Bailing: Tis the season for non-commitment

Last summer, David Brooks published a spot-on piece in the New York Times, "The Golden Age of Bailing".  And now we're into the prime social season, when holiday invitations stack up like planes over LaGuardia.  

Brooks notes that bailing, loosely defined as breaking a specific commitment, has levels:
"There is canceling on friends. This seems to follow a bail curve pattern. People feel free to bail on close friends, because they will understand, and on distant friends, because they don't matter so much, but they are less inclined to bail on medium-tier or fragile friends."

Bailing from a public event attended by many ("I'll meet you guys at the ballgame"), is less fraught than cancelling out of a dinner at someone's home, especially when it's a special occasion. 

My experience is that under-40s are big bailers, but the habit has spread to any age old enough to make their own plans. Nancy Colier, in "Last-Miniute-itis: The Behavior Plague of Our Time, says, "When I make a date to meet with someone these days, in person, there is about a 50/50 chance that the meeting will happen, with most cancellations occurring within an hour of the appointed meeting time."  

We closed last summer with a traditional grand aioli party, to which we invited a visiting friend, and her 33-year-old son and his girlfriend, who live practically across the street. The girlfriend bailed an hour and a half before the party by getting our friend to place the call on her behalf. She had been to an electronic music festival for several days, dancing till 6 a.m. and was just too tired to attend. 

We host these big parties rarely now, and Festival Girl will not be on the list for the next one.  (This was not her first cancellation.)

I have low tolerance for bailers, because I've not been one myself. My parents did not allow me to pull the covers over my head after a late night; by god, you took an aspirin, put on your dress and showed up at Aunt Margaret's for dinner. 

Brooks lays the blame at the vibrating foot of technology: so easy to text, evading direct contact with the host standing at the stovetop, who will now have to figure out what will keep and what goes to the dog. So does Colier: "The cell phone... is teaching us that it is okay to behave in a way that is disrespectful, undignified, and ultimately unkind."  

But all disappointments contain a gift. Festival Girl's behaviour led me to realize how much I appreciate the the beauty of good manners, by which I mean one's conscious consideration of others.

Be warned, bailers, that when bailees don't share your foible, they are not sanguine about your blow-off.  There is a limit to your cancel-and-apologize routine, and we're on to you. The Internet is full of articles like "5 Steps to Bail on Your Friends", and—prize for best headline oxymoron—"How to Flake Out on Someone Gracefully".

Crises, psychic storms and just plain exhaustion will happen, and I'll accommodate that, but I've stepped back from serial flake-outs and the perpetually "running late" types. And I don't mean to pound on Millennials, but at least they don't have memory problems; when I don't turn up it's not because I've bumped you for somebody else, our rendezvous vaporized from my brain. (Yes, I have a calendar, but you have to remember to read it.)

Nor do all Millennials accept their friends' behaviour blithely. Son J. invited a friend and three of that friend's summer visitors (whom he had not met) to his home for a bar-be-que. They cancelled less than an hour before, because the visitors decided they wanted to go to a club. 

J. had very limited means but had prepared a lavish spread; he was upset by their incivility and the waste, and vowed, Not inviting him again. He said, in his slightly formal way, "I keep my commitments."

End of elder rant, and so nice to see you; the coats go in the bedroom.


Venasque said…
I could not agree more. Fortunately I do not have friends who are bailers - good thing because they would be cancelled forthwith. However we do not have a single friend who can get anywhere on time. We just tell them we want them an hour before we actually do, just as my mother used to do with me when I was young. In their cases, it's because they try to cram too much in to a single day - why yes, I can drive to Vancouver and get back by 6.

I was raised in the same manner as you. No cancelling unless you had a sucking chest wound. When my husband worked on the Street they had an expression for late night reveltry which they often had to teach the newbies "if you wallow with the pigs, you still soar with the eagles". It means get as drunk as you like and stay up all night, but you still have to come to work the next morning.
I have noticed that this is becoming more of a problem - with all age groups I'm afraid. And like your son I have been left with a fridge full of food that I would not have purchased if guests were not expected. Fortunately it is still rare amongst my closest friends but there is one who has had her last chance and will no longer be invited to anything - the last couple of times she didn't even have the courtesy to call or text the rest of us who were waiting to order at a restaurant about a 2 minute walk from her office!

What I am also a bit peeved about at the moment is that invitations are not reciprocated. I always seem to be the one making brunch, inviting others to lunch or hosting the latest game night. People are always happy to come and tell me what a great time they've had but they rarely do anything in return - they don't live centrally, they have children or pets, they don't cook etc. etc. - I just think it's laziness and if these are truly legitimate excuses then I think an invitation to lunch or dinner at a restaurant once a year would' go amiss!
angiemanzi said…
We are living in uncivil times. Bailing is just another manifestation of that lack of civility. The longer bad behavior is tolerated the more it becomes the norm. Regrettable, but true.
Marla said…
Great and timely post! I have a relatively new friend who was skating on thin ice...several bailed exercise dates with a last minute text, chronically late, and last time I saw her, leaving me waiting outside a planned event for over an hour with several texts "on my way!" then finding out she ran a few personal errands on the way. I got a lot of last minute texts to join her for this or that, and I was starting to see that planning ahead was not her strong suit.

Last week we had plans to meet for dinner on Friday night - her choice of place, date and time. No show, then a text at 6:15 saying she had forgotten our plans BUT she was at another restaurant with a mutual friend and "if I was up to it" I could join them and a breezy or, we could get together the next night. I (politely, always politely) responded that I was not happy that she had blown me off for something else and would not be available in the future.

Later that night and the next morning I got several texts with her trying to make things right, offering to buy me dinner to make it up to me, please give her another chance (evidently she was unaware that she had already had several chances) and then the comment that sent me over the edge - blowing me off for something else "just happened", it was a meet up she had planned for awhile and forgotten about, she would "try" to work on that in the future if I gave her another chance. Note, I am 62 and she is in her mid 50's - we are not kids.

I let her know that I was not interested, that this doesn't happen if you value the other person and the friendship, good luck and good bye. My days of accepting being treated like I don't matter are over - I'd love to have new friends but not this kind. I already knew she was unreliable and she clearly had me in the only if someone else isn't available column, so no net loss I guess.

I keep my commitments even if when the time comes, I don't really feel like it. I respect other people. That is the way I was raised too. It seems like we are a dying breed.
Excellent post, once again!

I too, keep commitments and expect the same in return. Bailers (and by those I mean invitees without a solid excuse for not honouring what they have already committed to) do not receive another invitation.

Young people do not get to use the "I am too tired" excuse IMHO, unless they have some kind of medical condition. I still remember the days of partying till 4 am and getting up at 7 to put in a full days' work. Hmmmph!
Duchesse said…
Venasque, meet Marla; Marla, take succor from Venasque. I love your DH's axiom!

Margie: See this post, it's an oldie but it's still how I feel about reciprocity (and you do, too):

agiemanzie: At the risk of seeming like a cranky elder, I'm not supporting it. Maybe it won't change things but if no one hears that this matters, will just get worse.

Marla: Oh, she's a hard case.

I had a friend who was chronically very late, left me sitting in restaurants while he was "stuck in traffic". (Funny, I had driven the same route and was there on time.) He went into therapy (for another issue) and learned that his chronic lateness was his way of getting the validation that people cared enough about him to wait. Once he worked on himself, he was no longer late and to his credit he shared the insight about his shaky self-esteem.

You have given this woman very clear feedback about her behavoiur and your boundaries. You are not required to do more, it will depend on your tolerance and her ability to shape up, if it is not too late.

The Widow Badass: What I learned about being tired in those days was, if I got myself in gear and went (to a gathering where I have said I'd be), I often got a solid second wind. Of course now being retired I just... take a nap and go. Seconding your hmmmph!
Laura Jantek said…
Another excellent analysis; the ease and "anonymity" of text messages and emails not only makes it easy to bail but also allows last minute changes (the assumption one is always connected).
Well said. And well said to all the commenters. It's maddening and hurtful behaviour not to be tolerated.
Janice Riggs said…
I have to admit, if someone bails on me, I don't really feel that they love me and care about me enough to be my close friend. Some sort of dreadful illness is understandable (I am, of course, the woman who just had to postpone a trip to PARIS because of illness!), but that vague "we can't make it" just tell me that "we don't WANT to make it."

Which immediately makes the writer MUCH less important and dear to me. We can't tolerate and foster this kind of rudeness...

I would never dream of a busy hostess myself I know how much work goes into planning and preparing for guests...
my parents were party people and so we learned from an early age what it takes to get these events off the ground and we were expected to be polite and rsvp etc...
I empathize with the host and hostess who have invited "bailers!" They would be on my "naughty list"
Lori Wong said…
I have a big problem with people who bail at the last minute. I was raised to meet my commitments. If one says one is going to be at an event that the host/hostess has planned for, worked hard at and spent good money on, you darn well better show up or have a very good legitimate excuse for not attending. I have noticed that people who never host events of any kind themselves seem to be the biggest offenders. They have no idea how much effort, expense and precious time goes into some events. It is just hurtful and disappointing when people can't make the effort to attend when they have previously assured you that they will. This goes for smaller social events, like just getting coffee together, as well. Unfortunately for me, the biggest offenders for me are two members of my immediate family. It is nearly impossible to "write them off".
Beth said…
Raised as you were, I'd never do this, and won't tolerate it from others. Friends respect one another, period. I have an acquaintance who seemed to want to become friends. I invited him three times; each time there was a last-minute excuse. That's it! He is a middle-aged person who seems bemused about why he's alone. I am not. Sometimes it's not rudeness, but a psychological issue. Whatever it is, it's the person's problem, and I applaud Marla for telling her friend why it wasn't going to work out.
Duchesse said…
All: I enjoyed your comments and experiences, and I don’t feel like a lone cranky voice. Thank you!
Duchesse said…
Beth: The observation that someone might have a psychological issue is an important point, and each of us could consider that possibility. Sometimes what we see as rudeness is in fact incapacity.
Duchesse said…
Janice: Oh what a letdown. Happened to me, it is such a deflating turn of events. Hoping you are on your feet and on a plane as soon as possible!
LauraH said…
I whole heartedly agree with all the comments above. Luckily I haven't run across this very much. The closest I've come has been when a friend cancelled lunch at her house twice in the last few months. Both cancellations were on the morning of. It was annoying but not nearly as bad as some of the behaviour described here by others. Such a lack of respect for the time, effort and money involved, it really amazes me that so called friends think that's acceptable.
Rita said…
Janice Riggs, I sympathize with your predicament, having developed some physical issues that can pop up sometimes. But I find I have way less tolerance for those who either bail at the last minute or don't reply, then think nothing of showing up at the last minute when the event is at my home. I think Lori Wong is correct that those who never host events tend to be the worst offenders because they have no idea of the time and cost involved.
jbettyb said…
My husband spent over 30 years in the Canadian Air Force and when a time was given for an event either military or private, that was when you showed up, perhaps a few minutes early, but not late. Being late for a parade could result in at least a dressing down, if not being put on charge. That discipline has carried over embarrassingly into retirement, where showing up on time is frequently greeted by "Oh, you're here already!". Our other personal rule was that we attended the event to which we were invited and responded to first, we didn't bail if something "better" turned up, and unless it was truly seamless, we didn't party hop. We still don't.
Duchesse said…
Rita: I send a message the day of saying, "Sorry you can't make it but we'll try again later", making it clear they are not expected. If an invitee THEN tells me, "Oh, I meant to reply, of course we are coming", I have said, if it is a seated dinner, "We did not receive your reply and I'm so sorry, but that's not going to work". For buffets or cocktails I have sometimes bent. Less so for non- family, because to comply to this boorishness is to get more of it.

I have also taken the young person aside to say, in a neutral tone, that not confirming your attendance is deeply uncool. Such is the role of the aunt.

jbettyb: There are different cultures in our wonderful Canada. I married into a French-Canadian one and Le Duc will not show up on time or early, nor do our French friends. To show up precisely at the appointed time is a gaffe. You can pretty much set your watch by it- fifteen to twenty minutes "late"- because their thinking is, the hosts can use a bit of extra time. When we are in France, a half-hour late is the norm- not considered late. I imagine for military duty it's entirely different!

But before those days, when I lived in Ontario, if invited for 7 p.m., people came on the dot unless they were desperately waiting for the babysitter, or something like that, and then they called.

So, it is important to know the rules under which the hosts or convenors operate.

Duchesse - thank you for the referral to your 2010 article on reciprocity - it makes some interesting points.
I am willing to concede that some friends do not feel comfortable inviting others to their homes (for whatever reason) - and in that case I think that an invitation to a restaurant is just fine.
Just yesterday I took a friend along to an exhibit at the AGO as I have a membership which allows me to take a guest. I expected that we would go to brunch afterwards but was pleasantly surprised when he insisted on paying. He stated quite clearly that he wanted to return some hospitality (I entertain a lot and he is always included). I understand why he doesn't entertain at home so I was quite pleased that he was thoughtful enough to reciprocate in this manner.
I'm quite shocked by the number of posts showing that bailing at the last minute is quite a serious issue for modern day hosts & hostesses - very frustrating.
materfamilias said…
Absolutely agree! And this applies not only to hosted events, but to agreed-upon outings, such as shopping or coffee or lunch with a friend or relative. Of course I understand necessary cancellations, and I'm generally loath to make anyone feel uncomfortable so I swallow my disappointment and make nice noises. But if this becomes a serial offence, I learn . . . and the friendship changes accordingly.

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