Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: Recently, an engaged couple that my boyfriend and I dine with semi-regularly bailed at the last minute on longstanding dinner reservations at a nice restaurant. Their cancellation was so last-minute that we couldn’t have canceled the reservation even if we’d wanted to; fortunately, another couple was included in the reservation and the four of us were able to enjoy dinner together.
The guy texted all of us saying that dinner wasn’t “in the cards” for them due to wedding registry activities. The girl (who is generally very polite) said nothing. Neither of them has acknowledged their rude behavior or apologized for it, or proposed a future date for us all to grab dinner.
Frankly, I was stunned. Their cancellation was so abrupt and matter-of-fact, as if registry activities are akin to an unexpected illness or car trouble. At the time, I responded with a sarcastic text message (in the vein of, “That’s a lame excuse”), and we haven’t heard from them since.
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I’m wondering whether I crossed the line or if they are just embarrassed for mismanaging this situation. I want them to acknowledge their behavior was rude and their planning poor, but at this point I know that’s not going to happen. I’m also wondering how to deal generally with friends who think planning their wedding is a legitimate excuse for bailing on plans. I have a tendency to react emotionally (because I care!) and speak my mind, but I’m starting to think that isn’t the ideal approach.
Bailing at the last minute with thin excuses isn’t good friend behavior, obviously. However, holding an active grudge against people who do this to you exactly once isn’t good friend behavior, either.
Nor is hanging on to rigid expectations of people. Even if you decide these friends aren’t worth keeping – it happens, you’re entitled – eventually everyone is going to let you down somehow.
And when that happens, you owe them a more mature response mechanism than lashing out angrily (“sarcastically” would have been, “Wow, great excuse”) and then staying angry till you get the amends you think you deserve.
So please try thinking both small and big about social slights like this one. The small part involves waiting a few minutes before you respond to a friend-related disappointment, so those caring emotions can settle. If when you’re calm you still feel the need to say something, then be direct instead of snarky. “I’m disappointed. I wish you’d said something sooner.”
The thinking-big part is in choosing your friends carefully, so you can trust them not to break plans lightly and forgive them when they do. It’s a lot easier to focus on a few people who you know respect their commitments – and then not dwell on anyone’s missteps – than it is to maintain high expectations of everyone you socialize with.
Another thinking-big element is to bring your outrage into proportion. This couple canceled, once, without significant consequences, and you’re hanging onto it like they stabbed you in the back. Why don’t (BEG ITAL)you(END ITAL) apologize for snapping and give them another chance? We’re talking dinner; it’s hard to get lower-risk than that.
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