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Couldn’t Be Me: So you don’t want to play for Team USA

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We discuss how to back out of plans with minimal damage to those who invited you (and your own conscience).

Welcome to Couldn’t Be Me, a weekly advice column where I solicit your personal dilemmas and help out as best as I can. Have something I can help you with? Find me @_Zeets.

Sometimes in life you find yourself having to back out of plans for whatever reason. It can be because you simply don’t feel like going, or that the chaos of life has made it impossible for you to do so. Letting someone know that you won’t be attending an event you’ve been invited to is a very uncomfortable part of adult life, and some of us lie to absolve ourselves of the guilt. Others just ghost the event and the person, and maybe fake their deaths in order to never have to explain why we didn’t attend. Or so I’ve heard.

In this week’s advice column, we look at the concept of backing out of an invitation and how to best manage the feelings of the rejected party and your own guilt.

Anonymous: I was supposed to represent the United States in the FIBA World Cup this summer, but I don’t think I will. Not for any particular reason, though the official reason I’ve given is that I’m taking time off to rest and get ready for next season. The truth is, I just don’t want to. I’ve already won a gold medal with them before and after seeing a lot of other players back out of going, I felt even less obligated. The team will still be good without me, or us, but the problem is, I don’t feel bad at all about backing out. Does that make me a bad person?


It takes a lot more to be a bad person than skipping an international tournament, but since you’re one of many players who have decided not to go this year, it seems this is a problem of the tournament in motivating players to join rather than a personal failing. The Basketball World Cup for the United States just doesn’t seem to mean that much. Especially if the US doesn’t necessarily have to win the tournament to qualify for the Olympics.

It’s understandable that you have no interest in being part of this World Cup group, but I think what also happens here is the cascading effect of great players backing out, which makes other great players back out to the point that there’s only one or two superstars on a team that’s supposed to showcase the best talent in the country.

On the other hand, since the talent pool is so deep, this also presents an opportunity for younger, lesser-known players to play for their country. An opportunity that they would have ordinarily missed out on and are still capable of winning, as well. So, in a way, this can be a good thing.

The ideal for the team would obviously be for you and all the other great players to attend, but I don’t think your presence is necessary. You can take the time off and enjoy your summer.


I have this thing about being honest. So I try never to flat-out lie to get out of something. I always try to find some truth and maybe make it bigger than it is? Like if I’m tired, I’m probably say I’m exhausted and tell why. Or if I have to run errands that I’ve been putting off, I’ll say I’m swamped and need to get a ton of stuff done.

And sometimes, even if it’s a legitimate reason, I still have to feel like the person needs to be ok with so I offer way too much information to justify my reason.


I’m impressed at how you’ve managed to lie without lying. It’s not really honesty if you’re still stretching the truth to its limits. But I also think it’s an unnecessary exaggeration. What seems to be behind this tactic is a desire to create a truth that is valid enough to get out of an obligation — a truth that both absolves you from the guilt of bailing on someone, and also comforts the other individual by giving them a reason that’s big enough for them to not feel hurt by your bailing.

Most of the time, though, someone giving way too much information is a sure sign that they’re lying. That drive to provide a complex story becomes an ironic one considering that the truth is often banal and uncomplicated, and people tend to know this.

I don’t think what you’re doing is necessarily bad. It doesn’t seem to be coming from a malicious place, even if it’s still deception. But I say it’s unnecessary because being tired without being exhausted or catching up on errands without having to be completely swamped are still good reasons that most friends and associates would be understanding of.

My stance on obligations, especially when it comes to friends, is that if you’ve promised to attend an event, and it’s possible for you to do so, then you should really try to. Even sometimes when you’re tired. Not to say that you don’t need to take care of yourself — if your attendance at the event would be harmful to your mental state, then of course, stay home — but those events usually mean a lot to the individual.

It’s just a sign of care for someone to see that even though you may be tired or have a lot to do, you made time for them. You don’t have to stay for the whole event, just being present for a few minutes is often enough. Otherwise you’ll look for the perfect conditions to perform your friendship, and those conditions in this world of chaos and constant problems are rare. You make sacrifices for people you care about. That’s part of the deal.