The Fine Art of Canceling, or, How to Chip Away at My Heart

It happened again.

Just when I thought I’d escaped, it happened again.

Lately, I’ve been scraping and whittling things down in my brain, trying to ask myself why I feel the way I do sometimes, and how I get there. The root of the problem. And one of those things that instantly throws me into a tailspin is getting that text that usually starts with “Dear Jacob” and includes the words “sorry,” “cancel,” and the worst offender of all, “rain check.” Those two words send shivers down my spine.

Maintaining friendships and relationships have always been tough for me. My parents thought I might have had some sort of social skills problem. Last year, I was talking to my dad about the subject, when he told me something interesting that I’d said when I was about eight. At this point in my life, I remember identifying closer with adults and older kids rather than kids my own age or younger. I also remember being shy a lot of the time, among other things. When I was eight, an adult – probably a teacher or a counselor of some kind – asked me why I was so quiet. My response was, “I’m quiet because it’s safe.” When adult me heard child me say that, adult me wanted to go back in time and give child me a hug. It all came flooding back. I was a very lonely child, preferring the company of books or stuffed animals, of which I had many. But, as life goes on, human interaction becomes increasingly important in a person’s developmental process. My seeming inability to hang on to friends became an inability to even make friends, which led me to stop trying somewhere around the fifth or sixth grade. I actually remember feeling resigned to being alone for the rest of my life.

Adult life kind of changed things. College, Israel, grad school were all experiences that took me out of my comfort zone of home and helped me open up. It also allowed me to change my personality a little, and in addition, put me in situations where other people around me were seeking friendships as well. Some may have even had similar experiences growing up.

Connecting this back to what I actually wanted to write about today, in the past few years, I’ve been investing more time and energy into creating and maintaining meaningful friendships and quality relationships. One of those ways is to be a little more aggressive than I’m used to being at times, and instead of waiting around by the phone, being proactive and asking people to get together, even suggesting activities, dates, times, and locations. I’ve found a lot of success there, but I’ve also experienced the heartbreak that comes from being canceled on, so much so that my parents actually approved of me joining an online dating site. My birthday party last year was probably the worst birthday party in the history of time immemorial. My guest list started out decently, with about 10-15 people saying yes and agreeing to come. And one by one, everyone canceled. Some gave no reason, some had to work/do schoolwork, one had a medical issue, and the very last one came a few hours before the party, someone who had to take a friend’s seven-year-old sister to dance class. Seven years old. Dance class. So, I scrapped the whole party, unofficially, threw all the food back in the fridge, and decided to drown my feelings with a long, hot shower. Only then, there was a knock at my door, and it was one guest, who I’d totally forgotten that I’d invited, a guy who I didn’t know so well. I cooked us dinner and we spent two awkward hours talking, after which I cried for awhile and felt like dying.

Before and after the failed party, canceling plans seems to be the norm for everyone else but me. People just casually send a text offering regrets with platitudes and “have fun anyways.” I’ve had three social interactions canceled in one day, I’ve bought tickets for no-shows, and I even got stranded at an airport once (that was when the amazing Monica switched around her schedule and came out to get me after picking up her kids from school, WHILE THEY WERE STILL IN THE CAR, if my mom would’ve done this to me as a kid, I’d have been so angry). Usually the excuses are legit and some people even offer a bit of condolence but rarely ever any sort of compensation for the lost time and hurt feelings on my end.

When things like this happen, I usually say “it’s ok” or “no problem” or “I understand,” because if I say how I really feel to that friend, I might not have that friend anymore. It comes off either as a personal attack or a guilt trip, experiences that nobody enjoys having. When the birthday party thing happened, I thought about telling off all my friends, or “friends” as it were at the time, but then I’d have fewer of them and they might tell others about me flipping out at them or giving them grief. I thought about asking everyone to a second party and taking a poll on when it’s best for everyone, but I didn’t want to seem like a doormat, desperate for friends. I even thought about asking my friends to give me money for all the food and drinks I’d bought for them, and I was in such a state of mind that it actually seemed like a good idea until my dad talked me out of it.

But the point is? It hurts. It maims. It wounds. It’s a punch in the gut and a slap in the face and a pileup in the end zone when multiple parties are involved.

And for some reason, it affects me on such a deep level that it inhibits my ability to function.

Here are the stages I go through upon getting the dreaded call, text, or email.

  1. Shock that I’ve just been canceled on.
  2. Disappointment, which varies depending on how excited I was, how much I like the person, or how much I desperately wanted to do what we were going to do together.
  3. Apologies, as if it’s my fault. (sometimes a stage that is skipped).
  4. Flat-out rejection, feeling like a 2-d cardboard cutout that’s been knocked over and stomped upon.
  5. Loathing for the person who rejected me. Varies.
  6. Telling myself that I knew it was going to happen, and that something like this always does, and that I’m an unlucky human being.
  7. Proposing an alternate time or two.
  8. If we can reschedule, all prior stages are reversed. If we can’t, or he/she won’t, there’s usually a “we’ll see” involved and a vague statement about the future that contains no promises, so the other person has an “out.”

After contact is broken with the other person, my thought process:

  1. Flat-out pain. Usually involves sitting for a long time. Statement to self: “this sucks.”
  2. Feeling shot down. Statement to self: “ouch.”
  3. Doubt. Statement to self: “who’d want to hang out with me anyway?”
  4. Self-hatred. Statement to self: “I don’t want to be here with me right now either but I don’t have a choice.”
  5. Globalization. Statement to self. “Nobody wants to hang out with me. Nobody will ever hang out with me again. Nobody likes me.”
  6. Globalized self-hatred. Statement to self: “I don’t like myself too. I hate myself.”
  7. Blame. Statement to self: “You hate me. You made me hate me. I hate you for hating me. I hate the way you made me feel.”
  8. Negative thoughts about other person.
  9. Mentally list all the other person’s shortcomings.
  10. Feel completely emotionless and lifeless.
  11. Do some sort of activity or distraction exercise; for me, it’s usually staring, eating,

This cycle keeps repeating itself, until the time comes when I decide that I am done with the whole “friends” thing, I am done with human interaction, admitting defeat, declaring surrender, and then usually attempting to make plans with someone else, which may or may not start the cycle again.

When I have to cancel, which I rarely do, because I try not to commit to anything that I can’t follow through on, this is what I do.

  1. Apologize.
  2. Make sure my apology has been acknowledged.
  3. Offer to make alternate plans, on your time, on my dime. This might be pushing it but if it’s a friend worth keeping, it’s a friend worth it, case in point: I failed to hang out with a friend one night, so one day we got sushi together, on me, and I made up for the lost time by being sincere and spending most of the lunch listening to her rather than talking.
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