What should I do about people who flake on me?
April 14, 2011 10:42 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with friends who cancel on you at the last minute constantly?

Ever since I moved to NYC I've had trouble with friends who cancel on me at the last minute in a way I feel is rude. I'm OK with people canceling because they are sick or canceling when their presence doesn't make or break the plans, but when I've made dinner reservations or bought concert tickets and they cancel the day of the event that really throws a wrench in things. Should I call these people out and tell them that this makes things really difficult for me? Should I just refrain from inviting them to things that would be messed up if they cancelled? Is this sort of behavior normal?

When dating and there has been similar behavior, I have dropped the person in question, but with friends it seems kind of harsh.
posted by melissam to Human Relations (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Stop making plans with them.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:44 AM on April 14, 2011 [13 favorites]

I agree with jerseygirl... no more plans with said offenders.
posted by AlliKat75 at 10:46 AM on April 14, 2011

Let them be the ones to buy the tickets or make the reservation. If it's their money on the line, they might start being more reliable.
posted by amelioration at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2011 [11 favorites]

If there is a purchase involved (e.g. concert tickets) then make them pay up front. They'll be less likely to casually make plans that they'll be likely to drop.
posted by olinerd at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Don't make plans that would leave you footing a huge bill if they flake. Coffee dates only, and even then, only if you don't have something better to do. You have better things to do, right?

Honestly, I don't hang out with people like this, so it doesn't seem normal to me. However, others may know people like this, so YMMV.
posted by LN at 10:48 AM on April 14, 2011

Making your "friend" pay up-front for the tickets won't help the real problem. It's not that they don't see the value of the ticket, it's that they don't see the value of your friendship.

Depending on how you feel about this person, you may or may not want to have a sit-down where you express this (and reinforce that it's about you, not the tickets). If not, I wouldn't think twice about leaving that friendship.

You deserve better than to be someone's backup plan.
posted by mkultra at 10:52 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Im one of those people and out of consideration I stopped giving a definite yes. If its something like a concert and its just one other person, I've never cancelled. But plenty of parties and group outings I have.
I've been called out on this in the past but it never helped. Personally, I was usually tired/depressed.

The best thing to do is stop making plans with these people. Or do smaller things rather than things that could potentially waste your money.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:54 AM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I've stopped making plans with those people. It hurts every time they flake, and even if they were to happen not flake one time, I'd always wonder if they're going to flake at the last minute. Too stressful, not worth it.
posted by wondermouse at 10:57 AM on April 14, 2011

Ill also add to my comment that I love my friends dearly so its not that idont value their friendship. It's that I have some conditions that sometimes prevented me from doing big social things thattake a lot of energy. There have also been times when I didn't have money and was too embarrassed to say anything.

So you may want to keep those things in mind and think about if they might apply with these friends.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:57 AM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

I've finely come to a place where I refuse to put myself in someone elses hands.

That means I have my ticket and don't depend on a ride, or meeting them when they have tickets. I even do this with people I like because too many times things go wrong.

Don't let yourself be put into circumstances where the actions of your friends can screw you up. Have your ticket. Have your transportation, be prepared to enjoy the concert/movie/play/dinner alone. If they show up, it's a happy surprise. If not, you can still enjoy the event.

Plus, it takes all the stress of wondering out of the occasion.
posted by cccorlew at 10:57 AM on April 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

Complain. I was one of those people in university. People complained, and I changed my habits.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:57 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to be clear: are these friends aware that they're going to an event alone with you -- or might they be presuming that there's a group going (such that their cancelling isn't a big deal)?
posted by astrochimp at 10:58 AM on April 14, 2011

I have a friend like this. I really like this person. We've been friends since childhood. I have lots of other friends, so it's not like I 'need' him, but given the years and good times I know that we both think of each other as brothers. He's someone I want to be friends with for the rest of my life because of those times. It used to infuriate me that he would always flake out on me, to the extent that it really hurt our friendship at times.

I made a decision to "never rely" on him; basically, I never assume he will show up. Never, assume that he will be on time. I don't expect him to be late or not show up, I just don't assume that he will. I make my plans accordingly to incorporate this. As a result, we haven't had a friend fight since I've started doing this.

I think he may have picked up on it too because he shows up much more regularly and on time now. It's kind of funny actually.
posted by dobie at 10:58 AM on April 14, 2011 [14 favorites]

It's up to you how much slack you want to give any given person. Once they cross your line, though, you should downgrade their friend status. This procedure will vary by person -- people you like better get more slack, people you like less get cut off earlier. And you can always upgrade their friend status later if they improve their ways. Here's my general outline for a downgrade -- you can modify as necessary.

1. Give them a heads-up and a chance to make it right. Ie, "When you cancelled last night, it really sucked, since I'd already bought tickets/hired a babysitter/rearranged my schedule/etc. In the future, please let me know a couple of days in advance if you need to cancel, so I can adjust my plans." They should now apologize and/or offer to make it up to you.

2. Assuming they've apologized to your satisfaction, continue as before, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

3. If they do it again, downgrade friend status. This means no advance plans, unless they're for something you would have been doing anyway. Ie, "Hey, I'm going to this bar later with a bunch of other people. Wanna come?" "Hey, I'm gonna grab some dinner at the burrito place in a few minutes. Wanna come?" etc.

If they want to make expensive/advance plans, you can tell them "No" and give them as much explanation as you feel like giving. "No, darling, I love you dearly but you're a total flake," or "No, I'm not available," or "No, I'd rather do something more off-the-cuff since it seems to work out better when we do that," or "No, I don't really want to make expensive advance plans with you anymore given how much you've blown me off in the past," are all acceptable things to say.
posted by ourobouros at 10:59 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

No, this isn't normal, and yes, these people are rude. Are they in their early 20's and used to a go-with-the-flow, undemanding, student type crowd and haven't had jobs or commitments where they've HAD to be on time?

Nthing stop making plans with them that involve a lot of sunk costs in time or money. Go to coffee with them instead.

I would also have a talk with them (separately) and say, "It's very inconvenient for me when you cancel at the last minute. I've paid for these tickets/made these reservations, and they go to waste; besides, I enjoy your company and feel bad when you don't show up. What can you do about this?"

Chances are the friend(s) will be full of apologies, excuses, and promises to do better when you talk directly with them. See if they make good upon their promises with an outing where it doesn't put you out of a lot of money if they are late (coffee, a walk in the park, a visit to a crafts fair). If they're late again...either only ask them on coffee-type outings or dial them back to "acquaintance" level.

I do encourage talking to them before writing them off as friends because a) it's only fair - I think we owe our friends open communication and a chance to put things right and b) it might wake them up and they will make a better effort to be on time in the future. Don't count on it, but it can happen.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:00 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Consider these guys demoted to "buddies." Shopping buddies, drinking buddies, brunch buddies. You know, the kind of people you have a good time socializing with in the moment, but don't really do much more with. "Hey, I'm in the neighborhood if you wanted to get a beer." "I'll see you when I see you."

If you invite them to do anything, keep it to same-day or next-day activities that you could just as easily skip or enjoy without them. Go only so far for them as they've gone for you. If they notice you're not inviting them to concerts or nice dinners anymore, just be matter-of-fact: "Hey, you flaked out the last three times. I'm not going to plan or pay for something if you're going to back out of it. You plan it."

If they're reliable enough to be your friends, they'll step up to the plate and you can try again with the serious plans. If not, they'll fade, and you won't be as disappointed when they do.

It's common behavior, especially among younger people and people who like to cram as much fun as possible into a weekend. But it's not something real friends do.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:17 AM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might want to check out this earlier discussion.
posted by adamrice at 11:20 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I promised to go to a venue that cost money and then I cancelled at the last minute (which I wouldn't do unless it were an emergency anyway), I would not only apologize profusely but OF COURSE I would pay for the ticket that went unused.

The fact that you have friends who flake on you for no good reason, at the last minute, and (apparently) don't compensate you suggests that you have a lot more invested in the friendship than they do.

I've met people like this, and it's rough, especially if you are a giving kind of person (there's givers, and then there are takers). You WILL be taken advantage of if you don't stand up for yourself.

So your choices are: (1) make plans with the expectation that each person buys his/her own ticket, (2) have someone else buy all the tickets next time (which is dicey, because if they flake they may not buy anyone else's ticket for them either, including yours), or (3) stop associating with people who are taking advantage of your good nature.

I tend to go with 3, but I know it can get lonely.
posted by misha at 11:25 AM on April 14, 2011

Out of my group of friends, 1 or 2 were in this category when we were in college. As a group, we used to joke with them about it, and tease them until they eventually improved. So perhaps the feedback could be provided humorously?

I think many people skirt a fine line between this, partially due to the assumption of instant communication. If you tell people you aren't bringing your phone with you (which I sometimes do for other reasons), they'd better show up, or tell you a reasonable amount of time in advance that they are not going.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 11:38 AM on April 14, 2011

I think we might be missing some of the story -- are these people who think there's a group going to dinner, and the 'concert tickets' was a one-time thing? If you are routinely buying tickets for a 'friend' and the 'friend' bails this requires serious re-examination of what you understand to be 'friend.' That sounds like very callous stuff, and like you are being dreadfully taken advantage of. But, if it's people who think it's a casual invite to join a group... There's just not enough information for a good answer.
posted by kmennie at 11:40 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, here are more specifics:
Situation 1: I have two free tickets to a show, I offer one to a friend and we plan on going, but he cancels on me the morning of the concert because he's too busy. I have other friends who definitely would have gone with me, but now it's a little late. I'm just lucky I didn't buy the tickets.
Situation 2: Friend and I are meeting up a bar that is nowhere near where I work or live. I rush to the bar after work, but she calls me to tell me she can't go because she is too busy.
Situation 3: Friend and I arrange to meet for dinner. I make reservations and turn down other plans that come up. I text her a few hours before. She texts me back and says she forget and now she can't make it. I feel really disappointed and sadly the other things I would have done on this night are sold out. I spend night at home with cat.

There are all different people sadly.
posted by melissam at 11:52 AM on April 14, 2011

I have friends that do that. Contrary to what the first few posts here say, I haven't stopped making plans with these people. But I limit what planning I do with them. Basically I assume that they'll flake. If that throws a monkey wrench in the plans, I don't invite them. If the plans could still work without the flaker, I'll go ahead and invite them anyway. Usually this cuts down one on one planning, but keeps them coming to my parties and other group activities.
posted by valadil at 11:53 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's actually good that these are different people, because I think the friend in Situation 3 is much worse than the friends in the other two. Things do sometimes come up, and it's possible that, say friend 2 honestly got slammed with work at the end of the day (I once worked in an office where people made a habit of giving me big, urgent things to do at 4:30). "I forgot" is a whole other thing, and I would stop making plans with that particular person.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:19 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's unclear whether all these people have cancelled last minute more than once. Any of these, as a one-off, is upsetting, but also understandable. If they sounded really sorry about it, I'd let it go. Any of these, as a pattern, is annoying. I had a friend who did that (I still have her as a friend; she no longer does that) and we solved it (we: she knew she was fucking me over by how she was acting) was by us agreeing that I would wait no more than 15 or 20 minutes (neither of us had cell phones at the time -- 10+ years ago) and also by us always meeting somewhere that was convenient for me. So at my work, or at a coffee shop near me, etc. This way I was far less irritated when she didn't show up.
posted by jeather at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2011

I think this is ore common inside NYC than outside. I think it is a NYC culture thing that develops within and among people who aren't used to responsibilities and used to having many, easily made friends. Maybe it has something to do with being around so many people and the many opportunities for easy, interpersonal-risk-free socializing, bars etc; an easy supply of short-term friends one doesn't have to invest in like someone invests in a long-term friendship.

I've had friends like this, but not anymore. I stopped calling them and after a while I never saw them again. I don't miss them because I found friends who respect me enough to stick to our plans. I've learn, as I've matured, that it takes effort to trek across NYC for a friend but it's ultimately worth it to me. Let these people slide because they will slide eventually anyway.
posted by fuq at 12:26 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Regarding your situations, both of those friends just called and only said, "I am too busy"?

Are they students cramming for an exam? Are they parents? Do they work a lot of over-time? Do they have a chaotic family? Do they have strict deadlines at work?

Situation 1: I think canceling the morning of is fine if there's a reasonable excuse... I guess I would feel upset if it were a huge concert that was 2 hours away or something. Also, did you actually ask anyone to go after he he said he couldn't make it? There's plenty of times where I've gone to a concert last minute if someone had an extra ticket.

The best thing to do, especially in Situation Number 2 is text or call before you head over to make sure.

Situation 3: When were these reservations made? People are sometimes busy or forgetful... so it's always nice just to send a text/email/phone call the day before and remind them of reservations.

Are these the only times each of these friends have cancelled?

I don't know. It's strange. I would say 75% of my friends are like this including myself. So we're all so used to "double checking" with each other until the last minute to make sure what's happening.
posted by KogeLiz at 12:28 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This kind of thing would disappoint me to! I think what you should do really depends on how many times they've each did this and whether or not they apologized.

But if they do it all the time don't turn down other plans to hang out with them and don't plan on things like concerts where there are tickets involved. Their probably good friends for last minute drinks or going out with a group.

I haven't lived in NYC that long and I have friends like this and I think it takes some time to work out peoples friendship style and find some whose style matches yours. I don't know how long you've lived here but new friendships can also be hard if you don't have a circle of older/better friends to fall back on.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:45 PM on April 14, 2011

I'm also one of those people, and just want to chime in and second those who stated:

Personally, I was usually tired/depressed.


I love my friends dearly so its not that i dont value their friendship. It's that I have some conditions that sometimes prevented me from doing big social things that take a lot of energy. There have also been times when I didn't have money and was too embarrassed to say anything.

For me, I really want to hang out with people and fulfill my every commitment, but I often get very anxious at the last minute, which forces me to cancel. Not on someone who bought me a ticket, although that is within the realm of possibility, and would mean I would pay them back for the ticket. The point is, there are all kinds of reasons why someone might repeatedly cancel, and I'd avoid taking it personally or "demoting" these people from your list of friends. Also, this is New York City, and people work late and realize they are short on money and have a million changing commitments in my experience, which is yet another reason not to take things so personally.

The people I really like to hang out with are compassionate about the realities of life, and life in this hectic city specifically, and basically solid-within-themselves-enough to realize when it is not about them. However, if your friends are just jerks who you don't believe deserve your understanding, then YMMV.
posted by wombat stork at 1:12 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You have to tell them that it isn't cool with you - if they think you're not pissed or it doesn't matter to you, then they will keep doing it. That's the nature of people.

Situation 1 and 2, well, I get busy and I have canceled for that before, so I'm not objective. If it's legit busy, like work/home/school, then okay, it happens. It shouldn't be a pattern though.

Situation 3, she is kind of just wrong. If you're making plans to go to dinner with someone, and not in a hey, want to grab a taco right now kind of way, then to text and say you forgot and now can't come is kind of rude. Don't make any more plans with her where you'll be disappointed if she flakes.

Is it normal, yes, for some people. I wouldn't call it abnormal.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:18 PM on April 14, 2011

I'd recommend getting in touch about 2 days beforehand just to confirm: "Hey, are we still on for Thursday night? I wanted to make sure you're still in before I (finalize my work hours, figure out the train schedule, tell my roommate to pick another night for a movie)."

As someone who makes plans with people, it has never bothered me to get such a text/email/call, and it has a couple of times saved my bacon. i.e. Thursday?? This Thursday? Oh, right, she said that band was playing... I thought that was just hypothetical, but I guess it's a real plan.

Also, this opens it up for negotiation. "Really, your roommate wanted to go to a movie? I could still do Thursday, but Friday would be better for me, too, wanna reschedule?" OR "Oh, you're having a busy week and might have to work late? Why don't you just call me by 4:30 so I'll know whether I have to book it across town to meet you or not."
posted by aimedwander at 1:30 PM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Situation 1 is OK, the others are L-A-M-E and you should tell them so. "Dude, you suck. I came all the way out here." "But I made reservations." If they aren't convincing in response, up to and including finally admitting some form of mental illness, give them a "pfft." and move on.

Also, consider in the future that if you want to spend time with this person you invite more people so that their flakiness doesn't have to kill the whole plan. One-on-one becomes a privilege.
posted by rhizome at 2:04 PM on April 14, 2011

Situation 1: may be legitimately busy and couldn't have predicted but he ahould apoligize properly and come back with a concrete offer to make it up to you, and not too long afterwards. In the meantime make sure your plans with him are at minimal cost to you in time or convenience.
Situation 2: what a rude bitch. Don't make any more plans with her. If she insists on seeing you (and it has to be her idea) make her travel to you.

I wouldn't bother calling anybody on this stuff. All they're going to hear is "I'm needy and have no life" because that's how rude people invariably think.
posted by tel3path at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't have much tolerance for this kind of stuff, I'm afraid. It depends on the details, but I don't think your friends' behavior in any of the above scenarios is really acceptable. If I know someone is counting on me, I'm there. If you're super busy, then call ahead and tell your friend you're going to have to leave early, don't just cancel. When somebody says, "I'm too busy to keep the commitment I made to you," it comes across to me as, "I have other stuff to do that's more important than you are." If you really can't make it, you call as soon as you know it, you apologize, and you try to make it up to the person.

I would talk to them about it and make sure they know you aren't happy about this. Some people think it's no big deal until you tell them that it is (I think a lot of people just let it go, so some people just get in the habit of doing it). My sister used to do this to me--every single time--and I think she thought I'd let her get away with it. The last straw was when she left me standing out in a parking lot on a very hot summer evening waiting for her to show up. I waited 15 minutes, then I left, and she couldn't believe it, but she was more reliable after that.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:02 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Flaking out at the last minute is selfish.

We accept selfish acts from our friends from time to time. And sometimes extenuating circumstances prevail. (I had to flake on a thing at the last minute a few weeks ago because I had a last-minute pet emergency - a real one, which sadly ended in the pet's death.)

But the question becomes, how selfish are these people? Once-in-a-while selfish is one thing. If they are constantly selfish, then I quickly lose interest in being their friend. Fish in the sea, etc.

You can protect yourself by refusing to extend yourself very far. Make plans nearby, only offer tickets to your more reliable friends, etc. Reward your reliable friends, by giving them more of your attention more often. (And by mentioning how selfish and flaky other people are, and how much you appreciate the fact that they are not.)
posted by ErikaB at 5:50 PM on April 14, 2011

Do any of the friends who've cancelled on you have health issues that flare up unpredictably from time to time?

Migraines, severe period pain, irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, ovarian cysts, that sort of thing?

Those of my friends who are last-minute cancellers (eight different friends, all with chronic health issues) - it's always because they are not feeling well enough to drive or to go out, and they are curled up at home with a heat pack and painkillers.

Or in the case of my friends with irritable bowel syndrome/coeliac disease they will cancel because they are having a flare up and need to stay close to a toilet...

It may not be the case, but it might be worth saying something like:

"Hey, I feel really put-out when you cancel at the last minute... but if there's a reason that you're cancelling like having a migraine or not feeling well, that's a different story."
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 6:39 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Send an invoice.
posted by ovvl at 8:07 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I had a mobile phone people would sometimes ring me up ten minutes before we were due to meet and cancel, regardless of the time I'd spent traveling or the trouble it caused. Now I'm the only person in the world without a mobile phone they have to turn up. Being brought up in England I have a horror of being late second only to umpire Dickie Bird but not everyone is like this. To me it's unacceptable and unless these guys were cancelling while being prepped for emergency spleen surgery then I'd tell them I was pissed and drop them if they did it again.
posted by joannemullen at 8:20 PM on April 14, 2011

I had a flaky friend. It got to the point where I would only meet under the following circumstances:
1) we meet at my house (so when she is late / doesn't show), I have been able to spend time doing stuff at home anyway and haven't gone anywhere
2) it includes other people that I know will show up, so that even if she cancels, I still can do whatever it was

I haven't approached it with her directly because there are always excuses and she doesn't really think it is her fault that she is late or has to cancel things.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:13 AM on April 15, 2011

I agree that, unlike in dating, it's not okay to ditch the friend. Let them know how it messes you up. Also, give them a second chance.
posted by MBViktor at 5:21 AM on April 17, 2011

If your friends have a real health issue that leaves them not knowing where they are from day to day, that's a different situation from friends who are flaky and inconsiderate.

If a bona fide health issue leads to frequent cancellations it's still OK to pick things to do with this particular friend that don't involve buying tickets or making reservations. Do coffee dates or "let's meet at this crafts fair" instead.

And you have every right to expect the friend to call you ASAP and say "my IBS is flaring, I'm at home with a heating pad, don't wait around for me." A considerate friend won't expect you to sit and wait and waste your time.

With friends who are just flaky or casual with their time, you can put your foot down firmly. Communicate with them, give them a chance, but don't let them jerk you around. If Sally is late to the museum exhibit, give her a call and say, "I paid $XX for these tickets and I don't want to miss the exhibit. I'm going in now, and I'll leave your ticket at will-call." If this happens repeatedly and Sally doesn't get the message even after talking with her, then only invite her to open-ended events or dial back the friendship to "acquaintance."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:04 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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