The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
These words are part of Robert Frost’s famous poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The speaker is mesmerized by the dark woods, but he continues on his way because he has prior obligations. (Literary critics will also add that this poem speaks of a dichotomy between society and nature, but we can save the heated discussion of literary analysis and whether “deep” has ten hidden meanings for a later day.)
Promises are hard to keep. Think of the last time you promised to call a friend, then subsequently forgot because Criminal Minds was on TV. Or the times you promised to write a letter to Aunt Judy about your school year, but suddenly it’s already final exams time and you haven’t sent a single envelope the entire semester.
Everyone’s life is invariably busy. Distractions get the best of us, and it’s easy to forget small promises. But when you’re on the receiving end of broken promises — or at least promises that were never followed up on — it’s hard not to take it personally.
(This is why lawyers make contracts for everything. Sealed with your DNA, social security number, and birthdate.)
The problem is people tend to overcommit themselves. No one wants to say no to anything. Here are 5 red flags that a promise is likely to be a dud:
1. “Dude, of course I’ll look over your essay later this week.” They say yes now, but unless they pinpoint a specific date and time, they’re not going to do it. “Later this week” is a euphemism for “Um, yeah, I’m not in the mood to follow through right now or anytime soon, so like, let’s wait 3-4 days, after which you and I will both have forgotten about the thing I promised to do.”
2. “Sure! Let me check my schedule and I’ll let you know.” Even worse is when they don’t mention a time period at all. They could technically “let you know” in 90 years and not be in the wrong.
3. “I agree, let’s hang out sometime.” Either they don’t like taking initiatives or they just like putting things off. Similar to the phrase “later this week,” the phrase “sometime” is another way of saying, “I’m not sure about the future, and I’m too lazy to plan ahead right now. I mean, if I really, really, REALLY wanted to hang out you, then I’d be jumping right in to arrange plans now and here. Don’t get offended; most people aren’t in that special 1% group. Nothing personal.”
4. “I promise to keep in touch.“ Probably one of the biggest cliches in history since happily ever after, this phrase is used most often at graduation ceremonies, goodbye parties, and the end of summer friendships. Nobody ever seems to follow through after saying this popular phrase. Never mind the fact that in today’s society, we have email, text messaging, cell phones with video messaging options, instant-messaging, and a plethora of tools that makes the letter-writing Stone Age pale by comparison. Most people seem content with a brief “what’s up lol” online before fading completely into oblivion within 1 to 3 years.
So, my advice? Stop making empty promises. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and fall short.
Or, you could sneakily put the responsibility on the other person. “Promise me you’ll keep in touch, okay?”
(If someone says this to you next time, answer with, “I’ll try, but only if you send me three pounds of gourmet cheese in the mail.”)