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How to Deal With the Chronic Bailer in Your Life

Coping with the other kind of “cancel” culture.


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Bailing on plans with friends once in a while is unavoidable and perfectly understandable. We’ve all had good reasons to bail on occasion — we might feel sick (emotionally or physically), a kid or partner might need us, we might be really run-down or overscheduled, or we might be dealing with a legit emergency. Then again, we’ve all got that chronic “bailer” in our lives who takes the bailing a little too far: You make plans with mutual enthusiasm, you arrange your schedule accordingly, you look forward to said plans, then the bailer cancels, predictably, with an unceremonious text. For every time you actually manage to see each other, there are three rescheduled attempts to see each other.

It’s almost at the point where most plans with friends have an implied bailing caveat. Though bailing has been normalized and even celebrated on social media and in a vast assortment of memes, to leave the same friend hanging more than a couple of times in a row without adequate lead time, an expression of regret, or an offer of an alternate date and time that might work is still disrespectful of the friendship and the friend’s time.

“Most of us realize that life happens and that people need to cancel on occasion, but when one friend does it habitually, it’s a problem,” says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist based in New York City who teaches at Columbia University. “Texting has made canceling less of a personal dilemma for those who don’t value the time or feelings of others.” She says those who chronically bail for a better offer are “flaky” and “self-centered.” Whatever the reason, chronic canceling isn’t a good look.

It wasn’t always easy — or acceptable — to bail at the last minute. Once upon a time in the days of yore before cell phones, you absolutely had to show up if you made plans, or call to cancel or reschedule with enough notice so the bailee wouldn’t be left standing on a street corner or in a restaurant somewhere. Today, the option to bail has become a socially acceptable, built-in, de facto escape hatch from commitment. “When you don’t see people face-to-face, there’s more of a psychological distance, and it’s easier to do something that could potentially hurt someone’s feelings,” says Mahzad Hojjat, PhD, a professor of social psychology and the director of the master’s program in research psychology in the department of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. “Now you just send a text, and it’s much easier to do it because you don’t have to face the person. But it really doesn’t help your friendship.”

But what do you do if you’ve found yourself with a friend who is constantly canceling plans? If you’re fed up with the flakiness, here are some steps to try to rectify noncommittal behavior.

Consider your relationship

When you’ve been bailed on by the same person a couple of times, you can’t help but wonder if there’s something more going on. “The first question to ask yourself is how much does this person mean to me in my life? Is this chronic bailing the person’s only flaw, and are they otherwise a good friend?” says Hafeez. Though it can feel awkward to hold a close friend accountable for a behavior that’s become kind of socially acceptable, if their chronic bailing puts you out, a close friend deserves to know.


Whatever you do, don’t call a constant bailer out over text. “It is so easy for emotions or words to be misconstrued via text.” (d3sign//Getty Images)

Have a talk

“Instead of accusing them, see if their behavior is something they’re cognizant of. Say something like, ‘Do you realize that whenever we have plans, you almost always end up canceling on me?’” recommends Hafeez. “Stress how much you value your friendship and that when they perpetually cancel on you, it hurts your feelings and poses an inconvenience.” But whatever you do, don’t start this conversation over text. “It is so easy for emotions or words to be misconstrued via text,” she says. Then, both Hojjat and Hafeez recommend asking your close friend if there’s something else going on that’s causing them to withdraw socially. “Maybe they’re going through a hard time, and they may not want to discuss it unless you ask,” says Hojjat.

Wait and see

Ultimately, it’s not worth sweating a chronic bailer if they’re a casual friend — after two strikes, it’s time to lay back and let the bailer come to you, says Hojjat. “After that, honestly, they’re probably not interested in hanging out with you or don’t care so much about the relationship. I probably wouldn’t say anything or pursue it. I may not want to make plans with them, because instead of building a friendship, they’re not committing,” she says. If the bailer apologizes but doesn’t give a reason for the bailing, Hafeez recommends accepting the apology and adopting a wait-and-see approach. “You need to reevaluate if you want that friend in your life. Friends need to be dependable,” she says.

If you’re guilty of chronic bailing, Hojjat says the best approach is to apologize, offer to make up for it — and make a point of keeping your word. “Friendship is kind of like a garden,” says Hojjat. “If you want to maintain your garden, you need to regularly water your plants and remove the dead leaves. If you leave it unattended, it’s going to get out of hand. You can’t neglect your friends. People are very busy, but you can’t make promises and break them continuously — it’s better not to make them and just explain that it’s a hard time, but show you still care in other ways.”

Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a multifaceted storyteller whose work has been featured in The Cut, NBC News Better, Time Out New York, Medium and The Week. Follow her on Twitter @soapboxdirty.

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This post originally appeared on Shondaland and was published December 8, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.