that can change your life,” says Jay. As another expert (ahem, the überconnected Woody Allen) once said, 80 percent of success is just showing up.
Rehab Your Habits
You can start the process of going from flighty friend to commitment queen by looking at what you’re saying yes to and why, says Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Smart Thinking.
Say your typical Monday-night agenda looks like this: 5:30 p.m.: Happy hour with coworkers; 7 p.m.: Workout class with running a buddy; 9 p.m.: Catch-up dinner with old roommate. Opting out is probably a case of overbooking, followed by social fatigue. The cure? Be realistic when making plans. “If you know you’re exhausted on Fridays after working all week, plan to schedule something for Saturday instead,” advises Markman.
Another explanation for chronic flake-etude could be that you’re signing yourself up for things that, ultimately, you don’t really want to do. “It can be a way of deferring the awkwardness of saying ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” says Markman. If that’s the case, try using technology to your advantage: Say “Let me check my calendar” and then send a prompt “Sorry, I can’t!”
text message or e-mail. You sidestep the difficulty of saying no straight out without
inconveniencing anyone with a last-minute cancellation.
Once you’ve curated a sane calendar you can feel excited about, following through with
commitments is just a matter of getting out the door despite the weather/traffic/Reese
Witherspoon movie on TBS. “I use an old running strategy in which I tell myself to jog for
just 10 minutes,” says Markman. “Tell yourself you’ll swing by for just one drink— it’s easier for people to commit to less.” Once you’re there and having fun, you’ll probably
stick around longer—and afterward, you’ll be glad you got out of the house.
If you’re a serious shut-in, try to make plans that are nearly impossible to cancel, suggests Markman. Volunteer to drive, host the pre-party, or put the concert or movie tickets on your credit card so you’ll have to be there to pick them up. It may sound strict,
but experts agree: You’ll thank yourself later—and so will your friends. N
Confronting a Chronic Canceler
To get a less-than-dependable pal to show up…
1 Talk it out.
Don’t directly denounce her behavior, says friendship expert Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.
Try: “I’ve missed you—seems like things are always in the way of our getting together.”
2 Give positive reinforcement.
Praise your girl when she shows up. Remarks such as “So happy to see you!” and “You’re early!” let her know you care if she’s there.
She’s still canceling?
Lower your expectations. It sounds pessimistic, but the best way to stop fuming at an unreliable friend is to stop relying on her, says Bonior. Work around her last-minute outs
by scheduling group activities or backup plans.
All Fitness ___ I’d Love to See You, But
By Merritt Watts