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David Eddie's Damage Control

I made plans with a friend - but bailed when something more fun came along Add to ...

damage@globeandmail.com

The question

I've hurt a good friend. She invited me over to Labour Day dinner with her and her husband and I accepted. In her plans for dinner, she considered my allergies and offered to pick me up or drive me home if necessary, as I don't have a car.

The day after accepting her invitation, another friend invited me to her cottage for the weekend. This is a huge thing for me as I seldom get a chance to go to the country, which is very important to me.

I phoned the first friend and told her I wanted to accept the invitation to the cottage. She said she understood, but I felt I had hurt her. Was I wrong to do what I did? (I'm now thinking I was.) Is there anything I can do to make amends?

The answer

Doesn't sound too bad: I think I can help you.

But, before I zero in on your case, let's talk about the general principle.

Of course, I understand the urge to dipsy-doodle around a prior commitment when something more fun-sounding pops up.

But over time it has become an important axiom for me: Always honour the prior commitment.

Even if you're supposed to be having high tea with your great-grandmother to celebrate her induction into the Canadian Society of Numismatists, and a friend phones to tell you that scientists have reanimated John Lennon and George Harrison and he has scored tickets to a top-secret Beatles reunion in a small club right around the corner from your house, in the same time slot, you should honour the prior commitment.

Well, maybe in that case you can have a special dispensation. But I'm using hyperbole to make a point. And it's possible I'm a little "tetched" on this topic. For I believe that not honouring prior commitments can lead to a moral rot that metastasizes into other areas of your life.

It's like lying. People begin by lying to others; then start lying to themselves; soon, they don't know what's true and what's false any more. And the ensuing moral rot can corrode you from the inside out.

It's the same with non-prior-commitment-honouring dipsy-doodlers. Of course, it's fun, and flattering, when you're on the winning end of this transaction.

A renowned date-dodger will come to a party at your house, and say, in a loud voice, over the music: "I was supposed to go to dinner at my uncle's, but I told him my cat was sick! I wanted to hang out with you guys!"

"Yay!" you'll say, and just then the DJ will drop a great track, with a heavy, pounding beat, your hips will start to twitch, everyone will begin to undulate and gyrate.

"Ha! Ha! Screw your uncle!" someone will yell across the dance floor as you twist and shout, splashing chardonnay everywhere; and you'll all feel much more festive and fun and charming and lively than some mouldy old uncle. To hell with him!

But eventually they all get caught in their web of lies. Thus, a couple of months later, two hours before the dipsy-doodling date-dodger is supposed to come over for dinner, you get a call: "I'm sorry, I can't come tonight, something's wrong with my cat, I think I have to take her to the vet...."

Later, you hear that she was spotted at some party, twirling and gyrating and splashing wine. Suddenly it's not so funny any more. Because everyone knows what it means: She found, in the words of Hamlet, "metal more attractive," and interesting, than yours and decided to blow you off.

And that's a terrible message to send to any friend. So just don't become that type of person, okay?

Anyway, it doesn't really seem like you're "at risk" for that. You're tormented by guilt over blowing off your friend. That's a good thing. You cancelled on your friend's Labour Day dinner only one day after committing. Also good: She had plenty of time to make other arrangements. Above all, you told her the truth, which is great.

Really, I see little damage here. And all you need do is a very light dusting of damage control. Apologize to her for breaking your dinner date. Explain to her about the cottage, and how rarely you get to go, how much you wanted to.

She should understand. The lure of the cottage invite, especially for those of us who don't have one in our families, is like the lure of the siren's song: Who among us can resist? (Those crystal-clear, restorative waters, twinkling in the sunshine ... your whole being yearns for it.)

And maybe just show her, going forward, through words and actions (e.g., inviting her to your house for dinner), that she is someone who is indeed important to you, someone whose company you value, almost all the time, over mere "fun."

Then, I predict, especially if you nip all future dipsy-doodling in the bud, the two of you will be back splashing around in the crystal-clear, restorative waters of a happy friendship in no time.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad . Damage Control , the book, will be published in the spring of 2010.

I've made a huge mistake Have you created any damage that needs controlling? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com, and include your hometown and a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

 

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