Sunday, December 28, 2008

On piking. Today I was piked on for an event tonight. It's the fourth time in a row that my plus-one has ditched me at the last minute, and I can't help feeling as though this reflects poorly on me.

Piking, let me hasten to explain, is when you explicitly agree to do something, and then renege at the last moment. It's different to refusing an invitation when it's made, or ambivalently saying "maybe" you'll be able to make it.

Fig. 1: Invitation refusal timing, from least to most hurtful to me.

1. Immediately invitation is made.
2. More than 7 days ahead of event.
3. 7-2 days ahead of event.
4. By never being definite about acceptance or a refusal.
5. By not responding to the invitation at all.
6. On the day of the event.
7. After event is over.
8. Via phone or text message while the event is in progress.
9. On the day of the event, in response to a call from the event organiser.

I'm trying to be thoughtful about why people pike. I want to think the best of people, and to accept that these days it's considered socially acceptable to make fluid plans that can change. Note that I am talking about "reasons" people pike, and not "excuses", because I want to think that piking is sincerely and unwillingly done. Still, sometimes I feel as though I'm upholding a social contract that nobody else recognises. Is it that inflexible and unreasonable to expect people to honour their social commitments? And is it over-dramatic to feel that people don't value your company if they pike on you?

I also recognise that I've done my fair share of piking, but the key is that I fundamentally feel that piking is wrong, and I always feel bad and ashamed about it. I only pike when I think my absence won't be noticed, and I always try to make up for my piking with a rescheduled date. What gets me is when people don't seem bothered by having piked on me, or even express puzzlement or annoyance that I'm upset with them. That's when I start wondering of how little importance I must be to them.

Perhaps people see me as some fountain of endless invitations, or perhaps a fast-moving conveyor belt of goodies, and think it's no biggie to skip one thing because I'll surely invite them to another one soon. Perhaps they don't value their own company, and don't believe I might have been looking forward to spending time with them. But they give the opposite impression: that they don't value time with me, and plans with me can be easily broken without much trouble.

I was looking for some online etiquette guides to see if I am being irrational and overreacting, and this one seemed quite sensible:

when apologising, don’t explain the excuse in great detail. This comes across as tantamount to explaining to the nearest cent exactly what the relationship is worth to you (”ok, so I’m less important than the boyfriend’s last minute availability”, “ok, so overtime rates trump my friendship”). More details actually make this impression worse, not better, because they show just how cold-bloodedly you calculate the worth of your friends. (This may seem like nonsense—we’re all upfront hyper-rational geeks here who should be happy to have our friendship valued at market rates—but remember, it’s best for her when you over-commit to a friendship. So showing signs that you’re only rationally committed is hurtful, and not only at the conscious level either.)

I also liked the advice: "be accepting of and don’t call the organiser on any irritation that creeps into her voice", because for me the most infuriating part of dealing with a piker is when the piker tells me I'm "overreacting" and to "relax", or says "It's isn't like that".

Fig. 2: Reasons for piking on previously agreed social plans, in order of acceptability to me.

Serious illness, accident or family crisis. There's no way of arguing with these. It's disappointing, but you'd be a total chump to be mad... except if you later discover this to be a made-up excuse.

They felt too mentally unwell to go to the event. This was the reason XX used for not going to my 21st, where she was meant to give a speech. It also happened to me earlier this year when I had promised to bring a rabbit pie to a party, couldn't find any rabbit in the shops, and felt completely unable to go to the party empty-handed. This year I have also been quite depressed and have had days where all I could do was lie on my bed and cry. But it's difficult to be sympathetic about these things when you're not the one experiencing them - and the caveat about the made-up excuse also applies.

Work they feel unable to refuse. As a freelancer I understand that work can come up at the last minute, and I also understand the pressure to be seen to be committed to your job by working stupid hours. Even if this reason is a total lie, as I suspect it was when XX used it for my Christmas party, I can't begrudge people their living.

No reason given at all. This is what XX did when he piked on that weekend away. We were all, "I wonder where XX is", "Did XX know what time we were meeting...?" and finally we figured out he wasn't coming because a mutual friend told us he had made plans with her for that same weekend. While it reveals utter contempt for me, this is so bold it's almost admirable.

It proved too difficult to get to the event. Many times during my recent 3-hour public transport commute from Collingwood to Heathmont in the pouring rain with a six-pack and bottle of champagne that weren't even opened at the party, I wanted to just turn back. The reason I didn't was that I didn't want to fuck up the Kris Kringle by leaving no present for one person. I sympathise with this excuse only insofar as the invitee makes a concerted attempt to get to the event.

They fell asleep and missed the event. I have done this, which is yet another reason why I scorn napping. It's better to go to something feeling tired and to leave early than to try to fit in a nap beforehand and miss the entire event.

They forgot, and now they've made other plans instead. It happens. But this simply tells me how small and unimportant a place I occupy in the invitee's busy, exciting life.

They are disorganised and have to use your event time to do other, more urgent, things. This is why XX didn't come to an event last week that she was meant to be hosting. Even though I am horribly disorganised myself, I am not especially sympathetic about this reason because I value spending time with my friends ahead of tasks and errands.

It's a school night. Not everyone is a party animal. Some people just have fragile constitutions that can't withstand going out on the night before they have to go to school or work. But they knew the event was on a school night when I invited them! And they said yes then!

Hangover - This is the reason XX gave for piking on me today. I feel strongly that a hangover is the sufferer's own fault through mismanagement of their drinking, and as such is a poor excuse for piking.

Low-level illness - This is the reason XX gave for piking on Sunday brunch with me. Don't people realise how petty it sounds to duck out of plans with limp excuses like: "I don't feel so good", "I'm exhausted" or "I think I've got a cold coming on"? Do this often enough and nobody will invite your hypochondriac arse to anything.

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