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About a month ago, a friend I haven't heard from in some years invited me for dinner. We decided on a date that worked for both of us but I forgot to add it to my personal calendar. I was not particularly excited for this dinner but since I had no other plans, I accepted the invitation.

A few days ago, I received an invitation from my parents to join them for dinner in a nice restaurant tomorrow. My calendar showed no other plans so I told them that I would love to have dinner with them; they confirmed the reservation in the restaurant.

Today, my friend sent me a text related to his invitation of last month (about some things I should not forget to take with me). Upon receiving the text, I realized I totally forgot about this dinner with him and it so happens that it is also planned for tomorrow.

While my friend was obviously the first to invite me over; I much prefer to have a nice dinner with my parents instead. Still, I realize it would be very rude to simply tell my friend that "I forgot about our dinner and already made other plans so I won't be coming over".

How can I politely communicate to my friend that I want to cancel the planned dinner?

  • Do you want to be truthful and forthcoming with this friend? – Onyz Apr 12 at 13:30
  • @Onyz My immediate reaction was to make up a reason why I could not attend the dinner. That way, I would not have to tell him about my scheduling hiccup or that I actually prefer to cancel the dinner. So I suppose I prefer to be truthful but would not mind to make up a reason to cancel (especially if that may be perceived as less rude). Obviously, lying is not polite at all... but only when they find out. Yeah... I'm in quite the moral struggle on this one... – Maarten Bamelis Apr 12 at 13:44
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While my friend was obviously the first to invite me over; I much prefer to have a nice dinner with my parents instead. Still, I realize it would be very rude to simply tell my friend that "I forgot about our dinner and already made other plans so I won't be coming over".

Well, you're right, it is pretty rude to cancel on the first person who scheduled (at least from my US perspective), but you seem set on that course of action. One thing to consider, since you don't specify all of the details - regardless of who you booked with first and who you prefer to see, logistically, would cancelling either group cause exceptional difficulty? For example, if there is travel involved, or sunk costs that will be lost (food, tickets, etc), or one party is much more difficult to reschedule with. This should be a factor you consider in your decision, and something that may work in your favor when cancelling with the friend.

If you do cancel with the friend, I think the only way to not come across as completely rude (and transparent that you aren't interested in meeting) is to immediately propose a new date for dinner. If you can offer to make up for the imposition somehow, that helps too.

Jon, I'm so sorry, I completely forgot to put this on my calendar! I agreed to meet my parents for dinner that night, [and I don't get to see them that often]. Would you be available for dinner next Thursday instead? I can bring the wine.

The bracketed portion is where you would insert the reason why it would be difficult to cancel with your parents now. If there isn't a good reason, then I would just leave it out.

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    As there's often a cultural component and local norms for what's considered polite, could you edit to add what your background is, and if this is something you were taught or have experience with? Check out our meta on writing answers for more info on the expectations here, particularly 4 and 5. – Em C Apr 12 at 16:20
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  1. Honesty always pays in the long run.
  2. offer availability for atonement
  3. do not overcompensate.
  4. It is your fault, own it.

Bonus points: do not try to minimize it by using a colloquial tone.

I forgot about your dinner and I accepted instead an invitation from my parents, which I am attending. This happened due to my poor scheduling, and it was not meant to disregard you. I reckon this behaviour is unacceptable, and I do understand any resentment you may now have. I wish to make amends, if you allow me.

Also, brace for backlash.


Reference: Corinthians 8:21 -- there are plenty of good commentaries. As it comes from a religious text, I won't suggest any in particular, but I definitively recommend reading and reflecting upon the words.

I have no personal experience with missing dinner appointments, but I do have experience with being late for one. I never try to justify the delay: either it is obvious and due to an exceptional event (e.g., a natural disaster), or I could have always left earlier and scheduled my journey better, hence it is my fault.

I used to downtone my shortcoming as a teenager by using slang, or colloquial terms, but growing up I have found it irritating when others do it to me.

I have also found that I become suspicious of any justification if it is accompanied by an immediate need to repay to a measure much greater than the loss. For instance, it looks very strange when a friend who forgot bringing an ice-cream to a cheap friends' party goes out on a rampage to find the best artisan cake layered in fine Swiss chocolate (true story). I am always brought to think that the difference in value between the expected and the received must account for something of which I am not aware, and that, in the eyes of the other, would upset me even more if I knew it. For this reason I forgive and never ask.

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    Hello, I wanted to let you know that it is customary on IPS to provide back-up for answers we give, can you explain where your advice came from? Is it from an article you read or heard about, or is it from your personal experience and did it work out for you? Thanks! – ElizB May 12 at 23:02
  • Mostly Corinthians 8:21, which is approximatively "Take the pain to do what is right, not just in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of men" (and women) – ooOOooK May 12 at 23:15
  • Can you add that into your answer? Thanks! – ElizB May 12 at 23:25
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    Welcome to IPS! I believe your answer would be much better if you could talk about a time where you were in a similar situation and using the technic you are suggesting work. Could you add that? – Ælis May 13 at 10:38
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    On IPS, if an answer isn't backed up enough (with relevent personal experience, for example), then the answer is deemed "not good enough" and deleted. So, just add some back up and you should be good :) – Ælis May 13 at 21:50

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