Why I Keep Plans in the Age of Flaking

I am “a planner.” I like structure, clarity and making sure the important things are always accomplished. Sexy, right?

In this casual culture, sometimes I feel like enjoying plans makes me the stuffy one. People have laughed about my calendars, my notes, my planning docs, how meticulously detailed it all seems. But to me, making plans is actually a vital element of my survival, a way in which I thrive and refuse to squander time.

Because I have a chronic pain condition — fibromyalgia — that limits my energy and thus social time, planning is stitched into the very fabric of my being. Most people in my life aren’t actively aware of it, but the syndrome comes complete with symptoms like fatigue, widespread pain, digestive issues, urinary issues, anxiety and a host of other ailments that are normal to me but undeniably limiting.

I know those limits, too: the quantities of energy each activity is likely to consume, how every improvised decision may impact all the others, whether something is simply not feasible or worth my time. I spend more time than most of my friends resting and dealing with symptoms, which means I have to be creative with how I manage to see everyone and do everything.

If you were given just 18 hours a day to do everything you wanted and needed to do, instead of 24, would you use your time more wisely? Would you spend those hours more carefully? Are there relationships you’d want to give more energy to, and some less? Do any friendships deplete you? Now what if you were given just 15 hours today to fit it all in? Tomorrow you might have more, or maybe less. But you don’t know. Would you shuffle your to-do list some more? Would priorities change? Would you see relationships in a new light? Are there some friendships that might have to go?

This is how I have always functioned; managing fibromyalgia and wanting to live my life to the fullest has given me immense prioritization skills. I feel strongly that the loving, supportive, like-minded people in my life deserve my limited energy, and I do my best to make sure they get it. This is my ultimate impetus for making firm plans. If I plan ahead to meet you, it’s because I have every intention of giving you my undivided attention and all the energy I can. A drink, coffee or dinner, planned weeks in advance even, gives my heart that ultra-fluttery feeling of true love. Time is a currency, perhaps the most important one we have. For those with limitations, plans are time investments in those we love and the things that matter.

I can detect that my approach is more constrained than others’, and it’s hard to explain how changing the plan can completely throw me off balance or why a last-minute trip isn’t always feasible for me. I’m all for spontaneity, but I also know some adventures will max out my energy reserves. It’s hard to admit, but it’s also me.

Create a little plan with me and my heart will balloon more than the Grinch’s on Christmas.

We all have “planners” in our lives — from the introverted friend who saves up social energy for the most important occasions to the time-pressed friend who has to schedule two weeks out for a happy hour. There are tons of jokes and memes about how everyone loves to cancel plans. It’s not that I don’t get it: Sometimes plans resemble chores; the specificity of scheduling out days or weeks in advance can come off as rigid, stiff, controlling; and what if you don’t feel like it when the time comes?

But even given all that, I’d like to suggest we rethink the way we look at making plans and keeping them.

I have a good friend who is a mom and a business owner — two big constraints on her time. I also admire her ability to juggle her relationships, family, motherhood and work with grace. How does she do it? Plans. I’ve noticed she is one of my most “planned out” friends, perhaps the reason our friendship has been growing and thriving, especially over the last year.

Recently, though, I had a health episode that sent all my usual plans into a tizzy; I had a symptom “flare,” which lasted about a month and a half and kept coming and going with remarkable weirdness. My energy stores? Just about zero. And over that time, I kept canceling plans with this friend without much explanation — a movie screening, a Bachelor finale night, a happy hour, a morning catch-up. When I emerged from my hibernation, she called me out. In my hazy mental state, I had not been aware of how breaking plans had impacted her on an emotional level. I suddenly recognized time as a currency again. I had wasted some of hers, precious and limited as it is. (I have since apologized.)

Some make plans lightly, but I don’t. Plans are mini commitments to be consistent, investments in relationships I want to nurture, time to build history, intimacy and perhaps a lifelong bond. Maybe that sounds extreme — but to the right people, I know that intentionality will be appreciated.

If you have “a planner” like me in your life, please indulge us from time to time. Put something on the calendar a little ways out. Show us you plan on sticking around, remaining part of our growth, milestones, fun times (and rocky ones), and we’ll do the same for you. Create a little plan with me and my heart will balloon more than the Grinch’s on Christmas. I will find ways to elevate the itinerary. I will pencil you into my calendar. I will make sure to bring my best self that day. How’s that for a plan?

Photo via Getty Images.

Jenna Birch

Journalist, dating coach and author of The Love Gap.

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