I Love When Friends Bail on Me. Here’s Why.

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To all the people who’ve ever canceled on me at the last minute . . . thank you from the bottom of my soul. We’ve had a lunch on the books for weeks and you email me an hour before and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry, but . . .”? Well, I’m spinning around in my office chair pumping my fists in triumph. You tell me you have a family emergency and you can’t have a drink tonight after all? There’s a 20 percent chance you’re making it up, but I don’t care. Thank you, thank you, thank you for such sweet relief.

It’s not that I don’t want to meet up. I do. And we have things to discuss. But my excitement for meeting up is always dwarfed by the excitement I feel when we don’t.

But . . . why the JOBCO ( joy of being canceled on)? Do I have undiagnosed social anxiety and feel relieved that I don’t have to perform? (I don’t think so.) Do I just have JOMO, the joy of missing out? (Nah, I actually want the appointment to happen.) Or has my brain become so accustomed to my being overscheduled that it’s engaged in a stress response, as Duke University neuroscientist and Men’s Health Advisory Board member P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., suggested to me? “Too many meetings can worsen time pressure and push the brain into a state of learned helplessness, especially if we are on the receiving end of work.” Or perhaps I’m actually angry. According to psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, M.D., also an MH advisor, the relief may mask the hostility and resentment I feel because all the time I spent preparing for the meeting has been disrespected. “You’ve been prepping for the last few days in your mind, right? And now it doesn’t matter. And if you’re dealing with a chronic canceler, neither do you.”

Maybe? Even so, it wouldn’t offend me, because relief is all I feel—a minor ecstasy. Which is why I don’t feel so bad about canceling on other people. I figure I’m giving them a gift. Even if I’m canceling five times in two months, like I did with food and restaurant publicist Jesse Gerstein, whom I’ve known for more than ten years. Jesse’s one of my favorite people. He never seems like he’s selling me anything. And he asks me to lunch (always at one of the amazing restaurants he represents: il Buco, the Modern, Sfoglina) without any clear agenda. Jesse has asked me to lunch even when I’ve been between jobs. He spent one lunch trying to figure out what my next job should be. (He’s a solid guy whom no one should ever cancel on.)

Man texting in the city

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Recently, Jesse asked me to dinner. We settled on a date, and then a couple of days before, I had to cancel. It was fine, Jesse said. When I canceled again (this time for lunch), he said that was fine, too. When I canceled for a fifth time, he said it was fine!

But was it?

“I’d be lying if I said I never feel relieved when somebody cancels,” Jesse told me. “But it depends on when people cancel, and it depends on what they’re canceling for. I go out a lot, so the chance to be home with my kids and on my couch eating takeout Chinese is not always a bad thing.”

What did he think when I kept canceling?

“We’re the most overplanned, overstretched, overcommitted society. Sometimes people just want a night off, and it’s nothing personal. I just want to get something back on the books.”

The books. I’ve always hated the books. The relationship schedules. The calendars of interaction. The books keep trying to organize and order my friendships—both personal and professional. When someone cancels, things get disordered back to a more natural state, marked by flexibility and nimbleness. Freedom! And victory. It feels like I scored a last-second goal. And the books lose.

My interview with Jesse about this whole thing never made it to the books. It happened because I sent him a text asking if he had some time to meet up this week. His response was efficient, elegant, and honest: “Now?”

Now?!

We did it live. We met up at a bar right then and had a great chat. It was organic and human. And productive. We’re overscheduled and overplanned, and we’re looking for more time, and we’re looking for it now. Doesn’t matter if we’re getting out of something or getting into something. The relief might be that we get to experience right now in an immediate way.

Now? Now is perfect.



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