More Plans, More Problems: A Case for Canceling and Staying In
Rebecca Bates, senior editor, @re.beccabates
I have a very special gift, one I know few people to possess to the same degree that I do. Whenever I am at a party or an event, at some point in the night I'll be struck by an awesome and sudden knowing. I'll turn to my husband, grab his arm, and say, "It's time to go. It's time to go now." I do this calmly; I'm not panicked, and I'm not particularly exhausted. I just happen to definitively understand that our time at the party has come to an end. Whether I've been somewhere one hour or three, whether other people are also putting on their coats, or whether I can hear the din of the party still raging behind me as I walk down the street, I simply know when to leave.
Someone I happen to really like invited me to a party of her own. And then… I just decided not to go.
For the past couple of years, I've started getting that feeling before I even leave the house. Last fall, someone I happen to really like, but who I only ever see at mutual friends' parties, invited me to a party of her own. The invite's subject line was "Culture AF," and her email mentioned she'd hired a string quartet. I was flattered. We'd mostly just been tangential friends, and now she was inviting me to her party! It was going to be kind of fancy! And then…I just decided not to go.
This troubled me. Why didn't I want to be there? Our social circles overlap in the coziest of Venn diagrams, so I could be sure I'd both know people there and like the people I knew. Her boyfriend is nice to her friends. She makes me laugh. But it seemed somehow vital that I stay home, make some chili, and watch Encounters at the End of the World. That night I took stock of the other events I'd skipped over the last couple of years: birthday parties, book parties, just-because parties, shows played by bands of out-of-town friends.
I truly do not believe good things will happen for you if you force yourself to go out just because you think you ought to.
I think this is indicative of a larger shift in what I need from others. When I first moved to New York, when I was a grad student and then a very junior editor, I moved through social situations with, I realize now with some embarrassment, what was probably an obvious hunger. For a while, it was imperative that I not only accept every Facebook event invite, but that I actually appear at each event. How else would I be invited to the next event? And weren't these the gatherings where I'd meet the people who would further my career?No. In fact, the more utilitarian my plans were—"I need to go to this magazine launch because I've tweeted back and forth with a few of the editors and should probably meet them in person, just in case…"—the worse the experience was. I can count on one hand the number of people I met at parties where I didn't want to be whose acquaintance yielded a concrete change in my life. And I truly do not believe good things will happen for you if you force yourself to go out just because you think you ought to, just because you have the vague sense that everyone else is going out tonight, and that you will feel guilty if you don't.
Of course, at the same time, I made a lot of plans I did want to keep. I stayed out until morning, drained myself of all energy meeting and talking to new people, visited neighborhoods an hour or more away on the train, and knew it was worth it, even when I felt like a rattling shell for a day and a half afterward.
As it stands, I'm not totally against making plans, but I am against making *too many* plans.
But as I've progressed from one end of my twenties to the other, as I graduated to better and better jobs, as I moved to my first apartment without roommates, moved in with a boy and then married him, I've revised, rewritten, and revised again what it is I need and want from people. As it stands, I'm not totally against making plans, but I am against making too many plans. I'm against making plans for Friday and Saturday night. I'm against making plans every weekend.
After unconsciously deciding to make fewer plans with friends, I've noticed the following: I read more books, I learned to play video games and realized the best written games constitute a literature all their own, I wrote more poetry and became an editor at a small online poetry journal (one of the two other editors lives in Australia, so we don't have to make plans often). I also now have a very clear understanding of who my legitimate friends are.
Social arrangements I am for: standing dates with best friends, making plans a month in advance so that I can allow myself to feel positive anticipation, RSVPing "no" to parties (which lets the host know I'm thinking of them, even if I can't attend), choosing not to leave the house so that I can watch Herzog documentaries instead, doing exactly the things I want to do and nothing else.
Plans Will Set You Free From Your Self-Imposed Hobbitdom
Rebecca Deczynski, editorial assistant, @rebeccadeczMy most frequent lie of all time is most likely, "My mom said I couldn't go out." When you're an introverted high-school student, there is no easier way to get out of a hangout session. But eventually, you have to take responsibility for yourself and stop letting your friends think that your mom wants you to stay home all the time. Eventually, you have to find out how to have a manageable social life. Eventually, you have to make plans.
No one likes sitting idly, volleying back and forth a call-and-response of "What do you want to do?"
I treasure my alone time and enjoy taking a day to wander my neighborhood, doing whatever I decide to do at a moment's notice. But when it comes to hanging out with other people, a bit of structure does me a lot of good. No one likes sitting idly, volleying back and forth a call-and-response of "What do you want to do?" and "I don't know, what do you want to do?" When you make plans ahead of time, you give your time with friends more definition—and in doing so, you'll gain an increased sense of responsibility.
When you have specific plans to go to an art exhibit and then grab dinner with your friends, you have something to look forward to. When you nail down details in advance, you can figure out activities that everyone will be excited about, ensuring all your friends have a personal reason to leave the comfort of their couch. Plans do the work of organizing your social calendar into enjoyable, scheduled segments. It's perfectly scientific.
But at the same time, it's not purely organizational. I learned to make plans with my friends because, after years of lying about my mother's strictness, I realized that I was never the person asking other people to hang out. I had said no so many times that I had, without really realizing it, resigned myself to a young adulthood of hanging out at home, going on the internet, and not really doing all that much.
I *enjoyed* going out. I just needed a bit of a push.
When considering each of my friends, I started trying to find some sort of individualized activity that could advance our friendship more than just sitting around could. I realized I'd become too content sitting in a literal comfort zone—that is, on my bed with a good book, plentiful snacks and a fully charged laptop (I'm a Taurus, OK?). But what exists beyond that narrow cubbyhole is a broad expanse of possibilities that can lead to lasting friendships and even new acquaintances. I knew I enjoyed going out, but I just needed a bit of a push.
As I've just started my post-grad life, I tend to look back at my years in high school and college with a feigned sense of wisdom, as if my eight months since graduating have made me suddenly more worldly and sage. As I remember all the nights I stayed home, I do, admittedly, have some regrets. Mostly, I had been nervous about not knowing people at parties or not fitting in. I didn't think I was cool enough for certain crowds, and I was anxious about being awkward.
It is better to have gone out and had a meh time than to have never left my bed.
Any FOMO I have felt has been my own problem. I can accept not getting an invitation to a party or event in the first place, but the invites I turned down are the ones I miss the most. For me, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all—and it is also better to have gone out and had a meh time than to have never left my bed. It's all an experience, I figure, and if I'm doing things, then surely I'll learn some life lessons from those things. That's how growing works, right?
Now that I don't live with my parents, I can't use my mom as an excuse to get me out of plans (plus, it would be kind of weird if she was that strict with an adult daughter). But I don't need excuses to cancel plans anymore, because I'm the one making them—and planning plenty of me time into my schedule, too.