How do I deal with my 'flaky' friend?
June 9, 2011 2:29 PM   Subscribe

We are both late-20s females and are close friends. I like and respect her a lot. However, I feel she can be selfish and inconsiderate at times, leaving me inconvenienced, frustrated and hurt. When I talk to her about this, she excuses her behaviour as 'flakiness'. How do I deal with this?

The most recent such incident happened last weekend. My friend currently lives in a different country and was staying with me for a few days after coming to town for work. In planning what we'd do on her visit, I suggested we go to a party I'd been invited to. She agreed it was a fun idea and accepted the invite on facebook. We talked about it a couple of times once she was here. On the day of the party, I left for work and we arranged that she would meet me at my workplace at 5pm, have a drink and then leave for the party shortly after.

At 4pm she texted saying she was with another friend (of hers), "but plan is still to go to party". She then became a bit evasive, suggesting I meet her at the party later, and that she wanted to eat first. The party was a bit of a trek to get to and I don't know the people too well, so I didn't want to go on my own. I explained this and tried to convince her to stick with the plan.

After I'd waited around until 7.30, she agreed to grab some food to go (rather than eat at the bar she was at) and we arranged to jump on the tube and meet each other at the other end. I got off nearly an hour later to find a text from her saying she didn't feel like going to the party and was going to hang out with the other friend instead.

I felt pretty pissed off. If she'd said earlier that she didn't feel like going to the party or wanted to spend time with someone else that would have been fine, but we had confirmed plans. At this stage I had relied on her and was looking forward to going to the party together. Otherwise, I might not have gone to the party at all, or might have gone for a while and then met up with her later. She didn't apologise other than "sorry to be a bit flaky". This was her last night in town so I didn't see her before she left. I told her that I was angry about the situation and she left me a note - affectionate and conciliatory but not apologising.


1) Am I being unreasonably annoyed about her cancelling? This was a definite plan, not a maybe. Other friends said they might come and on the evening decided not to, which didn't bother me at all. Even if she'd called me up last minute and said she really didn't feel like going that would be fine, but her behaviour felt unthoughtful and didn't acknowledge that she was putting me out.

2) How do I deal with this aspect of her personality? This is a recurring clash. I have noticed that her other friends get annoyed when she cancels on them too, but generally it's them she's ditching rather than me so it hasn't come up all that often.

Other relevant information:

1) We had a major disagreement a while back as flatmates. She was the leaseholder and knew for over a month that the landlord wasn't extending our lease (as we had earlier been told would happen). However, she didn't tell the rest of us because she was (unbeknownst to us) planning to move countries, but didn't want to say anything until she made her mind up about the move. This left us with only two weeks to find a new place to live, which put us in a really stressful and difficult position. We talked it out and after a while she sent me a decent apology, which I accepted. Since then things have been fine, and while I don't hold it against her as such, it does colour my view of other incidents, such as the one last weekend.

2) Similarly, a mutual friend of ours was left with nowhere to stay when they went on holiday together and were supposed to be staying at the apartment of a friend of Flaky Friend. Flaky Friend went AWOL and Mutual Friend was unable to contact her.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I let friends like this go, myself. That is not the kind of behavior I want in MY friends.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:44 PM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I have a friend like this too. I think it's selfish, self-centered behaviour. It is flaky, but that doesn't make it okay. Flakiness is a character flaw. The thing is: she's not going to change, and you have to decide whether you can live with that. I've stopped counting on my friend to show up or be on time, which means I only invite her out or to my house if there are going to be other friends there too, in which case it doesn't matter if she shows. This has created a bit more distance between us, but I'm not willing to invest more in the friendship than that. Whether you do the same is up to you.
posted by smorange at 2:45 PM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't make plans. Or if you do, lower your expectations.

Some people have a certain type of complex, where they think that the longer they wait to disappoint you, the easier it will be. In fact, as you've found out, the reverse is true. I get the feeling that she never wanted to go, but she also didn't want to disappoint you, so she agreed, and kept saying that the plan was still a go. She kept putting off actually breaking plans because that was the easy thing at the time, but it was far worse in the end.

I know the feeling, and that type of person. I also feel like calling someone/oneself a "flake" is much worse that what she takes it to mean, which is telling.

She is clearly not able to be counted upon to follow through, so don't. I'm not saying friend-dump her; just stop expecting that she'll do what she says.
posted by supercres at 2:45 PM on June 9, 2011 [14 favorites]

Unhelpful perhaps, but I tend to not have people like this in my life anymore. Leaving a traveling buddy stranded? And a houseful of people without a home? She doesn't know the meaning of the word friend. As long as you accept her non apologies, she'll keep doing it. I'd just stop taking her calls and eventually she will get the message. Life's too short. I now have less friends but I also don't have to deal with continually being let down.
posted by Jubey at 2:45 PM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

She made solid plans and then ditched you for someone else while she was staying with you? That wasn't flaky. It was just plain rude.

I feel she can be selfish and inconsiderate at times, leaving me inconvenienced, frustrated and hurt.

If you two are really as close as you think you are, you need to be up front with her about stuff like this. Tell her you feel inconvenienced, frustrated, and hurt. Sometimes it's hard to say something like that to a person you care about when they piss you off, but I find it's best to clear the air in these cases, so there's no bad stuff festering. Or say nothing, but accept it as the way she is.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:46 PM on June 9, 2011

Your friend has difficulty relating information or desires that (she fears) will displease others.

Proceed accordingly.
posted by jbenben at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2011 [20 favorites]

As I've gotten older, I've found I have a few friends like this. It is sad because you want to continue to be friends, but your values have shifted. I think you have a few options here:

1. Decide she's not worth being friends with and simply stop making any sort of plans with her.

2. Understand that she is this way and simply do not have any set expectations for her behavior. This will limit your plans, but also your aggravation.

I've honestly found it emotionally draining to explain the issues with said offender, and a waste of my time.
posted by fyrebelley at 2:48 PM on June 9, 2011

This may be treating the situation too aggressively (the way I wish I had done with a friend like this), but...

I wouldn't go to her with a sob story about feeling hurt. If anything, I would tell her that you've realized you can't count on her to follow through on anything, and have decided to live your life and treat your relationship accordingly. If that changes her behavior, yahtzee. If not, she won't be surprised when you start to phase her out of your plans and your life.
posted by supercres at 2:51 PM on June 9, 2011

It seems like lots of us know a few people who are known to act like your "friend" did this weekend. My personal solution with that is what some others have said: don't make any sort of plans where it's essential that the person show up. However, leaving people without a place to live is not just flaky, it is irresponsible and crappy. This sounds like a good person to not be friends with anymore.
posted by grouse at 2:52 PM on June 9, 2011

This looks like a clearly established pattern of your friend being inconsiderate, and as such there's not much point in confronting her. You won't get any satisfaction. Maybe she makes up for it by being lovely in person, but I think from now on I would regard her as a side dish instead of a main course for event company. Have a great time if she happens to show up, but in the future never count on her for anything substantial, creating an opportunity for your hopes (and self-esteem) to be dashed. Definitely don't count on staying with her if you want to visit her in her city.
posted by griselda at 2:55 PM on June 9, 2011

What you're describing here is not what close friends do to each other. Recommendation: Cut her off, or at the very least, lower your expectations.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:56 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

She's not a flake. Flakes forget about stuff and they're late. Assholes ditch you whenever something better comes along. Excusing it as flaky makes it sound like an accident, when it's obviously not. She obviously has no problem putting other people in bad situations for her own personal gain.

You can be friends with her as long as you never rely on her for anything and generally don't believe anything she says without double checking it with someone else. I have "friends" like this, if they're around we hang out, sure, but I'd never recommend them for a job or rely on them to do something important.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2011 [22 favorites]

Here's how I read the situations you described -

1) She should have said, "No, I don't want to go to this party," because it's clear (in retrospect) that she had no intention of attending at any time. The reason she didn't say that is because she knew that you wouldn't go without her and she didn't want to keep you from having fun.

2) She hoped that her flatmates would think about moving since they knew she might be considering working abroad. She didn't want to come out and disappoint you all by saying directly, "Guys, we've got to move."

3) She either didn't want to stay at the apartment, didn't want her friends meeting, or was already told she couldn't stay at the apartment. She dropped off the face of the planet rather than directly saying that staying was an impossibility.

None of this is flakiness. It seems your friend finds it extremely difficult to say the word, "No". She doesn't want to disappoint people and hopes instead that people will read between the lines of what she's saying (ie, read her mind).

Only you can decide if you can work around this issue and maintain a good relationship with your friend. Maybe speaking to her directly and saying you suspect she doesn't tell you what she means would be a way to work around it? It's a lot of work to constantly second guess everything a person tells you, though. (Also, I wonder if she or her family are from another culture? In some cultures, it's not polite to say bad/disappointing/negative things, and some people are unable to switch.)
posted by lesli212 at 3:13 PM on June 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Oh I don't know, she is, after all, your superior.

In that she has quite a good friend and you do not.
posted by jamjam at 3:15 PM on June 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Here is a similar question that might have some useful insights.
posted by Signed Sealed Delivered at 3:20 PM on June 9, 2011

The reason she didn't say that is because she knew that you wouldn't go without her and she didn't want to keep you from having fun.

I do not believe this. In general I do agree that the "friend" seems to have trouble saying no.
posted by grouse at 3:35 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I second that she just can't say no. I have had friends like this and I find it completely mind boggling because it is so selfish to me. Instead of having the moral strength to say, "No, sorry, I don't feel like it," they will dither with excuses and half-promises. So, it's like, you would rather hurt and embarrass me by making me wait around for you in some place rather than just sucking it up and shooting straight? Assuming that you're a grounded person who won't make a big deal about someone changing their mind and saying so clearly, it's just so damn insulting.

So, no, I don't you're being unreasonable. I would be really pissed.

As for how to treat her, I think you can be friendly but don't make plans with her. You seem smart and cool, why bother? If this isn't possible, maybe only do things with her in groups so that everything isn't messed up if she flakes.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:49 PM on June 9, 2011

Just to add an anecdote, I had a friend who would lie about the distance it took to get somewhere because she was afraid you'd be upset if you knew how long it was really going to take. She also used to make restaurant plans with me and then leave me sitting there. One morning I got up super early to have breakfast with her, I was sitting at the restaurant, and she texted me that she was watching a movie. My God...
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:58 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

People who are flaky don't know it. People who SAY they are flaky are being selfish and manipulative.
posted by gjc at 4:00 PM on June 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

We have different types of friends at different stages in life. You're now passing from one stage, into another.

If you keep this friend around into your thirties, you may find that she's just clever and charismatic enough to occasionally sweep in and undermine your efforts towards building your own life (things like a spouse and family). Friends like this can be destructive when it appears that you may be stepping out of your role as sidekick and "backup" friend. Heaven help you if your lifestyle ever becomes something she might envy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:02 PM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

This person isn't your friend; she is an acquaintance who cannot be relied upon. If she drops by and it's convenient, there's no reason not to let her tag along. Just don't depend on her, ever.
posted by SMPA at 4:13 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

This person sounds like what we in Texas call a better-dealer, that is, she'll ditch you if she gets a better offer. Maybe she feels bad about doing it so she waits until the last minute to reveal that you're out of luck and she's not showing up. It's not even a little bit unreasonable for you to be annoyed.

As for how you deal with it, I think you can't change her, even if you're able to wring an apology out of her by confronting her again. That means you have to change you. No relying on her for anything. Pull back.

I have a few friends who are true flakes (rather than the more selfish better-dealers) and I view their invitations as expressions of their esteem rather than literal invitations to actually go and do something. For example, I have a delightful acquaintance (downgraded from friend) who will frequently say, oh I'd love to take you to sushi for your birthday or I would love to cook you a steak, come over next week. I have no expectation that I will actually see him unless and until his less-flaky girlfriend puts something together. I know this guy is very fond of me and would like very much to cook me a steak, but he is up in his own head and kind of a mess and it is unlikely to happen, even if he makes a plan, because he'll get stuck at work or start reading some science article and forget. For the true better dealers -- those friends who hang out with someone else when we had plans -- I'm only friends with them in the Facebook sense. Life's too short.
posted by *s at 4:46 PM on June 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I agree with the assessment that she can't say no. I have this problem myself, but unlike your friend, I actually follow through - which leads to a different set of issues entirely. Anyhow.

I would advise just accepting it for what it is. Know that no matter what you ask of her, she's going to say yes or agree whether or not she can deliver. Don't get into situations where this will cause stress on you. Accept that she probably isn't trying to be an asshole - I'd imagine she doesn't realize how much more exasperating her behavior is than simply saying "no" would be. My guess is that she doesn't want to deal with actually seeing someone's disappointment and this way, she never has to because she's off somewhere else by the time her friends have come around to realize she's ditched them.

Shrug it off. It's not worth being angry with her for this since she's not going to change or apologize. All you can do is keep it from happening again in the future. If something like this happens again and you're supposed to be somewhere and she's running late - just go without her. Don't let her stay with you in the future if she's a continually rude houseguest. And certainly don't try to stay with her at any point. You "ditching" her a few times in order to maintain your sanity is well worth her having to be the disappointed one once in a while.
posted by sonika at 5:00 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Flakey"? No, I just call it plain old-fashioned rude & inconsiderate. She doesn't give a damn about other people, she doesn't care about other people's feelings or plans, and any promises she makes are nothing but empty words. She kept silent about the apartment lease ending simply because it was easier *for her*; she didn't want to deal with the fallout from the rest of you having to suddenly scramble to find a new place to live: if she refuses to face something, then it never happened. (I'll bet your friend is also frequently late, making everyone else wait on her.)

Based on long experience with this kind of person (my sister!), she'll never change, and the best thing for you is to drop her (like I wish I could drop my sister.....)
posted by easily confused at 6:07 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Life is too short to spend it with people who don't make you happy."

I saw that comment, or something along those lines, somewhere on Ask about a year ago. (I wish I had saved it, or I'd link to it here.) It kind of brought me up short. The more I thought about it, the more it made me realize that a friend I was struggling with was not worth the struggle, and I cut her off. And sometimes I miss her, but mostly I am glad not to be confronted with her upsetting behaviors. In many respects, I feel much better about myself.

We didn't have a "talk," I did not announce to her that trying to be her friend was no longer worth the trouble. The fact that she didn't come looking for me once I did cut her off? Told me exactly how she really felt about me.

Really, it's not worth it if she consistently treats you disrespectfully this way. Please consider D'ing the MFA.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 8:35 PM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're not being unreasonably annoyed about her canceling. It's not a question of reasonableness; you're either annoyed or you're not.

If you want to continue the friendship and not be pissed off, you have to accept that she's a flake and plan accordingly -- i.e., don't make plans that are dependent on her unless you're okay with them not happening at the last minute.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:57 PM on June 9, 2011

Either build a wall around her and forget about your expectations or wield the banhammer. Life's too short.
posted by klanawa at 9:16 AM on June 10, 2011

She is not "flaky", she is actually in full control of both herself and you. That's what this is about.

As such, you can try dropping your expectations but it may not help. People like this are absolute experts at maintaining the upper hand. If you try to set boundaries, then next time, the stakes will be higher than just a party. She will have something you need and will play keepaway with that. It's like late people - you can't defeat them by lying about the start time. If you say 6:00 and the secret true start time is 6:30, they show up at 6:26 and immediately leave because you're not there and *they* are too important to be kept waiting.

Maybe you can work with this but I'm not optimistic, especially since she has done people real damage. Talking about it will not only not help, it may provoke her to escalate in order to punish you for trying to control her and making her feel bad. Remember, she not only does not care how you feel, she may enjoy knowing that she can frustrate you. So just step around stuff with a "no, thank you" and don't let her know what you really think.
posted by tel3path at 4:09 PM on June 11, 2011

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