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Maybe Some Other Time

Canceling is a New York art—especially over the holidays.

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In order to finish writing this on time, I had to cancel drinks downtown with a friend who was coming to the city from southern New Jersey specifically to see me. But it’s okay—I probably would have canceled anyway. I’m that common New York breed, a Canceler, and I’ve learned to embrace myself as such.

I cancel for many reasons. Lack of preparation is a favorite: Once I blew off an appointment with my master’s-thesis adviser because of a “last-minute trip”—in fact, my entire thesis outline consisted of a blinking cursor on my screen. A few months back, I canceled a black-tie affair, with only a few hours’ notice, because the tuxedo thing wasn’t going so well (i.e., I never rented one).

This isn’t about being cool. Some people cancel because they’ve found better plans with sexier people. I cancel because, upon waking up, it becomes clear that I cannot, will not, put on head-to-toe leather and go to Spice Market. I once called off a working lunch, day of, because it was raining and I couldn’t find shoes I could bear to ruin. I stayed home, barefoot, looking out the window, unworn shoes safely dry in the corner.

But really, it’s not about my shoes. It’s about depression—the true medicated kind. I cancel because I don’t want to leave the fluffy little protective receptacle known as my apartment. Once I blew off a friend-of-a-friend’s West Village rooftop party because there was a figure-skating show on TV that I’d forgotten about. (Also—I didn’t want to go anyway.)

That depression manifests itself most around Thanksgiving, when party invites start pouring in. I’m no Scrooge: I still gasp upon turning the corner to Rockefeller Plaza and seeing the big tree. It’s just that, during the holidays, annoying people suddenly reappear. Some you stopped calling because they stopped calling you. Others you’ve been trying to weed out for a year. Still others you might have dated, even attended a party with, only to have caught them outside, not “taking a smoking break,” but performing oral sex.

The way to deal with them all is to lie—carefully. I once put off drinks with a friend, saying I was visiting the family on Long Island. “Are you there now?” he asked. “Yes, stuck in the burbs until late tonight,” I said. “But at least it’s nice and quiet.” In reality, I was sitting in my apartment, and as I was talking, a phalanx of siren-blaring fire trucks wailed down my street. Busted.

Holiday parties do require a certain protocol. If it’s a sit-down dinner, either say “no” right up front, or call at least a week in advance. But for those big gatherings—the ones we all RSVP for, just in case, or purely out of obligation—I simply don’t go, and I don’t feel bad. It’s not like 400 eggnog-tipsy people will notice. And even if some do, you earn the mystique of the Busy, Successful New Yorker, which makes people dislike you yet want to date you.

No matter who and what I ditch, I follow the cancellation rule of threes, which I established after “rescheduling” an acquaintance three times in a row. This person finally said, “You don’t like me, do you?” I felt awful. I didn’t cancel anything for a week. Three cancellations in a row equals bad friend. Two is acceptable—but more than once per year, and your friendship is a cold case.

The only group exempt from my cancellation policies are true loved ones, whether family or friends or paramours. In fact, canceling the superfluous stuff frees up time for them. I might be past the point of thinking the holidays are magical—but I can still make sure that they’re real.


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