How to Handle the Friend That Always Cancels

What Does Your Word Mean to Your Friends?

Sad girl waiting for a mobile phone call
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Do you have a friend who always cancels or never follows through with plans? Learn how to handle this type of friend.

A reader asks:

I have a group of friends that would go out every Friday night. One friend, in particular, would say she'd be there, and we would wait, and sometimes she'd show up and other times she wouldn't. Eventually, her word didn't mean much.
During the times she didn't do as she said, she'd always have an excuse, "I just had a really bad day," "I had a terrible headache," or "I just couldn't get to a phone to call." Valid reasons, if they happened once. Or twice. But several times?
Now when she says she’ll be there, I just assume she won’t. It’s a pleasant surprise when she does, but at the same time, I’m getting sick of the fact that she can’t commit.
But the amazing thing was that she would get upset if we'd leave without her at that point. She'd say, "But I told you I was going," when in fact she had said that plenty of times in the past and didn't go but just never told us. What are we supposed to do?

Staying True to Your Word

One of the best statements I ever heard was from a book called The Four Agreements which said to “be impeccable with your word.” It means simply that you follow through with what you say you’re going to go.

Simple, right?

But people don’t do this. They say things they don’t mean because they don’t really think them through (realizing that they’ll be too busy or considering what else is going on in their schedule) or because they already know they don’t want to go but are afraid of saying no. Perhaps they’re clueless and don’t pay attention, or maybe they’re trying to avoid an argument by agreeing first and then canceling later.

Bottom line, your friend’s word at this point means very little to you and your friend group and it’s about time your friend realized it. She lacks self-awareness or she wouldn’t get upset when you leave her behind.

What to Say to the Friend Who Can’t Commit

The next time you’re set to go out, be clear about what time you’re leaving and let her know you will not wait for her. You can say something like:

“We’d love to have you join us, but we’re leaving right at 7:00. If you’re not there by that time but want to join us later, feel free to meet us out.”

Then, you can still proceed with your plans without worrying about whether or not she’s going to come. However, if you need to know for sure if she’s going (you bought tickets, are making reservations, or doing something where you need a headcount) make it clear that she needs to give you a straight answer. Say:

“We’ve made reservations for the eight of us and did not count you in since you haven’t paid us yet. I know your schedule is busy and you sometimes need to cancel, so if you’re unsure whether you can come you might want to skip this event since we need to make definite plans.”

This lets her know that you’ve recognized her habit of canceling and you’re going with it as best you can, but you will proceed with this event without her.

If Your Friend Is Unhappy That You Go Ahead Without Them

Some friends seem to want the right of first refusal, meaning that they really don’t want to go but they still want to be asked so they can say no. This could be because they still want to feel a part of the group (even though they don’t attend half the things you invite them to) or because they have a problem with decision making and can’t commit properly to invitations.

You always have the option of moving ahead with plans and not inviting this type of friend. If they get upset, you can say:

“I’m sorry you’re feeling left out. You’ve canceled several times on us and at this point when you say you’d like to go I’m not sure you really mean it. I know you’re busy and so are we, so we’ll continue to invite you along but there are times when we really just need a straight answer that you follow through on.”

This lets your friend know that you’ll invite them along to places if the event is casual, but if you need a clear headcount you will not extend an invitation. A friend that has a problem with this then has the choice to go with it, leave the group entirely, or change their behavior.