Why Cancelling Plans Gives Us Such a Rush
Let’s be honest: Most people have felt that wave of relief when the plans they made a week ago fall through. An entire evening to yourself? Staying in instead of going out and socializing? The overwhelming bliss after receiving or sending that “Oh no! I don’t think I can make it tonight” text is, arguably, more satisfying than actually having to go out and enjoying yourself — or at least that’s what many, many memes would have us believe. We’re living in an age in which technology ensures that making and cancelling plans is instantaneous. And maybe it’s a consequence of convenience, or the effect of our generation’s collective social anxiety, but cancelling plans has never felt so good.
While early social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook engendered jealousy and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) among users, internet culture has evolved to a point where staying in is the new going out. Health and wellness fads have meant less Sex and the City-esque photos at club openings and more facemask selfies at home. The rise of hygge, the Danish concept that literally translates as “cozy togetherness,” favors chunky knit blankets and hot chocolate. And so, our social media feeds are flooded with images and products that have capitalized on the trend of staying home. FOMO has been replaced by FOGO, the Fear of Going Out, and Netflix and Chill is our new religion.
This plague then, of cancelling plans, seems to be heightened now. Mintel, a US-based marketing research firm, released a study last year that found 28% of younger millennials (aged 24-31) prefer to stay home rather than going out to drink, because “it takes too much effort to go out.” The many how-to guides instruct readers on responsible ways to flake, why it’s okay to forgive yourself for cancelling plans, and tips on how to be better at it. Meanwhile, think pieces from psychotherapists and sociologists rally against what Nancy Colier, writing for Psychology Today, terms ‘Last Minute Itis,’ calling it the scourge of our times. For older generations, the act of cancelling plans on someone is both insulting and rude. So, why is it that we now consider this completely normal, going so far as to expect that 50% of the time, the plans we make will never actually happen?
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Colier believes that it comes down to technology. The ease with which we can make and cancel plans means they now have less meaning than ever before. Interestingly, she notes these last-minute cancellations will only take place via text. It’s much harder to call a person to cancel a meeting or date, because you’ll have to hear the disappointment in their voice.
The other argument is that social media has connected us to such an extent that we’re already up-to-date with what’s going on in each other’s lives, giving people less of an incentive to meet up in real life. However, blaming this trend solely on technology, which according to her has “made bad behavior acceptable, and turned us into a society of disrespectful cads,” seems shortsighted. The socio-cultural changes that have brought us to this moment are a lot more complex than that.
For one thing, studies show that busyness and lack of leisure time is now seen as a status symbol. We glorify the busy schedule and the credo of ‘work hard, play harder.’ So, it’s no wonder that people are more inclined to say yes to plans, to want to be the person who can wake up early, work out, go to work, run errands, complete any domestic work they have, and make it to drinks with friends that night. Saying yes to social commitments is the only acceptable response in a competitive society that values human capital in terms of productivity — even within our free time. When it finally comes down to it, it’s easier to agree to plans and cancel them at the last moment, than to decline them.
In a world where we’re so interconnected, where the lines between work and leisure time are blurred, it takes a lot of energy to be sociable, to be ‘on’ all the time. With a packed daily schedule, between work, family, and everyday tasks, it’s difficult to find time to just lay on your couch and watch TV. So, sometimes the opportunity of having time to yourself is more tempting than going out and doing something you maybe weren’t looking forward to as much. Overestimating how much time and energy we have for things outside our regular schedule, coupled with an uptick in anxiety and stress across our generation, means we’re less inclined to enjoy social interactions that we feel obligated to engage in.
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But while our collective stress makes us crave the comfort of staying home, it’s also an argument to make more meaningful connections with the people we care about. The longest-running study in the world, conducted by researchers at Harvard University, shows people who lean into relationships with family, friends, and community are happier and healthier than others. And although it’s much easier to cancel plans now, the way our brains process being cancelled on has remained the same — it hurts. In fact, cancelling plans is actually worse than saying no to them in the first place, both to the person doing the cancelling and the person being cancelled on.
“If you find that this is something you’re doing often, it’s probably that you’re saying yes to too many things and the real problem is not how to get out of stuff, but how to say no in the first place,” psychologist Andrea Bonior told The Cut. The solution seems deceptively simple: make fewer plans. Be mindful of your time, and extend empathy to your friends and family, and to your future self, by realistically gauging how much you’ll be able to do in a day. Overcommitting and packing your schedule with plans that you’ll be too tired to do is not fun for anyone — and that momentary relief of cancelling is nothing compared to the feeling of making a conscious decision to value your time, and others’.