The Art of the Ditch: How to Bail On Plans With Tact


The Art of the Ditch: How to Bail On Plans With Tact

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

Long before binge-watching sitcoms, scrounging for dank memes, and infinite sequels to superhero movies turned us into brainless zombies, our species willingly gathered every weekend and worked their way through libations without bailing on each other. This period went down in history as the last time humans lived up to Aristotle’s standards of socialising.

Today socialsing is what we do on the days our internet is down and bailing on people has become an inherent part of modern life.

Last week, I was at the mall with a friend who wouldn’t stop complaining about how she hasn’t partied in months. Mind you, her prowess as a flaker is legendary. Whenever we make plans to get drinks or meals together, she’ll be the first one to flake on the group with intriguingly vague texts – “dog ate neighbour cat”, “have diarrhoea, thanks Caesar salad!”, and the best one yet, “I dead grandma fly”. Naturally, she is let off the hook.

In a Tonic essay titled, “This Is Why People Constantly Flake on Their Plans”, the author says that “The mismatch between the abstractness of our plans when they’re in the distance and their concrete nature once they’re imminent helps partly explain why you’ve fallen into the cancelling habit.” Essentially, we bail on people not because we don’t want to keep up with our friends, but simply because we make plans at a time when we’re irrationally motivated to socialise. The idea of going for a 10.50 pm movie on Friday night or going out drinking after a day-long conference sounds exciting. But when the time comes, you chicken out because you just don’t want to go to bed at 3 am on yet another day or you don’t want to hang with the same colleagues you’ve spent 12 hours with. This is when you begin to hope that the apocalypse arrives before the weekend or even worse Uber drivers go on a strike.

Together we bail on relatives, neighbours, society meetings, and especially lousy dinners with other families.

It’s one thing to bail on your friends, but cancelling on your colleagues and bosses – basically professional bailing – is an all-new ball game. You need to have tact yes, but more than that you need to be really brave.

Last year, I was interning for a creative director who believed that early morning meetings were most beneficial for small agencies. So, at 7 am, we’d gather in the conference room with the heads of the copy and the art departments to discuss briefs. As we know it’s quite difficult for some of us to function before 10 am – especially those who love Netflix more than their naukri. A daredevil fellow intern asked the receptionist to leave a note for the creative director in the conference room: “A research study about workplace politics suggests that only wankers take meetings at 7 am.” He was fired the next day, but the copywriters applauded his creativity.

In a New York Times essay titled “The Golden Age of Bailing”, author David Brooks suggests that, “Bailing is one of the defining acts of the current moment because it stands at the nexus of so many larger trends: the ambiguity of modern social relationships, the fraying of commitments, what my friend Hayley Darden calls the ethics of flexibility ushered in by smartphone apps…” Sure, phone-toting millennials will never have the honour of being held as reliable beings who show up at the time of need. But let’s not blame my generation for destroying good ol socialising. I can say this because I come from a family of serial flakers. And it’s one thing that helps us stay together.

Together we bail on relatives, neighbours, society meetings, and especially lousy dinners with other families. Whenever we’re invited to poojas or weddings, my sister or I fall violently sick because of something we ate last night, or dad has some urgent work-related stuff, or the car breaks down (this one is a family favourite). On one occasion my mother excused herself from a dull party by telling everyone that our great-grandmother had slipped on a real banana peel and fallen off Mt Abu. Obviously, people couldn’t understand how it had all taken place but, they were convinced once she began sobbing.

On another occasion, my father decided that it was time to bail on the monthly snooze fest that is a society meeting. But in order to do so, he’d have to do something subtle that would get people to dislike him but not so much that when mom needs a cylinder none of our neighbours volunteer. This is why he did what any self-respecting person would’ve done. He started an argument on the society WhatsApp group and after a couple of members were riled up was removed from it for “unpopular opinions”.

I guess it’s easy to blame everything from global warming to declining fertility rates on millennials. But if there’s one life lesson I’ve learnt from the previous generation, it’s this: It’s not wrong to bail on people if you’re truly not “feelin’ it”. But, if you’re gonna do it, do it right.