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Social burnout: do you often feel relieved when a friend cancels plans? You’re not alone

Posted by
Lauren Geall
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A third of people feel relieved when a friend cancels on them, according to a new YouGov survey.

According to a recent YouGov survey, a third of us feel relieved when a friend cancels plans. But why?

Picture this: it’s Thursday night, you haven’t touched a vegetable all week, it’s been so long since you last did laundry that there’s a pile so tall it threatens to topple any second, and you can’t remember the last time you washed your hair. You’re in dire need of a night in.

But three weeks ago, you said you’d meet up with a girl from your old work. Cancelling is off the table: yesterday, she said she was “really looking forward” to your after-work drinks, and you haven’t seen her for two months, after all. You’re feeling pretty torn. On the one hand, you really don’t have the mental or physical energy to haul yourself out for another night, but on the other hand, the guilt that will inevitably come from cancelling means you probably won’t get much done but feel sorry for yourself, anyway.

Then, a text comes in from your old work friend. “I’m so sorry to do this, but” it starts. She’s cancelling. A feeling of relief sweeps over you.

If the situation described above feels extremely relatable, you’re not alone – according to a recent YouGov survey of over 2400 adults, a third of us often find ourselves feeling relieved when a friend cancels on us. And that number increases when we divide responses by gender: 40% of women report feeling relieved “very” or “fairly” often when a friend cancels, compared to just 25% of men.

While that number is still a minority, it’s interesting to consider why so many of us are experiencing such feelings of relief when a friend cancels on us. After all, isn’t meeting up with a friend supposed to be an enjoyable experience?

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The fact of the matter is, there’s something a bit more sinister going on here. We’re living in a world where, for millennials especially, there’s a lot of pressure to be living the optimum existence in every area of our lives – we should be achieving at work, nurturing a growing group of friends, succeeding at one or two side hustles and keeping on top of our mental and physical health. At the end of the day, however, this just isn’t possible. We’re trying to keep up with a series of standards that are simply unachievable – and we’re experiencing increasing levels of burnout because of it.

While burnout is defined by the WHO as the result of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, increasing numbers of people are using the term to refer to the exhaustion, and negative feelings many of us are seemingly experiencing when it comes to socialising. Social burnout – as it has been termed – means socialising is no longer the fun and enjoyable activity it should be: instead, we feel tired, annoyed and frustrated at the prospect of managing our social calendar.

Why do we feel so relieved when a friend cancels on us? It could be because of social burnout.
Why do we feel so relieved when a friend cancels on us? It could be because of social burnout.

Because now, instead of meeting up with friends being something we do in the spur of the moment because we actually want to, we’re putting dates into the diary months ahead of the actual event simply to carve out some time. And when we do go ahead and cancel, despite the inevitable guilt that comes with it, we’re branded a ‘flake’.

So, why do we feel relieved when our friend cancels instead? The answer is simple. Instead of having to bite the bullet and experience lots of cancel anxiety (a name recently coined by writer Natalie Morris to describe the guilt we feel when cancelling plans), when our friend ditches us first, the responsibility gets taken off of our shoulders.

It almost feels like we’re getting some spare time for free, because the pressure to constantly be busy and social means our own time often feels out of our control. Instead of being the one who has to deal with the blame of cancelling, we can save our limited number of ‘cancel cards’ for later dates when we really need to use them.

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It all sounds a bit absurd when you put it down in writing, but it’s also a completely legitimate reality. Just how our working lives can be a source of great stress and anxiety, so too can our social lives. Whether we decide to employ a two-week rule, or start having open and honest conversations with our friends about how we feel, it’s important not to bury these feelings of anxiety and pressure that come with social events.

It’s about time we reclaimed some of the fun that comes with socialising and seeing our friends – that’s what they’re supposed to be there for, after all.

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