There is seriously nothing that pisses me off more than when I’m trying to make plans with someone, and they bail at the last minute. Sometimes they’re wishy-washy about committing to a place or time, sometimes they just plain stand you up. Any way that it happens, it just generally blows. Not only is there a monkey wrench in our day, night, week, whatever, but we feel slighted. Like, fuck man, why didn’t you just tell me you didn’t wanna hang?
For some reason, this seems to happen to me a lot. When I go back to my hometown, I find loads of people messaging or texting me to hang out, but when I try to make concrete plans they’re mysteriously unresponsive or dismissive. Even when I’m home, I’ll try to make plans with people I’m close with, and they’ll give me maybes or we’ll sees, only to have them cancel at the last minute, leaving me scrambling for other plans (which really sucks on a weekend, when everyone else is already out barhopping). Now, I understand that sometimes shit happens, and we have to bail. But I’m talking about serial bait-and-cancellers—people who make a habit of going ghost and leaving me hanging without an honest explanation of why they stood me up. It sucks. It makes me feel like they don’t respect me or my time.
The worst example of this was when I invited a notorious bailer over to my place when I was back home for break. They said they would be there at 3pm. I called them when 4pm rolled around, they answered and said they would be there by 5pm. At 7pm I called again, and they said they would be there at 8pm. At 9pm I ate dinner without them. The next time I saw them, I was pissed. Finally I asked them why they didn’t just tell me no. For once they were honest and told me straight up that they were uncomfortable telling me no. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings.
But didn’t they see that standing me up would hurt more than a no ever would? I would have had the opportunity to make other plans. Hopefully it would have been accompanied by an honest explanation of why they didn’t want to spend time with me. Instead I was left feeling lied to, disrespected, and kinda worthless. Sure, they can give excuses after the fact, but that doesn’t erase the shitty feeling of being stood up.
Then I realized that in the bailer’s eyes, baiting people with a yes is actually a pretty good tactic for avoiding conflict (unless you’re using it on me)—by saying yes when we really mean no, we don’t have to be honest and explain why we’re not interested. We wait until the last moment and say Oops! Something came up, sorry! instead of having to address the situation at hand. It’s just another way to shirk responsibility for our feelings. Instead of having to articulate that we don’t like horror movies, or don’t even really like the person inviting us, we pass it off to a sequence of events that is out of our control.
Any situation where this type of bailing becomes a habit, it’s a sign that there is a major disconnect in the relationship. We are either not comfortable with our feelings, or are not comfortable sharing our feelings with this person. And any good relationship, whether it is romantic, platonic, familial or professional, is founded on honesty. We have to be comfortable telling people no, and we have to be comfortable with the possibility that they won’t like it. If we’re asserting and explaining ourselves fairly and honestly, then there is nothing to feel guilty about. We also need to trust their ability to handle a no.
But sometimes we can’t help but have relationships with serial bailers. To combat the suckiness of being stood up, I’ve started asking for concrete confirmation of plans, and not accepting vague and nebulous maybes and we’ll sees. I tell them straight up that if they can’t commit to me, then I will find something else to do. This tells them that A) I value my time, and I won’t let it be wasted, and B) I won’t be heartbroken if they can’t or don’t want to join me.
Now, I’m not a saint. And while my own cognitive dissonance has blurred out any instances where I’ve baited-and-switched, I’m 100% I’ve done it to others. So to avoid frustrating people (and attempting to following my own advice), I remind myself that I’m dealing with people that I trust can handle being told no. I also try to be as honest as possible, while still being courteous. Sometimes they way we feel will hurt people, but the way we say it doesn’t have to make it hurt worse. If people react positively (e.g. appreciate my honesty, not necessarily like what I have to say), then I know we have a strong relationship. If they react negatively, then I know it’s time to reevaluate the situation.
tl;dr: Be honest, yo.