Carving out time to decompress from daily stressors and have some "me" time is important for your well-being, as is enforcing your own personal boundaries about how you spend your time. But when you have an existing plan you want to cancel, keep in mind that you're not the only person who might be affected by the choice. Backing out can be hurtful and disruptive, and getting in the habit of regularly canceling plans can damage your relationships, as folks may feel they can't confidently count on you.
“Trust is an important piece of relationships in general, but especially in friendship dynamics,” says therapist Shontel Cargill, LMFT. “When it comes to cancelations, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your availability and try not to overcommit. When you don’t follow through on those plans, it changes the dynamics of the friendship and trust over time.”
"Trust is an important piece of relationships in general, but especially in friendship dynamics."— Shontel Cargill, LMFT
That said, life is unpredictable, and sometimes there are valid reasons to cancel plans—even if at the last minute. Illnesses, emergencies, and other unforeseen circumstances can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans. And sometimes, you might just really need a mental health day. People tend to be forgiving when emergencies pop up or when the canceled plan isn't the norm, says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. But they’ll be less so if it becomes a habit.
The next time you can't decide whether you should cancel your plans when you really want to do so or instead stay the course, work through the reasons you feel the way you do. While you're the only person who can ultimately decide what's best for you—and whether that means canceling—asking yourself certain questions can help you effectively introspect to land on the answer. Below, find six questions to ask yourself before bailing.
6 questions to ask yourself before you cancel plans with someone (even if you really want to)
1. Do I really want to hang out with this person or participate in this activity?
The heart of this question is gauging why you are avoiding seeing this person and doing this thing. Ask yourself: do you feel safe with this person and doing this activity, and are you in the right head space to be there? If the answer to any of those questions is "no," Cargill says canceling might make sense. Doing so stands to protect your peace, and mental and physical health, she says, but you do still need to be prepared to field the other person's reaction to your choice.
You can apply this information in making future plans, as well, Gottsman says. That is, if you find yourself involved in plans you really don't want to do, it's best to not make them initially.
2. How am I feeling right now, and why do I not want to go?
Practice self-reflection to understand what's driving your desire to cancel. If you find yourself canceling habitually, it's helpful to consider the pattern of behavior. Wanting to back out of a plan could mean you have unmet needs, are overwhelmed, or are over-scheduled. Maybe it's an early-morning plan, and you just really don't want to wake up for it. In this case, consider a later time for future plans.
Whatever the specifics of your plans, try to identify the root issue and then consider the consequences of canceling. “You really have to be honest with yourself, do a self evaluation, and say 'what is my role in all of this,’” Cargill says.
3. How far in advance am I canceling?
Canceling well in advance is preferable to bailing at the last minute, Gottsman says. The more notice you give, the more time the other people have to prepare and reconfigure their own situation, if necessary. If it's not possible to give advance notice, you may reconsider your choice to cancel.
4. Am I costing the other people involved time or money by canceling?
Some plans carry a heavier weight of importance than other, and for those, it may be tougher to justify your absence. For example, it’s much easier to pull out of a coffee date than a wedding reception. So, consider how your absence may inconvenience other people involved. If a cancelation would incur a financial loss—as is the case for a wedding reception but not a coffee date—it's probably not considerate if it's not necessary.
Beyond finances, keep in mind what the event might mean to the other party. Maybe your friend is proud of their new apartment and excited to entertain at a housewarming, or a weekly coffee date is light in the storm of their stressful workweek. Even if you not showing up doesn’t cost them money, it could be hurtful and damaging. “It could just be that they really want you there, but they felt like you abandoned them,” Cargill adds.
5. What message am I sending this person about our relationship?
If you repeatedly cancel on someone, they may feel that spending time with them isn’t important to you. Whether or not this is the case, you may find invitations dwindling if you’re repeatedly ditching your plans. “We all know that someone who we think of as being a no-show or a canceler, and it’s where our brain goes if you do it consistently enough,” Gottsman says. “Once for the right reason is understandable, but from an etiquette standpoint a habitual canceler sends the message that you’re not a priority.”
Cargill cautions that people "aren't mind readers," and that open and honest communication is important to clear up any misconceptions about your priorities. If you still want to be included in the future but something else is going on, share that when you cancel.
6. Do I want to reschedule?
Don’t offer to reschedule if you don’t mean it. And if you do reschedule, be sure to stick to the plan so you don’t get in the cycle of canceling and rescheduling, Gottsman says.
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