Charles Glass discovers that women are now cancelling dinner dates by text. What’s the world coming to?
For the sixth time in as many months, a woman has cancelled our dinner. In and of itself, a cancelled dinner is a trifle. The cancellations themselves were less surprising than the timing and the method. Did the women, all of whom are friends, give me time to make alternative arrangements? Did they call? Did they explain or apologise? Did they hell! Each of these grown women sent a message via text or SMS to my mobile telephone. Average warning time pre-dinner: nine minutes. One message arrived after dinner. When it happens six times, you wonder whether you have stumbled upon a phenomenon. The aberration becomes the trend.
Came the next morning, did one of them call to placate her disappointed escort? Did any offer consolation? Did one so much as send a postcard by way of explanation? Did they hell! O tempora, O mores!
Perhaps this is the norm, and no one told me. Some women behave as if it were acceptable within the bounds of etiquette. But it is a new etiquette. Chucking by text may, for all I know, be required by the modern Miss Manners. Maybe the nature of relations between men and women has developed to the stage that friends and lovers, like Bic pens, are disposable without any notice at all. The pre-dinner cancellation text may, in fact, be the last bastion of civility in a world where a woman just won’t bother to say anything. After an hour or two chatting to the waiter, you may grasp she had a better offer.
Men don’t seem to have acquired the talent for last-minute chucking by text — at least, not the ones I know. Andrew Wilson and I arranged a lunch not long ago near the London Library, where we both do research from time to time. I was looking forward to it, because I like Andrew and he is never dull. However, early on the morning we were to meet, he called. On the telephone. He explained that family commitments had intervened to make our lunch that day impossible. He did not have to go into detail, but he did. It was not polite as much as normal. The other night, Patrick Cockburn, recently returned from Baghdad for the Independent, had to cancel a dinner we had arranged at Notting Hill’s finest Italian restaurant, the Osteria Basilico. Not only did Patrick call me twice, he sent an email the day before to explain that he had to go to a friend’s birthday dinner. Absolutely fair. And he apologised. Again, this seemed normal rather than polite. Andrew Wilson and Patrick Cockburn are gentlemen, and I would expect nothing less of them.
What are these women? Are they intent on dragging the human race into an era when promises are broken, appointments cancelled and oaths violated as if they had no more substance than an advertising slogan? Would a telephone call be difficult? Would it be impolite for a man to ask for a few hours’ — never mind days’ — notice? If she didn’t want dinner with one in the first place, the easiest solution would be to turn down the invitation. Lord knows, that has happened often enough. But a last-minute flexing of the right thumb on a miniature keyboard — or, worse, sending a template from the archive — to dump a date is, I must now state publicly, unacceptable. When I took a straw poll, no one admitted that a text five minutes before dinner was de rigueur. I also checked with my social conscience, Ruth Rogers, who knows something about dinner dates. She sees them every night at the River Café. She said text-chucking was just not done, and she is pretty liberal in these matters. It is time, as they say in the American criminal injustice system, to name and shame. Here are the latest three violators, with their times:
Eyesie Cecil, eight minutes before dinner. Sophie Dundas, five minutes after dinner was due to begin. And the grand prize to Caroline Hickman, who sent her text one hour after I had finished dinner and was well into the brandy.
If I do not name the other three, I have my reasons. But you get the idea.
This is not to say men are entirely well mannered. I am eating a solitary dinner at the moment, because the latest woman’s cancellation text reached me after I sat down. I am watching the room. I see a man enter with a young woman in tow — actually, more in his wake. He opens the door and walks in, letting the door slam shut on her as she follows. She recovers and pushes ahead, oblivious to what would seem to me to be a slight. They sit without looking at each other. I’d rather eat alone.
There was a time when important news came by telegram. If the telegram delivery man rang your bell, it was time for the smelling salts. An old joke had a woman who thought the delivery boy carried a happy birthday telegram asking him to sing it to her. (Yes, Virginia, there were singing telegrams in those pre-text days. I miss telegrams as much as I do manners.) The Western Union boy said he couldn’t do it. She begged and then tipped him. He relented and sang in a jolly falsetto, ‘Dear Mrs. Murgatroyd, Your husband is dead.’
Surely, text-chucking would have been worth Marje Proops’s or Lynda Lee-Potter’s consideration. Where are they when we need them? Is texting the cool way to dump someone? Will doctors text your diagnosis? ‘Cancer. 2 mos if ur lucky.’ Will the government now text the widows of fallen soldiers? Will women divorce husbands by text? Even employers sack staff over the mobile. Why not? If the recipient doesn’t like it, the sender can get another friend, another husband, another lover or another employee with a sense of humour. Hey, deal with it.