Let’s do lunch…maybe

Chatelaine, December 2004

When did we be come so afraid of commitment?

It’s getting lonely over here in the land of cancelled plans. Two lunch dates. One dinner party. One meeting and two visits from out-of-towner all called off. And that’s just the tally of this week’s casualties.

Perhaps I’m just having trouble adjusting to life as the cancellee instead of the canceller. Until recently, my friends knew that lunch plans were subject to spontaneous rain checks (regardless of weather), movie times could be changed on a whim. Even my hairdresser knew not to mark my appointments in ink.

Then something strange happened.   Suddenly, I wanted to commit.   I began eagerly booking dinner parties, cooking classes, networking lunches and out-of-town jaunts. I was no longer paralyzed by indecision, no longer haunted by nagging “what if” scenarios. So what if I don’t feel like Pad Thai next Tuesday?

What caused this epiphany? I think it came as I flipped through my day planner. Page after page was filled with scribbles, scratched-out names and, most alarmingly, question marks: Meeting with Sarah? Lunch with Sylvia?? Weekend with Sophie??? Those messy pages meant I had become accustomed to living in a constant state of uncertainty. I realized I spent more time making, breaking and rejigging plans than doing anything.

I’d fallen into the trap quite unconsciously. E-mail had made changing plans quick, easy and painless. And as a member of a culture that values efficiency, I’d started to treat the extra effort of face-to-face interactions like a time-waster. Personal commitments were the first thing to fall off the to-do list. What a shame! And with that, I declared my new path: I would live the life less cancelled.

Since then, however, I’ve noticed that everyone around me lacks commitment. Like a skirt that you buy at the Gap knowing full well you’re going to return it, I’m convinced some people make plans just to break them. And like a good return policy, such actions seem to carry few consequences. The condition of breaking plans has become so common that I’ve made a game out of guessing which excuse will serve as the “something” that amazingly “comes up” minutes before our meeting. Sudden pantyhose shortage; freak stapler incident; an allergic reaction to eye-shadow? I’ve also been amused by the curious ritual that comes with making plans in the first place. Consider this exchange as a potential lunch partner and I engage in the “tango of non-commitment”:

Me : We should meet up for lunch.

Friend : Absolutely! Sorry again about canceling last week. What’s your schedule like these days?

Me : As it happens, next week’s completely open. Just pick a day.

Friend : Oh, any day works for me. You pick. Oh, except Tuesday, I have a dentist appointment. And Mondays are always hectic. Wednesday or Thursday then?

Me : Actually Friday might be better. I have a big deadline coming up How’s Friday for lunch?

Friend : You know what, I’m on kind of a detox diet with some pretty boring food requirements, so tea is easier for me than a meal right now. Or I could come and join you for tea while you have lunch. I don’t mind not eating while you eat, unless you think you’ll feel strange about that. Maybe if the weather holds up, you could get take out and I could brownbag it. What do you think?

Me : Why don’t we catch up next week…

Hanging up the phone, I wondered aloud: “When did we become so afraid of lunch?” My hunch is there’s more than just busy schedules to blame. Chronic cancellers use plans (even broken ones) to feel connected to people in their lives – without having to go to the effort of actually seeing them. Friends will forgive us, right? Whether or not the road to lunch is paved with good intentions, I say there’s only one way to put an end to this chronic condition. I suggest an all-out commitment revolution.

Here are my rules of engagements: make plans with firm dates and times; don’t agree to plans you have no intention of keeping; and if cancelling is a must, at least get creative with your excuses. Blame your astrologer – who could argue with the stars?

Apparently, I’m not alone when it comes to the war on plan-killers. I hear some restaurants (not to mention some doctors, hotels and provincial parks) are charging no-shows a hefty penalty. That gives me an idea: perhaps I should institute a similar policy. Lunch next Monday? Great. That’ll be a $50 deposit, please. I’ll return it when I see you at the restaurant.   SHAWNA WAGMAN