“In terms of instant relief,” said John Mulaney, immediately becoming one of my favourite comedians, “cancelling plans is like heroin.”
I tend to cancel plans throughout the year, but I’m maybe flakiest during the holiday season. There’s just too much going on, between gift shopping, insane work deadlines, and cookie-baking, for me to deal with social commitments, too. As an introvert, it can be a challenge for me to dedicate enough time to socializing with loved ones as it is – despite how much I care about them or actually want to see them.
And, thanks to technology, it’s getting easier and easier to bail on people. You used to have to call and explain yourself, to hear the disappointment in someone else’s voice and recognize that you’re responsible for it – you’re letting somebody down. But now, it’s super easy to just send a quick excuse via text to get out of whatever commitment you might have made earlier in the week, when you optimistically believed you’d be up for it.
While there are some benefits to this (like not letting your need to please others override your own need for downtime and self-care), there are some significant consequences, too. According to neuroscientist and medical doctor Dr. Tara Swart, even those of us who often flake on others can find ourselves with hurt feelings when someone cancels on us.
“If someone cancels on us, it still affects the brain like a social pain or psychological threat to our safety,” she told Harpers Bazaar. “Something called ‘loss aversion’ means we are twice as affected by a perceived loss than an equivalent gain, so being bailed on feels much worse when we are on the receiving end than it does when we do it to someone else.”
Luckily, most of the people in my life understand my limited capacity for social interaction, and often have similar limitations themselves – so they get it when I find myself suddenly unable to honour a commitment. Still, it’s something I try to do infrequently, because not only do I want to spare them any feelings of resentment or irritation, but because I know spending time with the people who mean the most to me is important both for maintaining those relationships and for my own mental health.
If you do find yourself overbooked this time of year, there’s no shame in bowing out if you need to – just make sure you do so with empathy and compassion. Give the person you're cancelling on a call instead of just sending a text or email, and provide a valid, genuine reason for your flakiness. And make it up to them by arranging to spend time together when you’re feeling up to it.
Having the space to recharge and decompress is important, but relationships are important, too.