The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Dealing with a friend who bails on invitations


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I may just need a swift kick in the butt to suck it up . . . but I have a friend who constantly bails at the last minute. I maintain this relationship because I am okay with being the one who puts in the effort to go see her and always know that when I make plans for her to come to me, she’s going to bail, so I’ll probably end up with a nice evening to read/watch a movie whatever.

Well, I’m getting married, and have invited her to my wedding. When a mutual friend of ours got married, she RSVP’d yes, but just didn’t show. My bridal shower is tomorrow and she canceled today.

I would love for her to be there, but I’d also like to be able to plan ahead if she isn’t. Is there any way to talk to her about the bailing and let her know I’m okay with it normally, but blowing off my wedding after RSVP’ing yes will really hurt?

Constant Bailing

Someone who bails this regularly has something else going on. Depression or other mental illness, maybe? Does she show up when she’s the one to make the plans?

As for your specific question, sure, you can tell her that, but she’s going to bail anyway. You know that, right?


She shows up when she’s the one to make the plans. I don’t think it’s depression because she does stuff with her neighbors, etc., regularly (we live about an hour and a half apart, so I can’t really do the impromptu barbecue). Maybe I’m just holding onto a friendship that’s run its course?

Constant Bailing

Ehhh, maybe, but the fact that she does socialize with people close by actually supports my hunch. Following through on others’ plans is just a huge obstacle for depressed people — seen this with bipolar disorder as well — where showing up for impromptu gatherings and things they plan themselves does not present the same obstacle.

For people who feel out of control on the inside, being able to control the terms of socializing is the difference between going out and staying curled up on the couch. With neighbors, for example, she can just wander over when she’s feeling up to it — and wander back home when she’s done, even 15 minutes in. That’s key.

Weddings, by contrast, ask a lot of a socially or emotionally compromised guest. You might be able to improve the odds that she’ll show up by taking the pressure off (“You’ll know lots of people,” “It’s low-key,” etc.), but, even then, I advise keeping your hopes in check.

Staying friends with her on these terms won’t be easy, because you’re essentially signing on to be stood up every time you try to make plans with her — unless she’s the one who calls you. But, in a way, that can spare you from making a decision one way or the other: If she seeks out your companionship, you’re friends, and if she doesn’t, you’re not.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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