Canceling on a Friend: Sorry, you didn't make the cut

by EPI Staff on April 13, 2010

Q: Recently an old college buddy was unexpectedly in town for an evening. Since she doesn’t come often, I wanted to see her, so I asked the women I had plans with if we could reschedule, and she got annoyed.  Was I wrong?

A: You really were.  In general, calling off a date, even if you make another one, is discourteous unless you have a dire emergency, such as a sudden illness or a last-minute business trip.  Otherwise, the person you’ve canceled on could easily feel like second best, especially if you give the impression that this new opportunity appeals to you more than spending time with her.  Next time, you could ask your friend if she’d be comfortable having this colleague join you for the evening.  But make it clear that the plans you have with her take precedence, and that it is fine if she doesn’t want a threesome-you’ll just see your old buddy the next time she’s in town.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon April 13, 2010 at 7:30 am

Or maybe you could just get friends who are more understanding. Etiquette faux-pas or not, if a friend I can see anytime calls me up to tell me someone she hasn’t seen in ages is in town, I would gladly reschedule. I mean, I’m not going to throw a fit if something comes up with one of her children, or her husband, so why should I if an old acquaintance drops in? I would much rather let them have a good time reminiscing and then do our “thing” at a later date.

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carrie. April 13, 2010 at 9:01 am

I completely agree with Shannon — it would seem ungracious to not allow the friend to reschedule the inital plans in order to accommodate the out-of-town friend who is rarely seen.

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carrie. April 13, 2010 at 9:01 am

initial*

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R April 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

I agree that it would be more courteous to be understanding of the circumstances. However, it sounds like the letter writer wanted to reschedule with a group. In that case, I think it would be better to withdraw from attending the group event so that you miss out but you don’t make other people miss out as well. If the group chooses to reschedule to accommodate this last-minute visit, then that’s fine.

I know that I’d cancel existing plans to see those whom I rarely see… there’re a couple of longtime friends who live out of province and if they fly into town and want to meet at the last minute, I know that I’ll go out of my way to make it happen. It doesn’t mean that I value my in-town friends less; it means that I also value my out-of-town friends.

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Jody April 13, 2010 at 10:57 am

I agree with the initial advice. If a friend called me wanting to reschedule for the same reason as the original poster, I’d definitely feel like a “second class” citizen. I would probably act understanding, but I’m not sure I’d want to reschedule with this person again. Something coming up with husband/children (or health) is one thing and I’d definitely understand that; something coming up because another friend dropped in is another. I think the old college buddy should understand that the original poster had prior plans and can’t meet her.

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Amber June 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I have a friend who often cancels plans. I feel that if I had been less accomodating of her rudeness innitally than perhaps she would treat me with higher regard now. I think plans should stand unless there is a *serious* reason for cancellation. My time is just as valuable as theirs and out-of-town friend or not, I would feel as if my time had been disregarded.

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Matt April 1, 2011 at 7:57 am

I don’t think it was with a group. I think she accidentally wrote “women” instead of woman. Later on, she wrote “she.” If it were a group, she would have written “them.”

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Michael July 29, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I am an actor and a voice teacher who lives in NYC. I have always felt it was rude to cancel plans with someone last minute (without an emergency). I always thought that reliability and punctuality were considered admirable traits. If I want to get together with someone or to schedule a date, I try to select a date and time and usually a basic activity (i.e. dinner, coffee, walk in the park). I get frustrated when people cancel on me last minute or refuse to make plans because they prefer to “go with the flow”. I find this to be true in roughly 80% of the interactions I have with friends, colleagues and guys I am trying to make a date with. These people will accuse me of being uptight and inflexible, “This is NYC after all. Aren’t you used to people canceling at the last minute?” Have I swallowed a handful of crazy pills or are these behaviors still considered rude in general society? I have had people argue with me to the death that their way of living is totally acceptable and mine is unreasonable. I even had a friend recently tell me that my written cancellation policy (for voice lessons) was too strict and should have all sorts of clauses written in. Have I gone mad? Please help!

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Jules September 14, 2013 at 6:25 pm

You have most certainly NOT gone mad! Apparently being rude is the cool thing these days. I just had a fight with a friend because she totally made me feel like I’m second best. And you know what’s even worse? That they look at you like you’re the one with the problem! Like you’re crazy for feeling offended. But if the same thing happens to them, my God! You’ll never hear the end of it!! Pfff!!

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mar February 14, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Sounds like you’re the mature one. You were just establishing your boundaries/limits! Bravo!

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Mar February 14, 2014 at 9:30 pm

I totally agree with you Matt. It seems that nowadays, people don’t truly honor their word or follow through with their commitments. Maybe that’s why there are only a few reliable people you can truly count on in your life. It sounds like you are one of them to your friends. Sadly, this is how the culture behaves and people tolerate such behavior because they probably do the same thing to others. When you are an honorable person, you know deep down inside that it’s the right thing to do, not to mention– selfless and considerate one!

There’s totally nothing wrong with having standards! And that gos for your voice lesson cancellation policy!

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Steph January 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

If you have ever been cancelled on then you would understand what it feels like to be feeling “second best”. I believe that you should do what you said you were going to do. That is part of one’s character. Now I do understand that things come up, however, when it happens all of the time it makes you start to wonder if that person really is a true friend and if these things are really happending or just excuses. I believe you should treat people as you would like to be treated. Remember, what you put out there is what you get back.

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PJ September 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

One thing that wasn’t mentioned is why the old college friend didn’t give any warning that she was going to be in town. She could be the person who was being rude in the first place. If she really didn’t know ahead of time, and it was someone who lives far away, I’d understand if someone who I see on a regular basis asked me for a rain check. It would also depend on what our plans were; if it was just a casual get-together then a cancellation may be okay, but if it was something special, then no. I also may have just asked the local friend if it was okay for the college friend to join us.

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Claire September 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm

What about if your friend changes plans at the last minute to hang out with someone who doesn’t live very far away but just doesn’t visit her often. I feel like I am being treated as the second class friend because I make the effort to see her on a regular basis while the other friend who does not often make an effort is being given priority. Am I being too sensitive? The plans we had made were supposed to be a special event.

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