According to recent research, lying about your reason for cancelling plans is the worst thing you can do. The results suggest that how cancellations are handled might matter more than whether they happen or not.
“Maintaining relationships with others is important to humans, but the reality is that social anxiety exists. Living out in the world — or getting prepared to do so — is exhausting, but staying home provides comfort. The pandemic taught us to stay home in our haven, but now that the worst parts of the pandemic are hopefully over, expectations to socialize in person are on the rise,”
said lead author William Chopik, associate professor in Michigan State University’s psychology department.
The extensive study is one of the first to examine the numerous norms surrounding cancelling plans. A survey of more than 1,100 people was conducted to learn about people’s preferences for being cancelled on by a friend, the unpleasant feelings they experience during this, and their standards for acceptable and unacceptable reasons for cancellation.
Friendship Norm Violations
Eighty percent of participants said that while cancelling plans wouldn’t have an impact on their friendship, they would be upset if they found out that the given reason was false.
People reported relatively low levels of distress when they were cancelled on unless it was by a close friend. When asked explicitly how upset they would be if a good or best friend cancelled on them, most participants said they would be moderately upset.
“The level of investment in the relationship appears to matter. Being cancelled on by a best friend — presumably a relationship that people have invested a great deal in — was more upsetting than being cancelled on by a merely good friend or a casual acquaintance. Being cancelled on by those we are close to may be more upsetting because it more clearly violates the norms of friendship and could resemble a form of social rejection,”
When asked how to cancel plans, nearly 60% of participants said they would like advance notice and would prefer to be informed in a timely manner, such as a brief phone call or text. However, only 10% of the participants expected an apology from their friend for cancelling on them, according to Chopik.
Regarding acceptable reasons for cancelling, roughly half of the sample stated that health or family-related reasons are the best.
Work- or obligation-related excuses were also deemed acceptable by approximately 40% of the sample. Having an emergency or something unexpected come up was mentioned approximately 25% of the time.
More than half of those polled said that pursuing more rewarding social or romantic opportunities was one of the worst reasons for cancelling plans.
“Relationships aren’t taught in the same way as social studies or biology. A lot of learning happens ‘on the fly’ as we find ourselves in relationships and either screw things up or have successes. Socializing ourselves to be more responsive to the people in our lives is a worthy goal if we’re trying to have fulfilling, long-lasting relationships,”
Although society provides guidance on how to navigate romantic relationships, there is little information available on how to navigate friendships, which is also important given that an increasing number of people are single and report feeling more lonely than ever.
The study does have some limitations, such as the fact that it was a cross-sectional study, relying on the participants’ general attitudes toward cancellations. The questions asked also were limited to three specific response emotions; those of feeling annoyed, upset, and offended.
The study additionally had the typical bias of only including undergraduate student subjects; in this case, they were 72.5% women, and 71.8% white. A more diverse sample of people may have responded differently.
Future studies should purposefully include participants from various ages, racial/ethnic backgrounds, and countries to better understand how people perceive the expectations surrounding friendship cancellation and rejection.
- Sophia Caron, Jacqueline Thomas, Alaina Torres, Jeewon Oh, William Chopik. How to Cancel Plans With Friends: A Mixed Methods Study of Strategy and Experience. Collabra: Psychology 3 January 2023; 9 (1): 57549