Welcome to Unconventional Life Hacks, a regular feature wherein we propose one surprising, unlikely, or absurd idea that just might radically change your approach to life. (Or at least make you *consider* doing so.)
I love making plans. It’s passively productive, like writing a to-do list. I love executing them, too. The moment I see a familiar face or hug someone hello or find myself three hours into a dinner that was supposed to be a drink, I feel reborn—as if social connection has lulled me out of the cozy coffin of my mind to remind me that life can be kind of nice. And the feeling I get once it’s all over, free once again to revel in my earned solitude, might be the best part of all.
But this isn’t a soliloquy on my passion for socializing. In fact, my deeper, more urgent truth is that the whole thing mostly makes me feel dread. Dread despite reason; dread despite evidence! The dread of anticipation. The horrible, cavernous window between planning and execution during which I know the socializing is coming and simply wish it were not. It is this precise angst that urges me to cancel (although I rarely do), or pray for a blame-free cancellation (what’s better?), almost every time. This dread threatens my social life like a psychopathic little troll.
“What is that?” I recently asked a friend over dinner.
“It’s called social anxiety,” he said.
Maybe I don’t dread every plan—Saturday plans, for instance, are typically safe, as are barbecues and birthdays, as a rule—but most solicit a little something. And almost none of them ultimately deserve it. This inherent contradiction came into starker relief recently, when my boyfriend moved in with me and became an objective witness to My Process, which entails me whining about plans non-stop and then returning home after having them and admitting, tail between my legs, that I’m so glad I went. It’s impossible to ignore this kind of emotional whiplash. It’s very toddler-esque.
But it’s also made me realize I’m not as introverted as The Memes would have me believe. Clearly socializing can give me energy—most of the time, I dread it for a different reason. An anxiety reason. It’s easy to misdiagnose though, because something curious has happened in the cultural consciousness over the past five years: We’ve synonymized the need to recharge with low-grade social anxiety. In the eyes of the anti-social internet, to dread a social plan is to be introverted, and therefore to cancel it is to accept yourself. Ipso facto, bailing is a form of self-care. And cancelled plans are the most potent wellness supplement on the market.
Introversion and social anxiety are very different beasts, though, aren’t they? They mean different things, and require different outcomes. Which is to say, no one answer will be right for everyone. But for me, the most effective path to social fulfillment is simple: Stop cancelling plans. It pains me to say it, because there is almost nothing I love more. (As I type this, I have dinner plans in an hour that I’m almost positive are not going to happen, and I’m not even mad about it.) We’re in the golden age of bailing—of asking everyone in our social lives, including ourselves, to forgive flakiness full-stop.
But I’m beginning to doubt the usefulness of indulging these kinds of whim—the moments of laziness, the whiffs of anxiety, the ease of Netflix—for the sake of avoiding the emotional and practical overhead of pursuing human connection. I know cancelling is nirvana, but too much of it is isolation. When I refuse to cancel plans, my friendships are stronger for it, I always get something out of it (which is more than nothing), and I’m never not reminded why I made them in the first place. We’ve done a lot of legwork to normalize bailing, but maybe we just need to be more judicious with when and how often we make plans, and then actually, for the love of our toothless anxieties, actually fucking keep them.