How to deal with flakey friends?
December 16, 2010 6:11 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with flakey friends who do not commit to their own plans?

I have a friend who gets in the habit of making fake plans, and it's extremely irritating. I love her to death, she's an old friend from college and I do see her all the time and it's always fun, but the chances of it happening are always a crapshoot.

For instance, she'll mention in the beginning of the week, "Can't wait for the end of the week, want to come out with me and some friends on Friday???" and I'll say yes, because I love going out, and I love making plans and having something to look forward to. I'll call/message her in the middle of the week to make sure that everything is still on, and get no response. Then on friday I'll shoot a text asking what's up, where should we meet, and I'm met with "Oh work has been so rough this week sorry I'm too tired." This has happened three times now over the past 4 or 5 weeks - once she was too tired, another time it was "oh sorry dinner with my family tonight" and another time "sorry I forgot I have to be up early tomorrow to travel". From that point I'll either scramble to make plans with someone else or sit around at home disappointed.

It really hurts, not as much because she's abandoning the plans - maybe they're legitimate excuses - but because she has the audacity to make them in the first place. I completely understand the idea of getting stressed by the idea of committing to a plan, or making a plan and then when the day comes immediately regretting it because you're too tired or no longer interested. I get that people do that. But I'm starting to feel like I care a whole lot more about this friendship and the prospect of hanging out than she does and here I am, really looking forward to it like a sucker.

I'm seeking advice to either a) learn how to deal/live with a friend like this from a tactical standpoint or b) how would I discuss this with her without looking like too demanding of a friend (she works a really stressful job 50-60 hours a week and I imagine the last thing she needs is one of her friends getting all dramatic on her). I'd rather her not think "wow, didn't realize this girl is crazy/such a drama queen!" but could see that happening since she probably has no clue what she is doing.

Please advise?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (58 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
she's a flake, don't make plans that depend on her to follow through.
posted by HuronBob at 6:14 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't assume that any plan she makes will happen. Just say "oh, sounds good, let me know later this week if you still want to go." Leave it in her court. Make other plans, if possible/desired. If she later contacts you to follow through, and you have other plans, just say, "oh sorry, I wasn't sure that we were on, I have other plans."
posted by elpea at 6:15 PM on December 16, 2010 [17 favorites]

Do not ever center any part of your life on this person. Strong recommendation to commence cutting them off for good, as they will never change.
posted by The Giant Squid at 6:16 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make your own plans that include, but do not depend on, her. That way if she flakes you still get to go have a good time, and the pressure isn't on her to make things happen.

I've got a friend like this - if she ever makes plans for a Friday night, I make backup plans, because she almost never follows through on Fridays. She's tired, she doesn't feel like it, and she bails. I know this about her, and so I smile and nod and assume she isn't going to show. That way I'm only ever pleasantly surprised.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:17 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Move on, make new friends. Make plans with new friends and invite Flakey McFlakesalot. If she shows up, great, you get to hang out. If not, you still get to enjoy a night out and build a new friendship. Either way you win.

Also go read this comment. Read it a few more times.
posted by special-k at 6:27 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't make plans with her any more. In the nicest possible way, of course, because she will always, always be under more stress than you are. Nevertheless, do not make plans.
posted by tel3path at 6:29 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make more friends and have a broader social circle so you have more going on. Or get hobbies or something -- take a cooking class.

Look, she's busy and stressed and she's a flake. I'm like that. If you're still seeing her other times, I don't want to say you're being too demanding -- you have to decide what you need in your friendship -- but I don't think you can read anything into this about her not wanting to hang out with you or not caring about your friendship.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:29 PM on December 16, 2010

I had a friend like this. In all other respects she was a wonderful friend, but eventually I had to tell her how hurt I was by the way she kept blowing me off when we had made plans. She apologized profusely, promised to make it up to me, and then a week later started pulling the same stuff, at which point I lost my temper and long story short, we're not really close anymore.

In your case I'd say, next time she tries to make plans with you, gently ask her, "Are you sure you're going to be up for it? Because you've canceled all the plans we've made for the past [timeframe]. I know you're under a lot of stress and all, but it's a real bummer when we make plans and then you can't make it." Give her at least that one chance to realize what she's doing, and if she continues to flake out on you after you've politely said something, you've got a clearer idea of where you stand with her. At that point, I'd start declining her offers, but if you're interested in still being friends, maybe invite her along on outings with other people, so even if she doesn't show up, it won't be a total loss.

Don't play any passive-aggressive little games to "teach her a lesson" by making plans and then blowing HER off, though. You're both adults; use your words.
posted by Gator at 6:39 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

But I'm starting to feel like I care a whole lot more about this friendship and the prospect of hanging out than she does and here I am, really looking forward to it like a sucker.

It's not you, it's her. There are lots of people like this, and the technical term for them is flake. She will not become more dependable, no matter what you say or do, so don't put yourself on the line over this. I agree with others here--just don't make plans with her anymore.
posted by uans at 6:42 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

It really hurts, not as much because she's abandoning the plans - maybe they're legitimate excuses - but because she has the audacity to make them in the first place.

It seems likely that when she makes the plans she has every intention in the world of carrying through. With you. As her friend.

What she lacks is an ability to realistically schedule her time. I know any number of people like this -- good intentions out the wazoo, and always honestly believing that they'll be able to deliver 400%.

It's unlikely that she'd be able to change her ways here (although she'll promise in earnest to try!) so I would skip the talk and just accept that a) her intentions are good and b) she'll rarely if ever carry through on them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:47 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't play any passive-aggressive little games to "teach her a lesson" by making plans and then blowing HER off, though. You're both adults; use your words.

Yes, this.
posted by spinturtle at 6:50 PM on December 16, 2010

Thank God - I thought I was the only person this happened to (slight sarcasm, but not much, really, as this behavior completely gets on my nerves). This behavior, and its idiot cousin "yeah, great, we'd love to do something with you (and in fact we're the ones who brought it up), but we're gonna shoot down every suggestion you give as to, precisely, WHEN..." - I don't know whether to characterize it as some kind of passive-aggressive dance, or just bone-headedness, but people who practice it on me become very low on my priority list.

Here's something that was a big breakthrough for me: it doesn't matter why they do it, and you can't fix it. Trying to a) figure out their motivation or b) fix them is just burning cycles uselessly. Move on. If you enjoy their company, like, bunches the few times it does work out, then do as has been suggested and just always have a backup plan.

I also have another zany suggestion that has worked for a few nit-wits that I nevertheless enjoy being with. Always tag them on the spur of the moment. Call your friend on Friday afternoon and say "let's go somewhere after work," or call them in the morning around 9 and say "let's go to lunch today." If they're having a good day, schedule-wise, they might say yes, otherwise you're more likely to get a straight no and you can move on.

Now to partly renege on my statement about not bothering to figure out why people renege all the time - I do attribute, on the general societal level, to people being too busy, over-committed, and to a breakdown in how we work our schedules caused, at least in part, by all these stupid scheduling and communications gadgets we have. I've never been one to break plans with people, but I have been one to be insanely overscheduled because when you called me for lunch LAST week, this coming Thursday looked wide open. But as Thursday has approached, and the boss asked for the quote to be done, my kid's choir thing has bobbed up at short notice, and the wife is reminding me to get Xmas cards done, well...

There was a pretty good thread recently; perhaps someone will remember when and where, because I can't. We're generally too optimistic about how our time will go, and we are too prone to believe we will have more time, money, and energy in the future than we have ever had in the past or present.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:56 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Someone else here on askme once articulated something akin to the famous ask/guess distinction, except with respect to how people make plans.

For some people (like you), a plan is a serious thing--agreeing to it is making a commitment that requires either upholding that commitment or suffering dire consequences for breaking it.

For others, making plans is like daydreaming, a constant process of articulating possibilities and opening up new avenues of things to do. Making a plan is as cheap as brainstorming places to eat--come up with five, whittle the choices down to one. Planning implies no obligation to follow through, you're just throwing ideas out and seeing which ones stick.

For the former, the behaviour of the latter is flakiness and irritating and disrespectful, but the latter don't see themselves as being that way because you're the one making the mistake of thinking that a commitment was in place. Now you know better--when your friend makes plans with you, they're not commitments, they're ideas that may or may not come to fruition if the stars align.

So don't depend upon your friend's plan, and don't read any commitment into it. If it happens, enjoy it, but don't expect it to happen, and don't avoid other (committed) plans because of it.
posted by fatbird at 7:02 PM on December 16, 2010 [33 favorites]

You should organize your own events and invite her as one of the people who might show. That way, if she bails, so what?
posted by zippy at 7:11 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tactically, probably the best thing to do is use your words, like Gator said. And maybe meet her halfway by making it easier for her to follow through.

Example: Hey, Friend, I know it's hard for you to make plans on Monday for Friday when you don't know how your week is going to go. I'd really love to see you, though - what's the best way to make this happen?

Honestly, the only reason I'm not like your friend is that I now know my limitations. "want to come out with me and some friends on Friday???" is NOT a plan, that's a wish. It's optimism, which has died a miserable death by Wednesday. Friday two weeks from now, at 8pm, at X location is a plan.

I actually need quite a bit of time to get accustomed to the fact of social commitments. If you ask me today to go do something tomorrow, I may say yes because I want to be the kind of person who says yes, but I'm mostly going to spend the day worried about getting my work done on time and not having traffic problems and the disruption of the thing I thought I was going to do with my night. I really prefer 10 days or more to get used to the idea of whatever thing it is on my calendar. I can be more flexible most of the time, but it becomes intensely necessary when I am in a depressive cycle and have a very limited amount of energy for either disruptions or socializing.

It is very possible people have cut me out of their lives because of what a bad horrible person this makes me, in which case I say fuck 'em, I didn't need them in my life, certainly not during times when I'm so depressed I'm really not handling it well. You can be friends with people who have needs different with your own without being a doormat, but step one is a clear line of communication so that both of you agree on what constitutes a "plan".
posted by Lyn Never at 7:12 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

Make other plans at the same time as the plans with the flake. Just make sure the other plans are not dependent upon you showing up.

I had to start doing this for people that would say "I'll be there in an hour" and then leave me waiting around for 3 while they drive through imagination land.
posted by zephyr_words at 7:13 PM on December 16, 2010

Mefites have had many problems with this. Some people are planners, some are flakes, you can't take it personally.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:16 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is likely out of left field, but does your friend have an anxiety disorder by any chance? I am a bit of flake when it comes to keeping social commitments because sometimes I become very anxious and don't feel capable of functioning in a social situation. I have bailed on numerous plans with friends over the years simply because I needed to work through a panic attack or recharge after a work day that required me to be extroverted. In a nutshell, your friend's flakiness probably doesn't have anything to do with you. If she is a wonderful friend in other ways, then try to focus on that.
posted by pinetree at 7:18 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Here's how you handle it:


Flaky Friend: Can't wait for the end of the week, want to come out with me and some friends on Friday?

You: It would be fun to hang out, not sure what my plans are yet, but let me know later in the week when you make concrete plans.

Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday rolls around and you haven't heard from her:

Another actual non flaky friend: Hey want to go a drink Friday?

You (without consulting at all with flaky friend): Yes

Friday afternoon rolls around:

Flaky Friend: Hey so we're all going to X bar at 9.

You: Hey I've already made plans to get a drink with my non flaky friend, but if we feel like it I'll text you later and maybe we can all meet up.

Bottomline: Never depend on her and never pass on making other plans. Keep things open, put the onus on her to follow up with you if the plans actually materialize and then if it is convenient to you to go out with her. Also I would automatically assume that any vague plans are not going to happen. If there isn't a location and time, it's just a fun idea that she'll probably forget she ever mentioned to you.
posted by whoaali at 7:21 PM on December 16, 2010 [7 favorites]

Do not ever center any part of your life on this person. Strong recommendation to commence cutting them off for good, as they will never change.

And one other reason:

Flakes will always fail at life, and will drag you down with them.

- This is because none of us succeed alone. Our "success" in life (however we define that, whatever we value) is closely linked to the quality of those around us.
- Flakes cannot and do not succeed; people cannot rely on them, so flakes do not get included in Things That Matter, by People Who Have Their Shit Together, (let alone by People Who Make A Difference.)
- Therefore, flakes tends to accumulate other flakes as friends, as normal people eventually distance themselves, or give up and move on.
- Surrounded by other flakes then, their compass drifts as to what is normal. The size of the problem isn't apparent to them - you're the one taking things too seriously!
- People succeed by (among other things) getting shit done. Flakes impede that, precluding and destroying success, both for themselves, and for anyone around them who trusts them with anything that matters.
- Surrounded disproportionately by flakes and so lacking reliable people willing to collaborate with them, even their non-flaky efforts are doomed.

It really sucks to like someone who is toxic to the future of anyone around them, including yours.
It really sucks to watch someone you care about destroy their own life, without understanding why or how it is happening.
Flakes can be awesome people, awesome fun to be around.
In the short term.
In the long term, they're poison.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:29 PM on December 16, 2010 [20 favorites]

I have a friend like this. Like your friend, she will make plans and, at times, even beg me to go out on a certain day/night and then totally bail at the last minute. She's also very prone to trying to make last minute plans that don't really fly. I was also very irritated by this behavior.

note: whenever you feel frustrated by a situation, something in your thinking needs paying attention to. It's screaming at you through your frustration.

How I'm dealing with it? I am shifting my idea of the friendship. She's a good person, she has many qualities that I cherish in a friend but, she's a flake. I know it. She knows it. As much as I value the friendship (and I know she values it as well.) , I realized that my disappointment and frustration was costing me more energy and time than I wanted to spend so I began changing the way I thought about our friendship. Which, in turn, has shifted our dynamic: I don't rely on her in a way that would leave me hanging, when we do hang out, I enjoy what's awesome about her (her sponteneity, her creatively and great sense of humor) and when we make plans to hang, I hang loose and have made/kept other plans if I felt things were going south in our plans (the other plans could range from: sitting on my couch with a movie to going out to do any numbers of things with other people.) What's been interesting about the experience so far is that those feelings of irritation have died down and I feel emotionally lighter. Funnily enough, she has been really proactive in making sure plans made are kept...YMMV
posted by Hydrofiend at 7:31 PM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

What she lacks is an ability to realistically schedule her time.

This. It'll do you no good to take it personally.

If you needed her to pick you up from the hospital, would she do it? If she'd flake on that, too, it's a different story, but from your description, it just sounds like she's bad at estimating her own ability to socialize after work.

You know the old saying about not going to the hardware store for milk? It sounds like she has a lot of other good qualities- just make sure those are all you are expecting from her. Don't boycott the hardware store because you wanted milk from it.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:32 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is the sort of friend you only invite (a) at the last minute, like Friday at 6, or (b) to parties where it doesn't matter if she shows up or not. Never, ever believe her when she attempts to make plans with you. Make her call you if they are actually going to go through, assume if you don't hear from her they are not (and don't make a nag call).
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

(There are flakes who have everything going for them, whose wonderful life seems to defy what I've written above, but it still all catches up with them in the long run. Especially when compared with people who have everything going for them who aren't flakes.)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:34 PM on December 16, 2010

When making plans with flakey friends I try to assume they won't follow through. I include other people or have a plan B that doesn't rely on the flake. If they end up not flaking, then I'm pleasantly surprised. When they do flake: eh, go figure. If I let myself count on them and they bail I just end up bummed out and who the fuck wants that?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:36 PM on December 16, 2010

Flakes cannot and do not succeed; people cannot rely on them, so flakes do not get included in Things That Matter, by People Who Have Their Shit Together, (let alone by People Who Make A Difference.)

Not true. Don't cut your friend out because of one irritating habit. Just because she is flaky in one area does not make her a loser in all areas. I have trouble remembering dates and things and generally don't remember my friends' birthdays, etc... which has caused some hurt feelings even though I've explained my problem with dates (hell, half the time I can't remember when Xmas is - how am I supposed to remember when someone's birthday is?).

However I'm not a toxic person who will drag everyone around me into a black hole of loserness.
posted by patheral at 7:45 PM on December 16, 2010 [5 favorites]

i am your flaky friend. i have great intentions, and terrible follow through, due to both poor time management and social anxiety issues.

i like you - really i do! - so please don't take it personally. it's a personality flaw that i'm aware of and i often feel terrible about it.

i recommend explaining to your friend, gently, that you have noticed this flakiness, and ask how you two can best make plans so that when they are made, they stick.
posted by woodvine at 7:46 PM on December 16, 2010 [12 favorites]

On an intellectual level maybe, but on an emotional level I really, really don't understand some of the responses to this friend, both in the original post and in some of the comments. It's the whole idea of making plans to hang out and that being a big commitment -- that feels super heavy when hanging out with friends is supposed to be light and fun. Having serious plans for casual stuff is stressful and just doesn't make sense to me.

Maybe I'm projecting, and maybe your friend isn't like me in this regard at all, but maybe she is. Understanding that you're (potentially) coming from a very different place about this stuff is going to be important if you want to deal.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:59 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

patheral: From you desciption of yourself, you don't really sound too flakey. (If I may be flippant, 50% of the population (guys) don't care to remember birthdays :-)

OP is talking about someone who regularly makes plans, gets people to count on them, then bails when it's too late for those people to make other plans.

Then, instead of crawling over broken glass if necessary to ensure she doesn't do the same thing next time that person trusts her, she figures it's ok behaviour (she got away with it last time, right?) and she just does it again.

I don't think that's going to be an isolated quirk like your trouble with dates, I think that's going to be a hydra with heads all through her life.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:59 PM on December 16, 2010

I have a friend who's exactly like this (as you say, the most annoying part is that she herself suggests stuff, usually with something like "oh we really should do much more stuff together!!!" thrown in...and then she flakes out in the last minute).

Once when I was particularly annoyed, I told her that maybe, since she has a hard time following up on such long-term commitments, it would be better if she only suggests stuff if she can do it right away (like, "Let's have a coffee now"). She never suggested any spontaneous stuff, but...her flakiness has much improved since and she usually sticks to her commitments now (at least with me). I think for her it was enough to realize that it was an issue for me.

Above all, do not take this personally. In my experience, this is not a sign for you being a "sucker", you just have different personalities. She can still be a good friend to you.
posted by The Toad at 8:04 PM on December 16, 2010

One of my dearest, closest friends in the world does this ALL. THE. TIME. I love her to death, and she loves me. Before I really truly knew her habits I would make plans with her, innocently thinking they would actually happen, and 7 times out of 10 she would bail. I got pissed and would call her on it, and complain to my other friends who she did this with too. Didn't change anything. She is how she is. Now I just don't ever rely on her for plans unless they are happening that same day. And even then... What she is really good for is being my "hey, let's spontaneously go get a beer or see this band" friend. Which is good, because I need more spontaneity in my life.

This is why I have cultivated several other friendships with people who are freakin' sticklers for seeing plans through, they balance things out nicely.
posted by medeine at 8:07 PM on December 16, 2010

Does your friend have health issues of any sort that might make it hard for her to carry through on plans? I know I flake on things that I should do when I'm going through a rough time with my chronic illness. It's not because I don't love my friends or don't take them seriously or whatever; it's because I'm sick and I have to choose what I can do, and sometimes that precludes going out for fun stuff I really want and mean to do. (Like, this week, a meetup, which sucked.)
posted by immlass at 8:30 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

a) learn how to deal/live with a friend like this from a tactical standpoint or b) how would I discuss this with her without looking like too demanding of a friend (she works a really stressful job 50-60 hours a week and I imagine the last thing she needs is one of her friends getting all dramatic on her). I'd rather her not think "wow, didn't realize this girl is crazy/such a drama queen!" but could see that happening since she probably has no clue what she is doing.

There are two kinds of people (with possible shades of grey in-between)- "flakes" and the "freaks" (and those are the names one has for the other). Flakes can say a lot of things "casually" (don't ask me why, I am a "freak") and apparently they just say it. Not like the "freaks" would, who will say what they mean and mean what they say. No less, no more. So if she sounds "flake" to you, you are very likely a "freak" to her.

Don't go with b) because-

1. That will make you look freakier than ever.

2. She won't get it. Even if you think she did, she will do it again.

Go with a)-

1. She is not the last person on the earth who has this in-built nature. Once you can realise that her personality is not the same as yours, every time she does something that upsets you, instead of saying to yourself, "What the hell..", you can say,"Oh, she is just like that. Maybe another time."

2. Since you know she is a flake, try not to wait till Friday if you haven't heard back from her by mid-week or something. Unless you have a place and time to meet, just assume that its not happening. When she asks you about it, since you decided to meet at the beginning of the week/weekend, just remind her gently saying, "oh, I wasn't sure if we were meeting. Remember last time, when we couldn't?" I must add here that you can do this only sometimes. If you do this every single time, you'll just get freakier than ever to her. Forgive sometimes, remind at others. That's how you meet halfway.

3. Don't expect her to get you/your nature. Spare your time and sanity and keep your expectations really (and I mean REALLY) low with flakes.

4. God bless you. Flakes...tch, tch.
posted by xm at 8:38 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who is a flake in my own personal life, I have to say that you probably shouldn't clear time on your schedule for me - as sad as that is, I don't blame you in the least.

I have sort of a chronic problem of being perpetually overwhelmed - sometimes actually, but also sometimes imagined. I dodge making plans and instead I become very anxious at home thinking about/doing all the work I have to do for my job/school. This has always been a problem for me, but I feel a new years resolution coming on, college is supposed to be the best time in my life I'm told, but so far personally it has been a stressful nightmare. In my meek defense though, working 20-30 hours a week and being a full time student isn't a cake walk.
posted by mister-m at 8:55 PM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

patheral: From you desciption of yourself, you don't really sound too flakey. (If I may be flippant, 50% of the population (guys) don't care to remember birthdays :-)

Not to derail, but I'm female. I'm expected to remember birthdays (and anniversaries, and how long I've known people, and what day we met, and whatever...). After all, they happen every year, right? It's very similar to the OP's problem with their friend. Friends get upset because after all, they've never forget MY birthday, how could I forget theirs? They must care more about the friendship than I do... it's just not so. I just have a rotten memory for dates.
posted by patheral at 9:08 PM on December 16, 2010

It really hurts, not as much because she's abandoning the plans - maybe they're legitimate excuses - but because she has the audacity to make them in the first place.

"Audacity" is an interesting word choice. I think she and you just have different interpretations of what "Let's get together on Friday" means.

Why don't you figure out what your bottom lines are for making plans that work for you, and then tell her and stick to it? Just say, "Hey, listen, I've been thinking about this after the last couple weeks when our plans fell through. I really need to know for sure X (1 day, 2 days, whatever) in advance whether we're going to actually go out or not. I know that your life is really crazy, so if you can't commit to it that far in advance for any given week, then can you just tell me that, and we won't make solid plans (although if it turns out you want to go out after all, you can give me a try and see if I'm free)? I totally understand that occasionally things will come up and you'll have to bail on our plans at the last minute, and that's fine by me, as long as it's the exception and not the rule. Does that make sense?"

And then when she says "Let's get together Friday!" you say "Sounds great! Give me a call on Wednesday to firm up our plans... if I don't hear from you by the end of the night Wednesday, I'll figure something else came up and I'll make other plans, just so you know." (Optional-- you, on Wednesday, leaving her a message: "I wanted to see if you were still planning to get together on Friday. Can you please call or text to confirm yes, and the time and place? If I don't hear from you by tomorrow morning, I'm going to figure we're not going to and I'll go ahead and make other plans.")
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:13 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll add myself to the other folks here saying they're the flaky friend. This might help you navigate your friend: for me, there's a certain point at which an idea becomes a plan, and there is a distinction between the two. To me, expressions of interest in an activity are still at the idea stage until there is a definite time or place pinned down. I consider something like "Let's go out Friday" basically provisional. "Let's go to X Bar at 9:00 on Friday" is a real plan that I would not bail out on lightly because it's something I've inscribed in my mental calendar. Even "I don't know what we'll actually do, but let's meet up at your place at 7:00 and take it from there" is a plan that I'll honor. This isn't some sort of litmus test I purposely apply to be douchey; just the way I realized I subconsciously interpret my schedule.
posted by threeants at 9:28 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

All you can do is assume she doesn't mean it when she says it (even if she thinks she does mean it). And just respond, "Sure, let me know if you end up going out." In the meantime, plan your time as if she never offered in the first place. Then, if she actually does follow through with the plan, it is a pleasant surprise whether you can make it out or not.
posted by wondermouse at 9:36 PM on December 16, 2010

There are activities I'm involved in, where flakiness is extremely dangerous. Namely, indie film projects. When you cast a film with unknowns, or actors just trying to break in, you quickly learn how to deal with flakes. If you hire a flake, your production is in great peril. They may bail half-way through, thus completely dooming an enterprise you've staked 2-3 years of your life and all your resources on. It's fatal. And a huge number of actors on that level (just breaking in, or who are unable to break in) are chronically flaky. You put out a casting call, and only 20% of the actors show up. You do a call-back, and only half show up. And so on. Yet, given the stakes, it is critical that you know how to deal with them.

Here's what I learned. You must weed them out. Period. And many things you do are counter-intuitive. For example, when you cast them, your natural instinct would be to a)keep in touch, b)as the date of production approaches, to call them etc. Wrong. I never do that, and on purpose. I made an agreement with them - they understand that the stakes are very high. They must therefore live for those dates. If they can't be arsed to remember such important dates, they are flakes and I'm grateful for the opportunity to find out their flaky nature before I sink all my resources into them. I welcome them flaking out, and I won't do anything to impede that Darwinian process of self-weeding out. Oh, and you'll always get the "emergency" story. Funny thing, is if you fall for the emergency story, and think it'll never happen again... well, it'll always be some emergency or other and the once-in-a-lifetime thing will keep happening (they should play the lottery since they're such statistical freaks). Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Same with flaky friends. It's pointless to get angry. You don't get angry that a shark bites or a kite flies. That's their nature. It's your job to use your knowledge of their nature to work with, not against their nature. I have a dear friend who is a massive flake. He makes plans, I nod sagely, and then go about my business - if he's late, well, he'll just have to catch up with us, and it's his bad luck to miss out on the restaurant feast, so he'll just join us for drinks. Or he'll miss drinks, and we'll meet at the show. Or he'll be late for the show, and we'll talk on the phone and I'll tell him all about the show. And so on. Roll with the punches. On the other hand, if I need something, I have no compunction about calling and telling him "I'm coming right over", and I don't care what plans he has, he'll just have to flake on those, since he can't manage his time for the life of him, and I'm just adjusting to his MO.

Bottom line: you must accept her for what she is - a great friend, who happens to have blue eyes, and who happens to be a flake - that's just part of who she is. Accept this. And now, act as if your plans are #1, and she has to adjust. You tell her what you're doing with friends, and she has to catch up with you, cause you ain't waiting. Tell her once, and never repeat yourself again.

Btw., there's an iron rule in the entertainment business. You call ONCE. Not twice, three times or nineteen times. ONCE. If you don't get to the person, you leave word, and await their callback. Never call again, if they don't call you back. That rule was instituted by talent agencies for their clients (and in dealings with studios and other agents etc.), because if the actor got used to being called more than once, he'd start blowing off your calls, figuring "you'll just call again". NO. You got to train them - you call once, period, end of story. Same here. Make the plan once. Then you fall silent. This is my one piece of very solid advice that goes against all the voices here who keep telling you to confirm and re-confirm etc. - it's utterly, utterly wrong, because this "call once" is something that has been honed by an entire industry where flakiness is both very prevalent and very costly. It's the only sane way to proceed.
posted by VikingSword at 11:14 PM on December 16, 2010 [21 favorites]


I respectfully differ. I am a "flake" by these criteria when it comes to purely social events. But I am quite a success at life, by many measures.

It is much like ask/guess culture. I make tentative plans based on what might be fun to do... and if I don't feel like it, then I don't go. There's no reason to go to a purely social event, for the purpose of enjoyment, if you won't enjoy going!

I resent the implication that this makes me "poison". Poison is a person who forces others to do something they don't want to do (or pretend to enjoy something they don't).

So how to deal with your flakey friend? As others have suggested, make tentative plans with her, and if something better comes along, do that instead.
posted by alternateuniverse at 2:51 AM on December 17, 2010

I wish -harlequin- were right, but in my experience, the flakes are always bailing at the last minute because they got either a) a better offer or b) pressure from one of their other obligations that would cost them more to flake on at that point than it would cost them to flake on me.

In this way, they are constantly plate-spinning their successes and failures. By constantly jumping to whatever activity would bring them either the most benefit or the least harm, they tend to become very successful very quickly.

They also tend to have a huge rotation of people pencilled into every window in their schedule, so the idea of stuff catching up with them never really happens. If they have 100 friends and they alienate 90, it doesn't matter because in the time it took them to alienate those 90 friends, they made 100 more friends. In all likelihood they won't even notice you're missing.
posted by tel3path at 6:38 AM on December 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

Your response depends on the other aspects of your friendship.

A. There's the tried-and-true DTMFA approach. But it sounds like you don't want that.
B. There's the approach suggested by whooali above (and others). When your friend calls on Monday to make plans for Friday night, say "why don't you check back with me on Friday afternoon?" and then forget the conversation ever happened.
C. Challenge your friend. When your friend calls on Monday, say "look, the last 3 times you initiated something, you bailed without a word. Why should I schedule anything else with you?" I've got a flaky friend--he doesn't forget entirely, he just shows up 4 hours late. When he schedules something, I always challenge him: "is that clock-on-the-wall time, or is that your time?" We're good enough friends that I can do that and he doesn't get offended.
posted by adamrice at 7:24 AM on December 17, 2010

I have been that flake for long periods of time and it was because my health was going downhill fast and I had no idea which days would be good days and which days would be bad days but it took me a long time to stop making plans as if I were still healthy.

So unless you have evidence that she's blowing you off to go do things with other people instead of you, I wouldn't take it as commentary on your relationship or an intentional slight. She very well may have other things going on in her life that are genuinely interfering with her ability to follow through.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:25 AM on December 17, 2010

I don't care why "flakes" are bailing. This is basic golden rule stuff.

If you have learned you are not good at making plans, then don't make them. Grow a pair. Don't make actual plans with people - such as "let's see the 7:30 My Dinner With Jar Jar at the Aztec Theater on Friday." Tell people you think that might be fun and the two of you should talk Friday. If people ask you to do something where you would actually be needed - such as helping with a kid's party - say that you'd like to do such and such but you can't commit for sure just yet. And for Pete’s Sake don’t volunteer to do such things – especially if you are one of those flaky people who has a weird performance thing where you will just go on and on in a group setting about what you’d love to do for someone. As soon as you leave, or later, we’ll all have to discuss about who will actually have to do what you volunteered to do.

If you have friends and family who are flakes, read VikingSword's post a few times.

alternateuniverse - There are reasons to go to a purely social event if you won't enjoy going. The reason is - relationships are reciprocal and built on trust. I might not enjoy going to dinner with my friend, his uptight right-wing parents, and his brother who has just come out. But I enjoy having genuine friendships and they're not all sunshine and rainbows.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:32 AM on December 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm basically blowing off a buddy like this. I don't ever make plans with him. Everytime he tries to make plans with him I tell him "I don't make plans with you--call me at the time you want to go out."
posted by Ironmouth at 8:07 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm tactless, but I let these people know what they're doing.

Friend: "Hey, we should totally go to the mall/zoo/candy store on Friday!"
Me: "We're not going and you know it."
Friend: "But we are! You are making no sense."
Me: "You can't keep these plans; remember yesterday, and last week, and that time last month? etc."

Someone has to tell them.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:08 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I invite those people to group activities. I'm happy if they show up. But if they flake I can still have a good time.
posted by valadil at 8:41 AM on December 17, 2010

I am just like your friend, and it is my worst fear that you lose hope or patience and cut me off completely, or that you begin to think I don't care about our friendship as much as you do. Much of my flakiness is due to poor time management, but embedded in this and superseding it are depression and anxiety issues. I always get excited about seeing friends and making plans, but often when the time comes I'm feeling like burrowing in my bed in the dark and never setting foot in the world again, and though I feel awful and guilty and sad about flaking out on you, I can't bear the thought of forcing myself into society b

My best advice would be to make plans as little in advance as possible with people like this. Spur of the moment things usually pan out much better.
posted by whalebreath at 9:12 AM on December 17, 2010

There are different varieties of flakes, so you have to figure out which one you're dealing with.

First, there are flakes who have so many friends and options that they flake with no negative consequences, as tel3path describes. To put a more positive spin on this kind of flake, these are people who are super social and friendly, always the center of the fun, and always with lots of places to go and lots of people to meet. As a result, they also tend to be more spontaneous and less rule-bound; and they don't fixate on any one social event as being crucial. Hence, they flake. But you live with this kind of flake, well, because they're really fun! And they introduce you to lots of new people and things! The key to dealing with these kinds of flakes is to take their friendship much more casually than you may be -- they aren't your best friend. They aren't really the best-friend type. So scale down your sense of mutual obligation accordingly.

Second, there are flakes who are just overwhelmed by the pressures of life. They have demanding jobs; depression; anxiety; whatever -- that makes socializing difficult and time more valuable. You should probably be supportive and understanding of them to a degree, as long as the flaking doesn't become a constant pattern.

Third, there are flakes who just don't really want to be around you, or don't really value your friendship at all. You should probably get rid of these ones.

In any case, I think it's a little overly dramatic to say that they are "toxic to the future of anyone around them, including yours." If you make such drastic assumptions you'll never really figure out what's going on and how to deal with it.
posted by yarly at 12:05 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Look, I work 50-60 hours a week too - and that's a good week - it doesn't give you license to be a bad communicator or disregard people's time entirely. That's a really weak excuse.

That said, you are enabling this sort of behavior by not letting her know that this bothers you and setting some boundaries.

Tell your friend directly that she should stop suggesting getting together if it's too much of a load on her shoulders to go out and, in instances where she's too exhausted or stressed to hang, to give you a few hours notice that she wants to back out of an existing plan. All it takes is a quick text or email. Don't be nervous or emotional about it. That's a completely valid and rational request. Don't be an ass about it either - my guess is she will apologize and agree with you entirely as soon as you mention it. If she doesn't, you are probably better off finding a new friend.

Once that is off the table, I'd recommend the following moving forward:

- Nail down plans at that moment an outing is suggested. Decide when, where and what time. If they can't or don't feel comfortable making plans then, make a date to talk again on an exact day to make those decisions ahead of time.

- Stop being the person to follow up. If the friend drops the ball, make a new plan.

- Never agree to go out last minute if you don't like to go out last minute. People will take the hint.

Some people don't mind this sort of spontaneous, on the fly social life. In fact, some say that's more exciting. If that isn't your bag, it's important to communicate that to your friends so they know. It will save you a lot of unnecessary misunderstandings in the long run and help you narrow your circle down to the right kind of friends for you.
posted by amycup at 12:30 PM on December 17, 2010

How do you deal with flakey friends who do not commit to their own plans?

You don't commit to their plans either.
posted by Bongotrance Rabbitfriend at 12:48 PM on December 17, 2010

Flakes have the responsibility to not make plans with other people they can't keep. It's that simple. There is no excuse. If you are aware of your own bad time management, psychological or physical health problems, social anxiety, long/unpredictable work hours, then you have everything you need to make the decision to stop making plans with other people that you can't keep. If you are not aware of these issues, at the very least you should be aware of your poor track record for showing up. If you know you're going to flake, then either don't make plans or ensure other people know that you might flake out for every plan you do agree to. If you're not doing the above, then you're not being a responsible person and the problem lies with you.

And if you make "tentative" plans by default, then you have the responsibility to be clear that you are making tentative plans that might change. If you don't get that clarified and you don't show up, then the problem lies with you. "Let's go watch a movie at 9:00PM on Saturday night" doesn't mean "Let's go watch a movie at 9:00PM on Saturday night only if both of us feel like going when the time comes." Note the extra information - if you don't mention it, are you expecting people to read your mind? Of course, you don't have to specify every time that it's tentative if that's already established between all parties involved (e.g. if everyone knows what to expect), but make sure you clarify to anyone who doesn't know you that well.

As for how to deal with flakes, simple. First trust that they're not a flake. If they flake out on you once, next time you remind them that they flaked you out before and accept only if they apologize and reassure it won't happen again. If they flake you out a second time after that, remind them both previous times and accept only if they apologize and reassure twice as much as last time that it won't happen again. Keep on raising the standard until either they stop flaking or you stop accepting their plans.

Meanwhile, if you suspect someone might flake out, plan alternative activities for when they do. The alternative activities doesn't have to involve other people.

Another simple way of dealing with it is just to make sure that the plan you make with the flake involves more than just you and the flake, so the whole plan won't get canceled just because the flake flaked out.
posted by Gilbelithiel at 3:27 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I don't understand "let's go out with friends for drinks on Friday" as a plan; it's an expression of interest. (I hadn't realized that until this thread made me start thinking about it.) If you do understand this as a plan, but your friend doesn't, you guys need to iron out this communication issue.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:42 PM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

An important part of my experience with my friend mentioned above and forgot to add but has been captured by many posters: My friend has time management challenges which stem from social anxiety. She is well aware of this and has communicated this to me as well when I broached a conversation about the dynamic of our friendship during a really hard time I was having. That knowledge, as slow as I am in absorbing it, is allowing me to really realize that her inability to commit/confirm/keep plans was truly about something she was struggling with.

That conversation didn't make everything better in our dynamic, me doing the work to not feel irritated is what's doing that, but it gave me a frame of reference and is allowing me to detach her behavior from my feelings. Maybe, if you're so inclined, have brunch and broach the topic. See what she says. Whatever it is, you will have more information about why she can't commit to plans consistently.
posted by Hydrofiend at 4:06 PM on December 17, 2010

J. Wilson, if somebody said to me, "let's go out with friends for drinks sometime," I'd take it as seriously as if they said, "yeah, I'd like to go to Norway/run a half marathon/read the complete works of Shakespeare someday."

If they say "let's go out with friends for drinks on Friday," I assume this is a plan the details of which have yet to be filled in, but unless otherwise stated that's what we're doing on Friday.

If they say "let's go out for drinks to Bar Humbug on Friday and bring Zeus and Flossie and your tall friend with the hair," well, we're practically engaged. You see?
posted by tel3path at 6:37 PM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

tel3path: I'm not saying my understanding of that is right and yours is wrong. The important thing is, they both exist, and they're different.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:32 PM on December 17, 2010

J. Wilson: likewise :-)
posted by tel3path at 6:56 AM on December 18, 2010

"Can't wait for the end of the week, want to come out with me and some friends on Friday???"

I'm with J. Wilson on not seeing this as a plan. There's no time -- it could be at 5pm, it could be at 11pm -- I certainly can't plan to meet up with someone else earlier or later in a way that it would be scheduled around this sort of suggestion. There's no place to meet -- I wouldn't even know if I'd need to bring my car that day, it could be an hour's drive or a 5 minute walk. No idea what I'd be doing, I might not have the budget for sushi and an expensive ticket to something, or if they all want to go to the trendy cigar bar I certainly would not be interested.

It's not specific enough to be a plan, if someone said this I would not block out all of Friday evening for "out, place unknown". Who, what, where, when -- you've only got one of those in this so-called plan.

I think you should deal with your friend by acting like you can make other plans on Friday when she says something vague, since you haven't committed to any plans of any sort.
posted by yohko at 6:06 PM on December 20, 2010

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