“OMG sorry, I can’t come today, let’s meet up next week!”
I have received variations of that message so many times, in so many different situations, from so many different people. It’s not uncommon for women to cancel plans with friends at the last minute because something has come up. I’ve had friends cancel on me for coffee dates and lunch plans after I’d already gotten to the venue. I’ve FaceTimed friends only to have my call declined with a half-hearted explanation and a “but we should talk sometime next week, though!” as if that makes up for the fact that this time to chat had been planned for over a week. I even had a friend once who canceled on plans to go out after we had already spent an hour dressing up and doing our makeup together. I had put on my glittery eyeshadow, liquid liner, and what I call the “going out shirt”–my one tank top that can be considered proper bar attire since most of my clothing is teal, coral, flowery, and not stereotypically “cool”–only to have this girl (also fully clad in “going out” clothes) decide at the last second that she’d rather just lounge around in her pajamas. I said that was fine, wiped off my makeup, and slid into some sweatpants feeling very defeated. I guess I could’ve gone without her, but as a first-week freshman in a new city, I didn’t want to be roaming dark and unfamiliar streets alone.
Honestly, this plan cancellation problem has gotten so bad that with certain people, I assume that the plans are not going to work out until they show up. Even with friends who are generally reliable, I find myself double-checking (even triple-checking) that we’re “still on for lunch tomorrow.” Yet as much as I dislike receiving a cancellation, I’m guilty of dishing them out as well.
There are times I’ve scheduled FaceTime dates just to have neither myself of my friend remember that we’d agreed to talk at our chosen time. Last week, I told one of my best friends that I couldn’t grab dinner anymore because something had come up with my family that required my presence. Yes, I felt somewhat bad, but it was important and she is a good friend and she’d understand. Rescheduling would make up for it, right?
The idea that college students show up to class for two hours a day and then have endless hours of fun and freedom is purely a myth. While classroom hours may be fewer and more flexible than high school, women in college still hold a variety of responsibilities. They’re on executive boards of groups on campus, work part-time jobs for some extra spending money, work internships to give their resumés a boost, and have time-intensive majors that require a lot of work outside of class.
My friends who want to be doctors have to pile on studying for the MCAT on top of their regular course load to graduate on time. When I’m in a film production class, I don’t get to use that class time to make my projects; I need to plan, film, and edit them on my own time. This doesn’t even account for personal lives, like family responsibilities or significant others. To sum up, everyone has a lot going on.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that when you cancel plans, it impacts another person–presumably one who is important to you. To break plans with someone at the last minute is hurtful to the relationship not only because it will reduce your quality time together and potentially leave them feeling disappointed, but also because this person made time in their busy schedule to see you.
Talking to some other college students confirmed that I’m not the only one who has noticed the cancellation trend. Leah, a rising college junior, admitted that she has played the role of the flaky friend a couple of times during her college experience. “It can cause my female friends to get very upset with me if I cannot make the plans I set up, but I haven’t really had as many issues with my male friends,” she shared. “I definitely get guilted by female friends if I break plans.” Between a heavy course load and a variety of extracurriculars, it’s somewhat understandable that plans get shifted around sometimes, but it’s also understandable that her friends would be hurt by this.
Liana, another college student, said that she’s “experienced situations where [she’ll] reach out and people won’t respond, or they do and then [they] never carry out the plans.” She stressed that it does not happen frequently to her, but that this behavior is certainly not unheard of. “I’m usually the person trying to accommodate people because I value relationships,” she added. “I think many people who have trouble keeping in touch may regret it later in life.”
Sometimes backing out goes much deeper than simply missing lunch. Another college undergraduate who wishes to remain anonymous recounted the tale of someone who backed out of her housing situation at the last minute. She explained that two of her friends were planning to live together next year, but that “one of them decided it wasn’t the best idea to live with the other” and that once this came out, the friendship fell apart. “I believe they haven’t spoken to each other this summer,” she added, demonstrating that going back on commitments with friends can damage a relationship.
For all of us, especially the introverts out there, it’s important to practice self-care and have some alone time. As a true ambivert, I love hanging out with my friends but also need a certain amount of time to recharge. With this in mind, there are tactful ways to get in your me-time without hurting anyone’s feelings.
Personally, I have a few strategies for balancing socialization and alone time that have led to me canceling fewer plans. One is to make plans that will take up a designated amount of time so that you genuinely know that they can fit into your schedule. I know that going out to dinner with a friend is going to take around two hours and that a walk around the park with a friend from my dorm and back is going to be about fifty minutes, so by selecting one of these activities, I know exactly how much time I am allotting to my friend and I can gauge more honestly whether I do have that time to meet up.
Another way to prevent canceling is simply not to make plans for a time that you know you’re going to be burnt out. There was a major music festival in May that some of my friends invited me to, but it was the same day as an important final I had and even though it was after the final, I knew I’d be mentally exhausted and just want to unwind in bed afterward. Rather than agree only to back out later, I was upfront about my needs and they understood. Nobody’s feelings were hurt.
Sometimes we do have legitimately have reasons that we can’t make it to brunch, but next time you’re thinking of skipping out on a friend just because you’re a little tired and you’d rather binge-watch The Office for the eightieth time, please reconsider. Yes, it can be difficult to meet up with friends on top of life’s other responsibilities, but our female friendships are so, so important and each cancellation is a missed opportunity with someone who you value and who provides you with the kind of support you need in your young adult life. It’s important to practice this in college because once you have “real world” jobs and don’t live next to half of your best friends anymore, getting together becomes that much harder–but if both people are dedicating to keeping in touch, friendships can thrive for years.
Show your friends that you care about them by following through with your plans and your friendships will be that much more rewarding.