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Is it worth it to confront your flaky friends about their flakiness?
April 29, 2014 1:48 PM   Subscribe

If they don't care enough to show up, does it mean they don't care if they hurt my feelings?

First of all let me say that I hate confrontation and it makes me very anxious. I hate talking about negative emotions in general, especially if I'm wounded/ hurt by something. I'm also terrible at it, and would much rather express my feelings in written form. But, I've gotten the impression that " the Important things in life MUST be expressed in person."

I'm trying to accept the fact that many friends of mine are in different places in life and don't really care about friendship any more. Our society places so much emphasis on moving towards a settled place in careers and relationships that something as ephemeral as friendship often gets forgotten. That's how it feels lately, anyways.

One of my friends, I have had since high school. She has gone into grad school and is now doing her Ph.D. We were neighbors, and really close for a long time ( about 14 years). Then gradually she stopped responding to any of my phone calls or messages and only contacted me when she needed something. I knew she was busy with her Ph.D and tried to accomodate her schedule, but she never returned the favour. And gradually a wall built up inside me so that I eventually stopped caring about her. Should I have talked to her about it instead? (Hard to do when someone never answers your calls)

Then there's my roommate. I know I shouldn't expect anything special from someone just because they're my roommate and maybe I am overreacting by feeling so snubbed. But I had to organize a special event for my work this week, and for the past two weeks she's been telling me she's coming, and I really appreciated the support. Then, last night she tells me she wants to go to the music studio instead because she can't go on her usual day. Normally, I would hope for, but not expect any kind of support like that from a roommate. But, it stung a lot because I have been supporting her music pursuits several times. I went to her open mic nights twice, and I even accompanied her on the piano for a performance at a gala that neither of us got paid for ( which was awful because I had to lug my whole keyboard there and I don't even have a car, but I did it to support her just because it felt like the right thing to do).

In these kinds of situations, should I unburden myself by expressing these hurt feelings? Or keep them inside and let them fester and build up walls inside myself.

By the way, YES I am already in therapy!
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
For specific instances, like a dropped appointment or date, I would mention that her actions hurt your feelings. I wouldn't make it into a condemnation of her relationship with you, but I wouldn't keep the incidence to yourself, because otherwise, she will not know how you feel.
posted by xingcat at 1:54 PM on April 29


.... . I'm also terrible at it, and would much rather express my feelings in written form. But, I've gotten the impression that " the Important things in life MUST be expressed in person."

Not sure if this will help, but although society or individuals may have a preference, there are no rules. If this is who you are and your preferred mode of communication, then why not express this in writing? Not a huge wall of text email, but a brief few sentence "I'm disappointed" "this makes me sad" and communicates the idea in emailI do this myself sometimes- it expresses the basic ideas, no big confrontation is made, and it is communication
posted by Wolfster at 2:16 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


Let it go and take it as a learning experience.

It's not necessarily the case that these people don't care about hurting your feelings. It's more likely that they don't understand how invested you are in their involvement. And/or that if they did understand, they just wouldn't reciprocate at the same level.

So, you know, you can say "I was really hoping you'd be able to make it," but don't make a big deal out of it and let it go after that.
posted by adamrice at 2:18 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]


In my experience with this, the answer is no - let it go. No big confrontation, no "serious" emails. Confrontation with flakers stresses them out immensely, and then they want to make plans with you even less because you're a buzzkill who gets all dramatic when they didn't realize it would be "such a big deal" if they changed plans last second. The more concrete the plan, the more they get stressed out making that plan. Because that is their way of life.

I don't agree with that way of life, by the way - I'm just telling you because I have known a LOT of flakey people, gotten a chance to do some A/B testing with various types of confrontation, or no confrontation at all, and have found out the best way to go is just never make plans with them, ever, and only hang out with them when they personally invite you out to something. And instead of being angry at them all the time, you can just be excited to hear from an old friend when they do get in touch or reach out to make plans. It sounds sort of sad when written out that way, but the key is to have other people in your life who are more respectful.

Call them out on their shit only if a) The catharsis of getting it off your chest is worth more to you than the friendship or b) They outright ask you why you haven't been in touch lately, in which case tell them (not angrily, more like...shrugging) it's because they are constantly flaking so you sort of gave up. They will feel really bad and apologize profusely but probably not change their ways. And you can laugh it off and go haha it's okay, you're just a fucking mess I know you too well. And then they'll laugh and you can continue being their cool laid back friend and not their dramatic intense friend.
posted by windbox at 2:19 PM on April 29 [36 favorites]


Normally, I would hope for, but not expect any kind of support like that from a roommate. But, it stung a lot because I have been supporting her music pursuits several times.

I think you should probably not do stuff because you expect to have it done for you in return. I used to have a tendency to do that kind of social score-keeping in my head, and it just really wasn't worth it. I ended up feeling unappreciated, except it was for stuff no one asked me to do! I worked on it in therapy and now I do nice stuff for people if I feel like it, which I usually do, and am pleasantly surprised if people do stuff for me--so pretty much the same, except with much less resentment.

Also--I don't know how old you are, I'm early thirties, but I find a lot of transition has been happening for me in the last four years surrounding friendships as people get married, have families, move cross-country, and just generally reprioritize their lives. That was really hard to get used to but I have felt a lot happier and more zen when I internalized that friendships, like all relationships, grow and change, and that it really wasn't anything personal.
posted by stellaluna at 2:19 PM on April 29 [19 favorites]


...only contacted me when she needed something...

...I had to lug my whole keyboard there and I don't even have a car, but I did it to support her...


These things jumped out at me from your post. Don't do more for your friends than what you are comfortable giving as a gift, just to see them happy in that moment, even if they give you nothing in return.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:20 PM on April 29 [26 favorites]


If it's a pattern (ie chronic flakiness), then move on, find better people. Everyone else (except the similarly flakey) will too - flakiness drags people down (flaky people are not entrusted with things that matter, and so tend to go nowhere). You want to surround yourself with people who expand your potential instead.

If it's an occasional act of thoughtlessness, give them the benefit of the doubt, as you would like people to look on you kindly when you mess up (not that you being kind will ensure similar reaction from others, unfortunately). Try not to take it personally.
posted by anonymisc at 2:21 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you are looking for permission from strangers on the internet to let loose on these people. ("Should I unburden myself by expressing these hurt feelings? Or keep them inside and let them fester and build up walls inside myself.") How qualified are we to do that? We don't know you.

Expectations are just resentments waiting to happen. Stop the cause, stop the effect. You will be happier than you would be if you confronted them or let feelings fester. Talk to your therapist about CODA, it might help you sort out your feelings on this.
posted by juniperesque at 2:21 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


When the friend says, "hey could you do [onerous task] for me?" that's the difficult conversation that's actually worth it. Learning to say something like, "that doesn't work for me, but have fun at your open mic night. I'm sure you'll do great. Can't wait to see you after and hear how it went!" Really, really worth it.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:27 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


If it feels like someone has not treated you well and you think that needs to be expressed, of course do so. There's nothing wrong with it. If the people who are already flakey become even more flakey as a result, as suggested here, then you know to no longer put the slightest effort or care into that relationship any longer. You don't have to keep your mouth shut and "let it go" for fear that they will think you're being over dramatic, too sensitive, or whatever. Again, if they dismiss you with such judgments and become even more flakey then you let them go as a person worth caring about.
posted by Blitz at 2:28 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


Get new friends.

Accept that friends come and go.

Stop doing things you don't want to do.

"Unburdening" yourself on people trying to not be as close to you anymore is just going to make them further annoyed with you. Bad to do with someone you have to live with.
posted by flimflam at 2:55 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


If it helps you feel better, I don't think these people flake on you because they don't value *you* as a friend, I think they flake on you because they don't value friendship much.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:55 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


But I had to organize a special event for my work this week, and for the past two weeks she's been telling me she's coming, and I really appreciated the support.

Normally when someone invites me to a random event, I interpret that as them doing me a favor by letting me in on something they think I'd want to attend myself. I would't normally interpret that as a request for me to attend for their benefit, unless they either said so, or the event was some kind of big-deal-event where the event was explicitly about recognizing/celebrating/honoring them (graduation, wedding, etc).

I more often think of the word "snubbed" as being used to describe not being invited to an event than I do for failing to attend an affair they were invited to.

I sure hope your recounting of your event and her music things are just because you needed some concrete examples, and you're not generally keeping a mental ledger of who did whom which favor when. Because that way lies madness (even if you were both keeping track, and both trying to balance your social accounts, it wouldn't be possible unless you both knew exactly how important/onerous/fun each occasion is to the other)

So unless I'm misreading this and you're already being pretty clear about this, I think you should write a lot of this stuff off as miscommunication, and moving forward start being a little clearer about what you actually want from your friends or roommates, and if any of it feels like kinda a lot to ask, well it's even more to require them to do without asking.
posted by aubilenon at 3:50 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


1. The important things in life don't necessarily need to be expressed in person. This feels like a generational thing to me- I'd much rather be alerted to drama by email or text and then meet up to talk in person later when I've had time to react and organize my thoughts.

2. If someone does the fade out on you, just accept it. It's their right to do so. It sucks but there isn't really a way to make someone return your calls. One thing you can do is preemptively friend break-up with them. "I'm so busy lately, I'm sure you are too. It's been real, gotta go." That puts more of the power on your side and makes things less awkward all around. I tend to go ahead and preemptively "break up" with someone if I can tell they're not that into me as a friend. It saves time and makes it less weird if you meet later on, I think. It also cuts back on the favor-asking.

3. Don't do favors for people. Seriously, just stop. I used to be favors girl, then I realized I never ask other people to do things for me and I really either had to stop doing favors for them, or I had to live my life in such a way that the favors were on both sides. This kind of depends on your milieu- some people are very "we all do things for each other all the time" and some people are very "we all take care of ourselves." The problem is the mismatch. If you haven't asked someone to do something for you recently (and they actually did it) then don't do anything for them. Simple enough.
posted by quincunx at 3:50 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


In these kinds of situations, should I unburden myself by expressing these hurt feelings? Or keep them inside and let them fester and build up walls inside myself.
Why does it have to be either/or? You can express disappointment without unloading a mountain of hurt feelings onto someone, and you can accept disappointment without emotionally cutting someone off.
posted by sm1tten at 3:52 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


As adults, this is not a situation where you get to confront people to make them do things you want them to do. You give what you choose to give, you get what they choose to give you, and you only get to control what you give or what you hang around for.

There's also a valuable lesson here in accepting people as they are, wherever they are at the moment. My social circle includes a lot of people who suffer from anxiety and depression, and people go dark sometimes, or are only capable of certain kinds of interaction, and we all try to forgive each other the minor slights and neglect that go with that.

If you can figure out how to come at this with love, it will make these things less painful. Don't be a doormat, obviously, there's often a time where you have to pull back your investment for a while or permanently, but let them be who they are if you can.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:57 PM on April 29 [6 favorites]


I think you need to get over it. A highschool friend drifting away is called growing up, no one hangs out with their friends in PhD programs very often, and you are not required to go above and beyond for a roommate. Like someone else said you are keeping track of who 'owes' you. You need to stop keeping score, or find new friends. I wonder how old you are, because this is just part of adulthood - your friends are going to take on things that have higher priority than your friendship, that's life.

Maybe that's harsh but I definitely have to put friends on the backburner for the opposite problem: being too needy. Because I'm that stereotypical flaky friend - if you want me to come to your dinner/party/coffee date/recital it'll probably take more than Facebook e-vite no matter how long we've known each other. I want to but: I freelance, I'm busy, and on good days I'm probably barely holding it together (much like I imagine PhD candidates or people with new families are). I've realized people either understand or they don't, and it's out of my control.

If not responding to a text message quickly enough is going to result in someone unburdening themselves in A Serious Conversation About Our Friendship then I'm probably not going to be falling over myself to call them next time. I'm in a different place and I can't give them what they want, so it's best to focus on the battles that I can win.

If you feel your friendships aren't reciprocal enough maybe you need to adopt a similar policy: let the people who are engulfed in their work or lives have some space so you can focus on the friends that are a good fit.
posted by bradbane at 3:58 PM on April 29 [10 favorites]


I don't think it does you much good to complain about flaky behavior to the flake. I mean, you can try, but it probably won't get you what you want. Flakes are gonna flake because literally in that moment they decide they're not in the mood and bail. They're not even thinking about your feelings, they are all, "I wanna be a homebody" (actual line someone I knew used to use) or "The sky is blue, I wanna go chase butterflies instead" or "I have a hangover," and whatever feeling they have in that minute trumps everything. I don't know if I'd say friendship matters or doesn't matter, but what really matters to them is literally In The Moment.

You did the right thing with the grad school flake--she's moved on or is too busy or stopped caring or whatever it was, but you can't have it out with someone who won't call you back. You should stop caring about her because clearly she's already done the same. As for the roommate, I'd also be quite annoyed, but having fights at home is not worth it to me.

My usual attitude about flakes is, "let THEM initiate, and never invite them to anything they can't drop in or out of or that it matters if they show up, or the words "pre-paid" are involved." They are casual friends, not people you are gonna call in a crisis.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:01 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


But, I've gotten the impression that " the Important things in life MUST be expressed in person."

I always got a different impression: You don't do this stuff in text because people can't get your tone of voice from it, you're not there in person to immediately clarify if they misunderstand something, and doing it in text creates this saveable thing that they can reread and stew over. There's no chance for the confrontational memory to fade when they can revisit your exact words and relive the confrontation any time.
posted by cadge at 4:15 PM on April 29


Other people are not you. You cannot measure their behavior by how you would act. Human beings are along a spectrum. It takes all kinds. Once you accept that - it is in this person's nature to be flaky, even if you can't understand that behavior, well, you'll build your relationship with that person based on that acceptance. Think of it as kinds of wood - there's balsa wood, its great feature is how light it is, but it's very weak; there's oak - hard, strong, but heavy. And so on. It would make little sense to place a lot of stress on balsa wood - it would just snap. Use the wood according to its nature.

So too with people. I actually find it quite enlightening and enriching to be friends with those very different from me. The most fundamental thing is to acknowledge that just because I don't understand this or that, doesn't mean I should expect the same of the other person. And so, I don't make plans with flake-friends, but enjoy their company when they are along. I don't count on a flake, for the same reason I don't put a lot of weight on balsa wood - and I don't get irritated, as it would be silly - it's in the nature of balsa wood, it's in the nature of the flake. But they can have other qualities that can be good - perhaps your flake friend is very spontaneous, and you can swing by when you're in the neighborhood and ask them if they want to grab dinner or a drink - and they might agree, and to do that they might blow off some appointment with someone (who will be furious, because they counted - wrongly - on the flake not being a flake).

Accord your friends the status they earn and reveal themselves. But you are in charge of your experiences - and you too have a nature. If you are reliable, that's what your friends will count on. No need to twist and pretzel yourself to accommodate other people's expectations which don't accord with your nature.

As to doing favors - do them if you want to for its own sake. Somebody asks me to do a photoshoot - I might do it simply because I bought a new piece of equipment I want to try out. I expect nothing in return. But yes, there are users. Soon you'll figure out that the person from whom you might need something somehow never delivers, but expects you to deliver all the time. And soon you modify your behavior - not out of spite, but from understanding that their nature is to be a user. And you act accordingly, on your conditions, because you are in charge of yourself - you might laugh and say "no" or you may oblige because you don't mind.

Relax. Don't dwell, and don't expect, and don't brood. It's a total waste of time. Recognize people's natures, and act accordingly - life is a lot more rewarding when you don't have to police everyone according to how you would do this or that. And you too have your nature - focus on that, instead, and let it be your guiding light.
posted by VikingSword at 4:28 PM on April 29 [27 favorites]


Hey! I think some people above are being overly dismissive of your question. The experiences you described sound hurtful and I admire you for looking at them as opportunities to learn and grow.

What I have learned to do when people flake out on me is to treat that as "Helpful Information" about them, their ability to meet my needs, and their attitude toward me.

For example, your roommate doesn't go to the event you organized and invited her to despite the fact that you've put yourself out to help her. This is Helpful Information about your relationship! You now know that one of the following is true:

1. She didn't know how important it was to you. [Did you convey this to her clearly?]
2. She knew how important it was to you and planned to come but she is not capable of being there for you due to lack of planning ability, immaturity, depression, etc.
3. She knew how important it was to you but she didn't care.

This is where the action part comes in. Given that she dismissed something very important to you... Is your friendship with your roommate important enough for you to have a conversation with her in which you risk having to talk about any of the above reasons? Are you okay with living in the aftermath of her saying, "Eh, why are you so emotional, it's no big deal" or "Hey, I'm really depressed right now and that's why I've been flaking" -- i.e. are you invested enough in your friendship that you want to be vulnerable and/or have her be vulnerable?

OR, given that she flaked and that she's your roommate, and friendships with roommates get hairy anyway, can you just distance yourself from the situation and think, "Roommate isn't capable of being my friend because either (a) she doesn't get me and what I think is important or (b) she doesn't value my feelings." And then continue being polite to her but look elsewhere for friendship? Lots of people are not BFFs with their roommates!

Something I'm still working on personally is to "go where I'm welcome" -- I sometimes put way more of my emotional energy into relationships with people who Aren't That Into Me than people who are totally all about being friends. I jump in to help people who didn't even ask me to help and/or aren't capable of reciprocating, then regret it later despite there being obvious clues that they weren't compatible friend-wise. I wonder if you have that tendency too. Good luck and props to you for thinking all of this out.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:44 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]


It's sad, in a way, I know, that the answers here seem to suggest that people cannot or should not change and that friendship ought to be an extremely casual relationship devoid of any serious attempts to accommodate to each other or communicate deep needs, yet the truth is: that is largely the conception of friendship in Western culture.

In other cultures and perhaps for very specific people I might suggest differently, but assuming you live in the US or a similar country, I more or less agree with VikingSword's answer -- it will save you a lot of heartache and headache.
posted by shivohum at 4:47 PM on April 29 [4 favorites]


Can relate.

What I learned from my experience is that those friends who I felt undervalued me or gave me less than I perceived I was giving to them were still friends. They still knew who I was just as your housemate must know you, and that in itself is something worth cherishing.
But that's not to say that you don't need to readjust the kind of friend you thought they were into what they actually are. If your friends are flaky, recognise and acknowledge them as flakes, give less of yourself time-wise and give it to those that give back to you. But don't resent people just because they aren't the kind of friend you expect them to be.

People are never what you expect them to be. Sometimes you can just be so compatible that it seems like they are. The opposite of this is also true.
posted by DeadFlagBlues at 4:55 PM on April 29


I've learned over the years that some people are very giving, and some people are non-giving. Trying to turn a non-giver into a giver is futile. Even if you do 100 favors for them, they still will not feel any obligation to do you a favor.

To a giver, this would be horrifying. Owe someone 100 favors and then refuse them? That's unthinkable. But to a non-giver, it would be like a company sending them unwanted spam emails and then demanding a favor in exchange for sending unrequested spam.

Life is much easier when you are friends with people at your same level of "giving"-ness. Then all these confrontations and hurts disappear. They just naturally do what you expect. Even if you have to do the hard work of forming new friendships, or you have to travel a bit further to hang out with them, it's a worthwhile investment to build those new friendships with equally-giving people.
posted by cheesecake at 5:06 PM on April 29 [8 favorites]


Never expect to be able to change anyone - but do expect to be able to change the way you treat them.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:34 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Specifically on the subject of email/text vs. face to face for difficult communications - someone above pointed out the difficulties that arise because of the lack of nonverbal communication to convey nuance etc. I would also add that I used to do difficult communications by email, and it took me far too long to figure out that my strategy was wrong - I wanted to build a case and explain exactly why I was unhappy, and since I'm a pretty good essayist, I was pretty convincing. This left the other person feeling demolished, like they had nowhere to go, and it was not a really proportional response on my part either. So, I would suggest face-to-face or at least phone for difficult conversations, but if you do decide to send an email, use a light touch. (Maybe write the angry essay enumerating all their wrongs and then delete it, and then send the brief "I'm disappointed, but maybe next time" suggested above.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:59 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


"It's sad, in a way, I know, that the answers here seem to suggest that people cannot or should not change and that friendship ought to be an extremely casual relationship devoid of any serious attempts to accommodate to each other or communicate deep needs, yet the truth is: that is largely the conception of friendship in Western culture."

Well....
(a) in Western culture, friendships change and frequently erode whenever anyone has a Big Life Change such as going to school, moving, getting married, having a kid, etc. So yeah, friendships here are far more likely to be temporary instead of lifelong because we're not all staying in the same village raising our kids together.
(b) Family, i.e. your spouse and children, come waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay first before friends because your friends aren't blood or having sex with you or adopted in the same way.

Mostly my logic behind this one was more along the lines of "You can't make people not flake," though. The OP can't really control what other people do, and Having A Talk About Feelings sounds like it hasn't worked well for posters here who have tried it--you just end up more frustrated and the flake skips off after those butterflies again, or whatever.

You can only control you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:12 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I am not your roommate, and I have not even been in the position of your roommate. I don't know your roommate's general personality, but she is making a decision that I might make (provided she didn't know that she was coming to your event specifically to show you support).

I am a self-effacing people-pleaser, so taking care of myself is HARD. It's a regular thing that a friend invites me to an event, and it sounds like fun, but I have to turn down the opportunity to spend time with them because I need to take care of me.

Your roommate isn't blowing you off so she can play video games and watch netflix, she isn't bowing out to go to pub trivia with her friends, she's backing out (and notifying you!) so she can get her normal amount of productivity in. She's putting herself first and looking out for her own interests... which is what humans have to do. I try very hard to be there when my friends need me, but I need to take care of myself, too. If I implode over not having enough introvert time to keep my head on straight, I won't be able to be a friend to anybody. So sometimes I miss events.

Tit-for-tat friendship doesn't work, especially if it's unspoken.

Before this "flake" issue, did you feel like she should've been in your debt over the previous event you accompanied her at? Did she "owe you one", or are you only making an issue about it because she let you down on this occasion?

Maybe your roommate is entitled and oblivious, in which case you can by all means distance yourself from her and drop her as a friend, but maybe she's just living her own life and not always trying to anticipate when you need her support, or when you are privately inconvenienced but don't ask for help.

Anyway, you've mentioned two unrelated incidents with two unrelated people. So it's hard to see any pattern with them or with you. But work on standing up for yourself. Even if sometimes you find yourself approaching someone who slighted you by saying, "This is a minor issue, but I want to stand up for my feelings so I hope we can talk about it without it being a fight." Humans gotta look out for their own interests.
posted by itesser at 9:55 PM on April 29


I used to hate asking people for help and favors (working on it), so I would never ask unless it was something I really needed.

I assumed that my friends were like me and so I said yes even when it was inconvenient or difficult for me, if there was any way at all I could do it.

At some point I was feeling really resentful of an otherwise very good friend, and something clicked and I realized that actually I had no idea how important - to her - the help I had given her had been. She is good at saying no, and her assumption is that other people will also be easy and good at saying no (or no, but or yes, but) if they need to, so she may as well ask.

It's important TO ME to be there for my friends when they need me, but I had to understand that just because someone asks does not mean they really need me. Now I just do a quick check in, along the lines of 'if I can't do it, do you have other people to ask or other good options? how important is this?' and I'm clear if something is actually really a hassle for me but I'll do it if they're backed into a corner. Nine times out of ten, the ask-er finds a better solution, and if not, they understand that I'm really going out of my way for them and, because they are good friends, appreciate it. I also try to be clear-er when I'm asking for something from them, how important it is to me and how much flakiness there is room for.

That's the compromise that lets me be the kind of person I want to be without feeling put out or resentful. Now I do favors and give help when it is easy OR important.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:46 AM on May 1


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