Today's story on the main blog described a couples frustration over their neighbours frequent offers to babysit yet never following through.
Most of the comments are of the "they were just being polite in offering" variety which I understand although I don't see it as being polite. More of false promises that in the end, caused a great deal of disappointment and resentment.
It got me thinking though. We've all been there I'm sure, offering someone generic help because, for whatever reason, it was the right thing to do at the time, while silently hoping it would not be taken seriously.
But when your offer is taken at face value, and you decline to do what you had previously offered, when do you become the rude one? For me, when committing to a previous offer means sacrificing ones health, finances or safety is where I draw the line.
Where do you draw your commitment line?
I think the bolded is important. I have a bad tendency to over-commit myself and sometimes make pretty offers that are perhaps more generous of my time than I ought to ("Oh, you're moving to the area to join my graduate program, person I've never met before and only emailed twice? Call me when you're in town if you need someone to help you make an IKEA run!") but it's really important to me to be the kind of person who follows through on these offers (cue the seven-hour IKEA run, over the course of which a stranger becomes a friend). That said, when I think I really do need to back out of an offer or commitment for a really big reason, I'm trying to get better about making that clear.
My biggest cancel trigger is that I have extremely broken sleep, and sometimes my sleep has been out of whack for long enough that I just don't feel myself safe to drive, period. But that's an issue that's difficult to convey to people, because it sounds so flimsy as an excuse. Still, when driving, drowsiness is red alert, and attacking SoCal freeways with significantly impaired mental processing and reflexes just isn't worth the risk most of the time.
As other posters have said, I think communication is the most important thing. If you're going to back out of an offer or plans, the sooner and more clearly you communicate that fact, definitively, the sooner the other people can calibrate his/her expectations and make other arrangements. I think the worst thing is to let someone keep thinking that you're going to come through when you know there's a good chance you aren't, because the longer you string someone along (even with the best of intentions), the more disappointed they'll be if you have to renege.
(Of course, that's easy to say, but can be hard to put into practice. I'm extremely guilty of canceling later than I should because I'm convinced I can turn things around or make them work if I just try harder, put more pressure on myself, etc.)