A canceling culture

No matter how hard we try, we’re guilty of it. Promises to meet friends, family, and colleagues for lunches, coffee and tea, dog walks, play dates, and dinners go unmet. “Let’s get together soon!” we agree each time there’s a chance encounter. But words fall empty as we realize, somewhat simulatenously, that the last several dozen parting words of similar sentiment went unfulfilled. So we pencil meetings in with a question mark.

Rescheduling appointments has suddenly become acceptable. Whether it’s because our calendars are digital or our schedules are triangulated moments at a time, juggling has become a cultural habit. And it’s uncomfortable, not to mention inconvenient.

The promise

“There are meetings which, when cancelled at the last minute, give one an ecstatic feeling of having cheated death for a little longer.” Alain de Botton

A promise to meet is satisfying. It expresses a sentiment (i.e., I want to see you) without the true commitment of any obligation (i.e., I’ll go out of my way for you). Citydwellers in particular can fall into a rescheduling pattern easily as we only see one another on rare occasion, and the frenetic pace makes for easy excuses.

When meetings get cancelled, it feels like a bit like a snow day. We’ve won time back. But if getting together is our goal, why then, does it feel so satisfying to cancel?

A canceling culture

Canceling the first time is quite difficult. Yet once the first cancellation exists, an unspoken cancellation agreement is in place. It’s here that two people are in danger of falling into a pattern. Always scheduling plans with one another yet never following through, there is an understanding that one can cancel at the last minute. And this is okay.

If the cancel option is possible, why promise in the first place? Here are some basics to avoid empty promise patterns:

1. Change your closing line

How do you part? We tend to use “Let’s get together soon!” as a default parting line. It connotes a lot with a little. Change your closing line to something less committal, and you’ll be free of empty promises.

2. Say what you mean

What do you really mean? If you can’t follow up, then don’t promise a meeting. Get-together promises are empty unless you can make it in person. Mean what you say. It’s simpler.

3. Meet in person

Can you get together? Try it. Instead of canceling, get together. Just like postponing meetings because of deadlines, family, or your need to watch “Lost,” try seeing a person. Meet. You might just find you enjoy it.

4. Don’t cancel


Next time you’re tempted to cancel, do the opposite. See what happens if you show up instead. You might just change culture.