Illustration: Naomi Elliott


How to say no to social plans without feeling guilty 

Finding the time to see friends and managing your diary can be hard when you’re hectic. Alice Tate looks for a way through the social minefield 

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By Alice Tate on

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I’m very good at making plans; I’m not so good at sticking to them. I’ll admit I do take a lot of relief in being able to count my friends on both hands. When I hear the social plans of my colleagues at work, every night out for dinner or drinks with different friends, I can feel myself panicking on their behalf. Is it bad that the first thing I think of, if I was in that position, is how many people I’d end up letting down?

I work full-time and freelance in my free time as a travel writer, so I’m often travelling at the weekends. I try to keep my social plans to weeknights, though often do find myself having to bail when a tight deadline comes in, or I haven’t managed my time as effectively as I’d hoped. Usually, and luckily, my friends understand that that’s part and parcel of fitting in a side job alongside a full-time job; nevertheless, I’m constantly kicking myself.

Then there are other times when I need to make excuses. I’m only human and sometimes, when I’m absolutely shattered or have had a tough day, all I desperately want to do is get home, have a hug from my partner and go to bed, but again I find myself racked with guilt that I’ve let someone down.

Tell the truth, rather than making up an excuse. Friends will smell a lie a mile off and they’ll be less likely to trust you in the future

So, what is the solution? Can you cancel plans without feeling the guilt and, if so, how – please, how – do you do it?

Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist and anxiety expert at Calmer You, says first you need to address why it is you’re cancelling. If there’s a valid reason, you know you can decline with a clear conscience. “Tell the truth, rather than making up an excuse. Friends will smell a lie a mile off and they’ll be less likely to trust you in the future. They’ll always respect you for your honesty – it wins every time.”

In terms of relieving the guilt, “try to remember that everyone cancels plans at some point”, says Brotheridge. Ask yourself, "Will this matter in a month? In a week? Tomorrow?" Let it go now and move on.

Without a doubt, the better you are at managing your diary, the less you’re going to have to cancel. Me, I always panic that I haven’t seen anyone in ages, so I bulk-plan and then feel overwhelmed that I have no time to myself. It’s a vicious cycle that happens time and time again.

So, how do you go about maintaining a more manageable social calendar? Brotheridge stresses the importance of scheduling in some downtime. “Ever noticed how, if it's not in the diary, it doesn't end up happening? We all need evenings in to catch up on life admin and put a wash on. Book in your chill time in advance so you don’t end up so frazzled (and surrounded by dirty laundry) that you end up cancelling on your friends last-minute.”

"Be strict and leave at least two nights free a week. They might end up turning into something, like becoming a dinner date with your partner, which is fine – but let it be spontaneous, not a calendar commitment."

Anyone else a serial double-booker? I’m the worst. I don’t mean to be, but I do need to bear in mind my loose plans might be friends’ firm ones and that, by double-booking, you’re always going to let someone down. To get round it, make sure your diary never has "options" – it’s fixed plans or it’s nothing. No more thinking, “I’ll decide on the day.”

It's important to remind yourself that everyone is pushed for time, not just you, and while it's easy to feel guilty about not seeing our friends as much as we'd like, it's worth remembering that they're in the same boat. If only elastic time existed... Usually, one great night is far better than a couple of snatched ones, so when you are making plans with a friend you haven't seen for ages, make sure you're not compromising.

Don’t forget a phonecall on your way home also goes a long way and might save you a trek across the city and another tied-up evening. And, if you are going out but really want an early night, make your excuses early. Even if you just stay an hour, your friend will be grateful you made the effort.

Also, as much as it pains a wine-fish like me to say it, it’s far easier to slip away when you’ve declined booze from the get go. Be strong, ladies. Be strong.

Lastly, remember your social life is meant to bring happiness, not guilt. If your friends are your friends, they’re going to forgive you – you’re only human; they can relate – and, ultimately, it’s all a case of limiting how much you piss them off.


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Illustration: Naomi Elliott
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