“Really sorry, I don’t think I can make it tonight anymore, my stomach isn’t feeling great and I just need to go home and get some sleep. Have a great night. I’m really sorry. I promise I’ll make it up to you… Sorry. X”
Three sorrys in one single text message - you know the type. You’ve sent dozens of these, maybe hundreds, and yet the plague-like feeling of guilt never gets any easier to carry. It sits there like a big, suffocating ball just below your throat, ruining the much-needed night of alone time you made up the excuse for in the first place.
Because your stomach’s fine, obviously - you just really, really couldn’t face socialising today. Nine out of ten times you’re all in, but today is one of the 10%; you don’t want to speak to people, you don’t want to drink, you just want a break. The problem is that there are only so many excuses you can use before friends start to see through them. At worst, people start taking it personally, offended by your occasional need for a little time to yourself, as if it were a deliberate slight on their character. At best you’re tarred with the reputation of being a flake - the unreliable friend who there’s no point in inviting next time, because ‘they probably won’t show up anyway’.
The only other option? Do what I normally end up doing - feel too guilty about your carefully-typed excuse to even press send, force yourself to go to the event, have a generally average time and then suffer the consequences of your denied evening of self-care somewhere down the line. It’s great! Everyone should try it!
Except there should be one more way - the excuse that is not an excuse, but the absolute truth. “I don’t feel up to coming”. “I really need some time to myself tonight”. “If I come out I will stand anxiously by the door for an hour and a half before slipping out without saying goodbye and hoping nobody notices”. This is the best way, not only for you, but for your mates too, and yet it’s so rare, particularly among men. We need this to change.
Everyone feels antisocial sometimes - even the world’s biggest extrovert has at some point chosen to dodge a social occasion in favour of Netflix and a dine-in-for-two meal for one. It’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s good. But then, if we all recognise the benefits, why do we have to keep making up excuses? Why do we keep having to telling our friends these transparent white lies? Lying to your mates makes you feel shit. They know you’re lying, and it makes them feel shit too. You’re only doing it to try and spare their feelings, because on the face of it, “I don’t want to come to your event” sounds like a personal attack. It hurts. But you’re not saying no because of them, and as long as you make sure they know that, they should be able to accept it. Continually making up excuses, hiding the truth, is only going to damage your friendship in the long run.
So this, right here, is a call for ‘I don’t want to’ to become a legitimate and accepted excuse. Let’s end the bullshit, and respect each other’s desires to do what we know is best for ourselves. It’s probably not one for the big events, your weddings, your 30th birthdays, your family funerals… but an evening at The Duke? Sorry, not for me today. I don’t want to. I’m going home to watch three entire seasons of Peep Show, and I feel good about that. So should you, because you’re my friend and you want what’s best for me.
As a mate, you should be able to understand and respect your friend’s need for a bit of anti-social R&R - it should be more important to you than one extra person down the pub on Friday night. Being this honest with your feelings may even bring you closer, and add another layer to ‘skin deep’ friendships - ones you value, but are mostly there for pints rather than a proper connection. Similarly, it’s important for companies not to over-push the post-work, team-building activities (going down the pub on a Friday night), as this can often serve to alienate those less comfortable in these kinds of situations - the literal opposite of the intended effect.
We’ve probably all been guilty of trying to coerce mates into nights out before. I know I have. We do it out of a genuine love for them, and a desire to spend time in their company, but when you take a step back, you remember how awkward and shitty it feels to be on the other side. Feeling forced into social situation you don’t feel mentally ready for can be a cause of anxiety and panic, and the social convention that compels us to say yes to everything; that sees letting a friend down as a punishable offence, is more guilty of that than anything.
Let’s bin off the upset tummies and the fake mums’ birthdays. No, I haven’t just received a piece of indeterminate ‘bad news’ I will have to awkwardly shrug off the next time we see each other, I just want to catch up on Bake Off (turns out the move to Channel 4 has been a breath of fresh air). If we can kick the guilt and trade it for understanding, and make ‘I don’t want to’ a legitimate excuse, we’ll all feel happier for it. And the happier I am? The more likely I’m going to fancy a few pints down The Duke next Friday.