Canceling Plans in 2021
How COVID-19 has made it more acceptable to reschedule that Zoom call and get some quiet time
I’m an introvert, and after years of over-scheduling myself and then burning out, I finally learned to honor that part of myself. There have been plenty of times when I agreed to attend a gathering or meet up with a friend, but asked to reschedule (if possible) or cancel because I just needed some quiet time at home.
Before the pandemic I would receive mixed responses to rescheduling or canceling plans. I learned who understood my situation and who didn’t by their response to my request for a rain-check. Most of them knew I wasn’t blowing them off because I had a better offer, but some got upset regardless, either because of the inconvenience or because they took it personally. But as we approach the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 disrupting our everyday lives, I’ve noticed that many people in my world are getting more comfortable with canceling plans too.
In the pre-Coronavirus world, large gatherings drained my energy levels the most. The larger, longer, louder, and fancier the gathering, the more stamina required to get through it. Knowing this, my anxiety would amplify my concerns about whether I would have enough leftover energy to get done the things I needed to do later, or even the next day. When my calculations didn’t add up, I begrudgingly rescheduled or canceled. I didn’t do it often; afraid I might stop receiving invitations completely if I was labelled a “flake.” Despite the rarity of my request, I often received terse or guilt-filled responses that replayed in my head the next time I contemplated canceling.
Now, almost one year into a global pandemic, most social gatherings take place online. Many people spend much of their workday on Zoom calls, often making it unappealing for after-hours socializing. Even those of us who don’t spend hours every day in digital meetings, video calls can still feel impersonal and draining.
For me, a stay-at-home first-time mom of an 11-month-old, my daily energy levels are entwined with her mood and sleep quality. Oftentimes when she falls asleep at night, I collapse into the sofa, and all I want is to crack open a bottle of wine and watch something light on Netflix to mentally escape the confines of my apartment, which feels more like a prison cell with each passing day.
While Zoom calls may not require the same energy as in-person dinner and drinks with friends would have before COVID, they also lack the benefits I used to receive from those in-person gatherings. Sometimes laughter, a hug, and a change of scenery actually helped to replenish some of my reserves.
Video calls absolutely have introvert benefits, like a lax dress-code and the option to fake a connection problem if I need an out. Despite those advantages, the idea of putting on a happy face and attempting to keep up conversation when no one has much going on in their lives right now, can feel exhausting.
The people in my circle seem to understand my situation, for the most part. Lately they’ve responded to my requests for rescheduling with less guilt-laying and more empathy, and I deeply appreciate that. Knowing that I can be myself without fear of retribution helps me to be more authentic in those relationships.
Maybe it’s because they’re less scheduled, making it easier to find time another day to catch up. Maybe they’ve grown a bit in the last year, causing them to be less reactionary and more empathetic toward someone disrupting our plans. Or maybe, dealing with stress of their own, they’re just as relieved as I am to have some unexpected free time.
After a year of being stuck inside, a lot of people seem to have let their guards down. Many of the people I know seem looser and less polished. Without the distractions of living a life on-the-go and the pressures to conform, genuineness can shine through. The stress of the last year has stripped away some of the pretense we used to wear as armor to protect ourselves from getting hurt.
Everyone is dealing with something right now, and maybe having that universal common stress has increased compassion for others, and thus tolerance for rescheduling plans. Maybe those people also wanted to cancel plans but felt obligated to keep them. Or maybe we’ve all gotten so adept at rescheduling or canceling that plans in general carry less weight than they used to. Over the last year we’ve all seen how even the best laid plans can be upended at any moment.
If something good can come from the COVID era, I hope that people will hold onto this new-found flexibility and understanding of the plights others face. In the words of Brad Meltzer,
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”
Everyone is going through something even when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic. When it’s finally over, I hope we will continue to be empathetic, even when the struggles of others aren’t so relatable or obvious. If we can start by being understanding of a person’s need to reschedule a video call, maybe we can then extend that empathy to others outside our own social circles and begin to heal some of the deep divisions this pandemic has created.