A couple of strange things have happened on my way to adulthood. Perhaps the biggest: that my days of impromptu diner eggs with friends at 4 a.m. have faded into official coffee and drink dates. No longer can I meet my bestie up on the roof that connected our Brooklyn brownstones. Now if I want to see her, we make a plan at least a week in advance. I’ve (gasp!) started keeping an Outlook calendar. Turns out that it takes a little official planning to keep track of a grown-up life.
Even stranger, I’ve started adding question marks at the end of my appointments. Coffee with Sarah? Supposedly, but she always ends up canceling. A drink with Paul? I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s gotten to the point where I will sometimes double-book, knowing that the chances of one of my friends ditching is almost guaranteed. Is it just me, or have social conventions changed around how comfortable people feel canceling on one another? It feels like it’s become totally acceptable as a regular way of juggling a schedule, rather than an inconvenient move that requires a really justifiable reason. And it’s contagious! I find that I’ve gotten so used to being canceled on that my otherwise accountable self feels fairly comfortable wiggling out of plans with other people. I was raised on the sound wisdom that one of the most important things in life is to simply show up. But lately there are times that I simply flake out.
Ann Landers died in 2002. Did etiquette die with her?
I’ve had to look to more contemporary sources. Lisa Plancich, Bella Online’s Etiquette Editor, had this to say:
“If you have a busy schedule, chances are you are going to have to eventually cancel an appointment. When you cancel an appointment you are affecting the day of those with whom you are canceling … Your first order of business is to begin your change of plans by calling and canceling with style. Yes, I did say call. In this day of email, having to make an actual phone call might be a bit of a shock. But you are now impinging on someone else’s day. Convenience is no longer about you. You allowed inconvenience to rule you when you decided to cancel the appointment. Now you need to make your decision convenient for the canceled.”
Ouch. I’m not as much of a hard-ass as Lisa, and truth be told, I think phone calls can actually feel more inconvenient in this email age. Nevertheless, it does seem like a lot of people have grown too comfortable with causing others scheduling discomfort.
It got me wondering, is all of this canceling a New York phenomenon—a product of our fast-moving, unsentimental urban attitude? I asked my cousin Anna in Edwards, Colorado, a town of just over 8,000 people, to get a little perspective. (She was the one who pointed out to me that New Yorkers were particularly brunch-crazy; I, in turn, pointed out to her that skiing on one’s lunch break is not a normal thing.)
Anna, newly married to Eddy, has this to say: “Eddy and I talked about it and we totally agree. Many of our plans and work meetings are canceled without notice. I started noticing people not following through with plans in college. It was a whole change of thinking for me.”
I was sort of shocked. You expect some level of flakiness from New York City, land of hustlers, hipsters, and actors, but in Colorado? It’s the land of outdoorsy type-As and churchgoers. Wouldn’t you expect those kinds of people to be accountable and on time?
Apparently, we’re all in this new laissez-faire land together.
I have to admit that I don’t exactly know what the solution is here. But I do hereby solemnly swear to all my friends and family: If I make a plan with you, you can be sure that—unless I’m sick or something incredibly big comes up—I will be there. I hope you will do the same for me. That said, next time I get stood up, I’m going to remember that it’s not personal.