When I talk about canceling plans, I don’t mean this type of cancellation:
“Are you at the airport yet? The plane to Orlando’s taking off in half an hour! Where are you?”
“Hey, sorry, but I just don’t feel like going to Disney World anymore. Hopefully, you understand.”
“What? I booked the ticket and hotel for you two months ago! Why didn’t you say anything before?”
In cases where you cancel a plan that your friends had to spend significant time and money on, I hope that we can agree that canceling abruptly is generally a messed-up thing to do. Most of us tend to cancel plans for things like Dougie breakfastTM, meet-ups at the campus Starbucks, or get-togethers on the Wilson Quad for Meliora Weekend. Cancellations and rain checks are scenarios you will encounter often as a college student — and in life — so who can you cancel on? How long before can you cancel? What are your reasons for canceling, and are they legit?
Generally, canceling on a friend has different ramifications than canceling on someone you don’t know well. Sure, your close friends are people whose feelings are important to you, and you wouldn’t want them to feel upset for canceling on them. However, you won’t be burning a bridge if it’s a friend that you have known for a while. Someone who knows and cares about you wouldn’t cut contact over you canceling lunch an hour in advance.
Someone you are not particularly close with, however, might not have a good impression of you canceling if you don’t provide a particularly compelling reason. If this is someone who you would like to talk to again in the future, it might be more worthwhile to suck it up and go. Of course, this also depends on the person — some friends might have really wanted to hang out and will be particularly upset. Likewise, some people you don’t know well might be surprisingly understanding and will take you up on that rain check without much fuss. I can’t, in good faith, give you a catch-all answer, but a generally helpful heuristic is assessing how likely the person you’re talking to will be upset by your canceling.
Well, how long before said meet-up can you cancel on a hypothetical friend? It depends on factors like whether they had to go out of their way for that plan. Suppose you were to cancel on a friend the night before — little did you know, they had to reject an offer from another friend yesterday to hang out at the same time! In that case, I would not particularly blame your friend for being upset over you not canceling earlier. The way you can minimize that risk is by assessing whether you want to cancel earlier. Telling someone a week in advance that you can’t make breakfast is relatively unlikely to affect their plans, as they can easily find something to do on that day instead. Telling them an hour before, though, might be a bit more troublesome.
Now, we come to what I consider to be the big question: why are you canceling? Compelling reasons include getting sick (and not wanting to become a health hazard) or landing a job interview or other career-impacting event that you need to attend. What if you need to cancel because, well, you just don’t want to go anymore? This is where some might deem canceling to be selfish, but this is not necessarily the case. For me, alongside several of my neurodivergent friends, we might have had a particularly overwhelming day, and going to a loud event scheduled a week prior might be too much to handle at the moment. In the past, I have taken rain checks on people for events that I might feel overwhelming that day or, instead, proposed that we just hang out at our respective places. It’s a lot quieter, and we’ll still be having fun. You don’t actually need to be neurodivergent for you to find your day hard — we all have bad days. It might even help to be candid with your friend and let them know that while you want to see them, you don’t have the emotional or mental capacity to do so at the moment. They’ll likely appreciate being told and be more understanding as a result. Sometimes, canceling might be your way of not wanting to throw a difficult task onto others when they didn’t ask for it. We should reframe canceling on a friend from being a selfish act to a considerate one — you not wanting to force them to handle you on a bad day.