The Cancellation Debate

Over at Slate, a reader has presented a conundrum to advice columnist Lucinda Rosenfeld. She explains that she reneged on lunch plans twice in a row, and her friend got pissed. “Late Canceller” now wants to know if what she did was that bad. Rosenfeld felt that it wasn’t…but let me tell you, not everybody would agree.

The reason I know that is because — full disclosure — I am a canceller. I try not to cancel at the last minute if I don’t have to, but I also think that there should be room amongst friends for changing your mind.

In my mind, being understanding and compassionate in that way is an important part of being a good friend. Also, I should add that I rarely care when people cancel on me — I’m never mad about having more time to myself.

But I also know from innumerable first-hand experiences that not everyone thinks like me. I’ve pissed off plenty of friends by cancelling, and honestly, I don’t think they’re wrong to be upset about it. I understand their point: plans are plans, and friends keep plans out of respect for one another’s time and feelings.

So what I always end up wondering is, is this a solvable problem, or are the cancellers and the non-cancellers doomed to fight it out until the end of time? Or worse: can we simply not be friends? After all, I’ve seen this cancelling thing cause serious rifts in friendships — someone cancels, feelings get hurt, then the other person’s feelings get hurt, and a downward spiral ensues, including passive aggressive behavior, excessive behind-the-back shit-talking, and finally, possibly, a vindictive cancel, which no one appreciates.

Perhaps we can come to understand our friends a bit better, but I’m afraid that the great cancellation debate has two staunchly opposing viewpoints which are unlikely to ever be completely reconciled.

What do you think? Can the cancellation debate be brought to a logical conclusion?


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    • Kristen

      I think there are huge differences between what you’re describing and what the letter-writer was talking about. (1) She hadn’t done it before these two instances, so wasn’t a habitual canceller. (2) She did it for financial reasons (needing to pinch pennies and realizing that going to see her far-away friend would cost her $50, which wasn’t possible for her). (3) She did it a week in advance.

      From what you’ve described–though I admit, I’m just guessing, as you didn’t give your reasons–I’m willing to bet your friends feel like you’re the type who tentatively makes plans with them until something better comes along. Which is really, REALLY good reason to be pissed off. Like I said, you didn’t go into enough detail for me to know that, but… people don’t like being ditched, you know? And it certainly sounds like you habitually ditch them (as opposed to cancelling for the Slate-letter-writer’s reasons above).

    • Allison

      I’m totally a canceller, but I try to avoid this problem by never solidifying plans unless I’m POSITIVE I will be 100% ready to do it. (at least 90%). This usually involved making not actually making plans until the day of and telling my friends “I’ll let you know when I know what x day looks like” for as long as it takes beforehand. Which may piss them off as much as cancelling on them. I haven’t asked.

      • sarasen

        yes, that is equally rude. like you are assuming that they have nothing to do and are dying to see you – people like you also seem to have a superiority complex.

    • Hannah Beth

      I’m a canceler, but it’s not because I just don’t care about my friends’ time. It’s because I suffer from (and have been diagnosed with) depression and social anxiety, not to mention the insomnia that sometimes has me just too tired to try. Because when I do keep plans, which is more often than it may sound, I put a lot of energy into ignoring the psychological setbacks so that my friends can have a good time. There will be instances, however, when I don’t feel I can do that.

    • Lindsay Cross

      Jessica, you and I are friends. And I promise that we’ll stay that way. But I HATE people who cancel all the time. If I plan around something, forgo other things to see someone and genuinely care about spending time with someone I like, I get pretty annoyed when someone cancels last minute. Mostly, it makes me feel like that person doesn’t value my time or my friendship. If there’s a good reason, I try to be understanding. But if it seems to make a habit, I normally tell them, “Hey, this bothers me. So instead of making concrete plans, how about you call me when you’re free. If I’m free too, great! If I’m not, sorry. But I don’t like rearranging my schedule for someone who might not show.”

    • porkchop

      If I get the impression that you are a “let me weigh my offers first” kind of person, I will stop inviting you to do things.

    • Arnie

      I dated a guy who wouldn’t cancel, so much as he would never commit to an advance meeting. We dated for over a year, and I could count the number of times he agreed to see me more than a day in advance on my fingers. We only ever bought advance tickets to two events, and while I saw him plenty, the never knowing WHEN I was going to see him drove me absolutely nuts.
      We’re supposedly ‘still friends’ now, but trying to get him to meet up with me for lunch or something is practically impossible, and I hardly ever see him. Which sucks.

      • andrea dunlop

        I dated one of these as well and it made me crazy. I tried to be laid back about it but it was a challenge.

    • breezy

      I am a planner who can understand the need to cancel occasionally. Shit comes up. But most of my friends are fly-by-the-seat folks who like to make (and break) at a moment’s notice. It has been a source of frustration for both of us (Why can’t you just pencil me in for Thursday? Why can’t YOU just put down your f-ing day planner?!) but the way I feel about it is this: If something is important to you, you will make plans. Period. If you had a mysterious rash needing investigation you would make an appointment with your doctor, not tell the receptionist that maybe you’ll swing by later in the week for brunch… I mean a pap smear. So unless something vital comes up, I say you will keep plans if you value your friendships.

    • andrea dunlop

      I rarely cancel but I’m usually understanding if someone else does, depending on the reason and the amount of time in advance they let me know. If someone is usually dependable and cancels on me, I assume they have a good reason. If they’re usually a flake then I assume they’re just being flakey and I tend to not take plans with that person (or sometimes that person themselves) as seriously. If I get the feeling someone just doesn’t respect my time then I am likely not to want to invest it in them.

    • Sarie

      My problem with late cancelers is that I have a pretty busy schedule with very limited free time, and so I pick my fun-with-friends time carefully. If I have dinner plans with a friend, by the day of it’s extremely likely that I’ve totally arranged my schedule around it by the time it’s the day of the plans – including work and personal commitments, and it’s also possible that I’ve turned down the chance to do other fun activities because I chose to see this friend at this time. I know this might sound like I’m really self-important, and I’m not, it’s just that I work 60+ hours a week and have some other time-consuming stuff in my personal life that means I plan my free time pretty carefully. So yes, last minute cancellations (for a non-urgent reason) do piss me off, and I don’t think that’s unfair of me. If a friend does the flaky last-minute cancel on me on any kind of regular basis, I pretty much refuse to make set plans with her after that, and instead just say, well give me a call that night and if I happen to be free then we’ll do something. I kind of feel like, if you can’t commit to a simple freaking lunch now and then, then what you’re really saying is that our friendship is pretty low priority and that I shouldn’t jump through any hoops to make time for you.

      • Jen Dziura

        That. Yes. This is why it’s hard for busy people and non-busy people to be friends. They have totally different conceptions of time.

    • ES

      I’m a planner (but I try to to overschedule so I have room for spontaneous stuff too). When a friend of mine cancels on me repeated without good reason, or routinely shows up really late (more than 30 minutes, I’d say, and also without good reason), I stop making one-on-one plans with them that require them showing up on time. Instead, I just say, “Some friends an I will be at this bar/party from 10pm on, you should stop by!” That way, I still get to go out instead of being stood up. But lunch just the two of us? That’s just never going to happen.

      Fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants people are fun, in theory, but we’re all adults here who have jobs and commitments and errands to run. Our time is important. Canceling because “you don’t feel like it” or “something better came along” will leave you wondering why so many of your friends stop calling after awhile.

      • ES

        Man, there are typos all over that. I’m sorry.

    • Tim

      Good article.

      I am very much a planner. That said, even I cancel on occasion because of something important or because I genuinely forgot about a prior engagement. It’s rare, but it happens. And I try to be understanding if someone I know and trust genuinely can’t help it.

      However, I still think cancelling is not cool. And I don’t think that’s just me being uptight either. The fact that people feel the need to make excuses when they cancel tells me that they damn well know it’s not cool just as well as I do. It’s just easier for them.

    • meg

      I get that sometimes you need to cancel, but the thing is that when you cancel just for more you time, and you do it all the time, you don’t consider that the other person already has enough them time. If I’m alone all week and I make one plan and it’s cancelled last minute-well then I was just alone all week with no one to talk to. It isn’t necessarily just hurtful because you’re being inconsiderate, but because the other person may have really needed someone to talk to or might just need some socialization every once in a while.