How do you deal with flakey friends?
November 27, 2011 6:40 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with flakey friends that bail 99% of the time?

I have a friend at work, and i've known her for five years now. During work, shes very fun to hang around with on breaks,etc... and talk to. Then, she'll make plans outside of work and 99% of the time bail, or come up with some lousy excuse as to what happened.

I think what bothers me is how excited she gets about said plans, and then bails. Or how she talks about doing this and this with me all the time but then plans never happen even after i say "well, lets look at our schedules and figure out a day to hang out." She never goes along with it.

Friday, her and her boyfriend are supposed to double date with me and my boyfriend to go see the muppet movie and get ice cream afterwards. She keeps talking about it, acting all excited, and saying shes going to ask her boyfriend but i doubt it will work.

Do any of you have friends act like this? Does it bother you when they bail all the time? Should i just stop saying yes to plans that i know won't happen?
posted by ohtimorousme to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think most of us have friends like this, and yes it is annoying, and we deal with it in different ways. I'm of the school that says "Just make plans that will be fun even if the flaky person doesn't show; assume they're not going to show and if they do it's a nice bonus." I'm sure you will get other responses that say "These people are not worth the trouble, just stop making plans with her."

Another thing you could do is let her do the planning (which probably amounts to the same things as not doing anything with her outside of work).
posted by mskyle at 6:47 AM on November 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

99% of the time?!? Yeah you totally stop making plans with her. I don't think I could even be friends with someone like that. You can include her on invites to large events where her presence won't matter, but other than that I would keep your friendship at work only. She seems to enjoy making plans more than actually carrying them out. Don't feed into it and just shut down any future attempts to make plans together.
posted by whoaali at 6:48 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

It can be frustrating when you make room for plans in your schedule and then the other person fails to follow through. I don't think you need to make a big deal about this really, but I would say that you should always just take her invitations with a grain of salt and not get too invested in them. If you say yes to one of her ideas, then have something else you can do as a backup if the plans fall through. Since you'll have your boyfriend for your upcoming date, at least the two of you can still go and have a good time together.

She sounds like a nice friend to have at work, and it would be kind of silly to potentially upset her by cutting her off from the plans-making, but just don't get too invested in any of her ideas.
posted by erstwhile at 6:51 AM on November 27, 2011

From your description, this person just doesn't want to be friends outside of work. Flakey is when you make definite plans and then that person doesn't show up. This person isn't technically being flakey, they're just being obstinate. It might be hard to hear, but I would just be friends with her at work and let the outside stuff go.
posted by pwally at 6:52 AM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have a friend like this that has cost me several hundred dollars (she asked me to book a trip at a place SHE chose that she would pay for as a "thank you" for helping her so much during her divorce and the morning of it she bailed because "it is too far away"). I don't make plans with her, ever. She gives me grief about thing I plan and do with other people and she still asks/tries to guilt me to make plans but I am only able to include her in something I was going to do anyway that doesn't involve any commitment from me like saving seats or buying tickets (if it is a party I am going to I'll tell her I'll see her there but won't arrange to pick her up). It is tiring to be a bit player in someone else's drama so I generally don't interact with flakes anymore. I've also been blunt that she has flaked too many times but she honestly doesn't see it that way. Basically, if someone doesn't make you feel good (and being rejected makes everyone feel like crap) then you have my permission to cool your friendship.
posted by saucysault at 7:00 AM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Personally I just don't tolerate this sort of selfish behaviour. I'd dump anyone that indulged in it. I'd expect more from people before I'd even want to think about considering them as friends.
posted by Decani at 7:03 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

"She keeps talking about it, acting all excited, and saying shes going to ask her boyfriend"

Yeah, you guys don't even have plans yet. I hate these fucking people. What everyone else said, just accept that you can't rely on her to do anything, only include her if her not coming won't mess anything up.
posted by anaelith at 7:04 AM on November 27, 2011

Just make plans that will be fun even if the flaky person doesn't show; assume they're not going to show and if they do it's a nice bonus.
This is how I deal with it. It all gets a bit awkward when it's the friend making the plans, though. If he's planning the party or inviting me out, I'm stuck in the position of either making an excuse as to why I can't go, or be left to deal with the cancelled plans at the last minute. I love this guy, but I continually have to remind myself that I cannot arrange my schedule to suit his plans, because those plans are never more than 50% likely to actually happen. It's frustrating and it makes me sad, but there you go.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:06 AM on November 27, 2011

It seems from what you say like she for some reason doesn't manage to engage people in her private time, while some part of her would actually very much like to do just that. Perhaps her private life is less glamorous than she would like it to be, so she's shy about showing it up for other people.

So her boyfriend is real, you know that, right? Or is she actually lonely and doesn't want people to know?

Mid-term perspective, if you really like to hang out with her: get to know her better - at work - keep making some low-key social plans without too much pressure, and eventually bring your question up with her, in a non-confrontational manner, to find out what the problem might be.
posted by Namlit at 7:15 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you ever had a frank talk with her? "You know, we always make plans for outside of work, but it never seems to work out. It's okay if you just want to be at-work friends. At-work friends are awesome, but it's frustrating me to continually get excited over plans we make that then don't come together."

She might not even realize she's doing it, and if you like her, she deserves your honesty.
posted by xingcat at 7:24 AM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

She doesnt sound flaky, she sounds like she doesnt want to hang out with you but doesnt want to hurt your feelings about it.
posted by headnsouth at 7:25 AM on November 27, 2011 [12 favorites]

As headnsouth says, if she bails 99% of the time, she doesn't want to hang out with you.

Just stop making plans with her and move on. It can be tough when you work with this person and see her every day, but the next time she casually says something like "we should totally perform $ACTIVITY_X this weekend", just say "every time we've made plans, you've cancelled, so, no thanks." It sounds cold, but eh, it will get her out of making pretend plans without her having to say she doesn't want to hang out with you.
posted by King Bee at 7:53 AM on November 27, 2011 [7 favorites]

She's not making plans with you, she is engaging in fantasies at work to alleviate the tedium and is getting you to play along. Maybe she thinks you are enjoying the reprieve as well. I would just play around with her but don't take it seriously. Leave it at pretend until SHE solidifies something. As to a concrete date, like the movies on Friday, tell her she needs to confirm it with you by Wednesday (or whenever), then, if you haven't heard from her, just go ahead and make other plans.

Or, don't engage and just keep telling her you already have plans.
posted by Vaike at 8:18 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you set a specific date to hang out? I'm asking because if you just say "let's hang out soon" then people rarely ever get across to setting a date with each other.

I think it's largely because of three things: 1) people assume that the other person is busy so they don't set the plans themselves 2) the person isn't interested in becoming friends outside of the specific setting (in your case work) and 3) the person wants to be polite to show that they like you but don't want to spend time with you.

You said that you have known your friend for five years, so I'm assuming by now that you hae talked about a variety of topics and not just had small talk or funny talk (haha). In that case, let her know how you feel.

Try using the approach that King Bee mentioned and see how she responds. If she cares
enough then she will realize how she's coming across. But, if she doesn't change anything or doesn't care then she will just stop asking you to hang out because she realizes that you have caugh onto what she has been doing.
posted by sincerely-s at 8:28 AM on November 27, 2011

I think she just wants to be work friends. Even if not, I would manage expectations by assuming that until given evidence to the contrary -- and I'd be noncommittal about committing yourself to plans with her.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:32 AM on November 27, 2011

She likes the idea of being friends with you outside of work, but once she's actually home she doesn't want to see or do anything that reminds her of her workday. I get that a lot -- it requires an extra push for me to want to do anything with someone who I mainly know as a work contact. Anything that causes my work life to bleed into my personal life bothers me. I have had a few work friends that have become genuine "real life" friends after one of us left our jobs, but most often we've discovered that the common experience of working somewhere together was most of the appeal.

I'd say stop trying altogether -- don't try to lure her into making outside-of-work plans. If she wants to badly enough, let her form concrete plans with you. Otherwise, when she asks if you want to do stuff, just give the same kinds of "we'll see" answers that she gives you. You may still consider yourself lucky that you have even this kind of connection at work -- many people's workdays are a social wasteland in which they feel uncomfortable around nearly everyone.
posted by hermitosis at 8:40 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've had problems with overcommitting myself and cancelling for reasons that probably sound very stupid to the other people involved. It's not that I don't like them and want to hang out.

I've been on the receiving end of this too. In two cases I've had the friend turn it around. One of them was frank with me that she was really struggling with being reliable (outside of work) and trying hard. After a lot of last minute "oh, can't do that" or just not showing up and not answering my "where the heck are you?" calls, we've had a couple of years now of much better communication and reliability. We put stuff on the calendar and follow up the day of to see if we are still up for it.

In another case I had about given up on being friends but then suddenly friend just became a lot more reliable. No idea what prompted it.

Also, hermitosis is definitely onto something here.
posted by bunderful at 8:48 AM on November 27, 2011

Another theory is that she could be one of those people to whom plans outside of the obligated routine (i.e. work) seem very exciting from a remote vantage point but become frightening or burdensome when it's time to engage.

Whichever it is, offering input the way xingcat put it would be an ideal approach, as it lets her know you can't go along with that anymore but still appreciate her friendship at work. I'd recommend practicing it a couple of times to get the right mix of serious and friendly before delivery - less second-guessing after it's all said and done, that way.

From that point on, you can tell her about things that won't impact you negatively if she doesn't show up if you like. I'd say to leave it to her to make the plans, but you could end up showing up for something you wouldn't have done on your own and become frustrated all over again. I'd only fall for that once, myself.
posted by batmonkey at 9:05 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Friday, her and her boyfriend are supposed to double date with me and my boyfriend... She keeps saying shes going to ask her boyfriend but i doubt it will work.

If she has not asked her boyfriend and confirmed the four of you are on, this is not a plan, it's... a conversation.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:37 AM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

Something else to consider is that she could have some level of social anxiety (I speak from experience). While she can manage to be friendly and fun at work, she may get panicky at the thought of socializing outside of's not you per se, she may have difficulty actually going places to hang out (I've one through periods where I was totally fine and fun and friendly at work, but I could not face a bar for Friday night cocktails, or even going to my best friend's house).

But perhaps not. In any case, I'd stop making plans with her. For whatever reason(s), she can't manage to commit.
posted by kinetic at 10:32 AM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I was going to chime in and say social anxiety too. Although it's weird she's so giddy to make plans, and the whole thing where she wasn't telling her boyfriend about the plans? I don't know. If she's initiating hanging out, I don't think she's "trying to let you down easy" about separating work from recreational.

I'd almost wonder if she's playing off of how she's seen co-workers interact in the past to cover her social fears, and then once the anxiety of "Oh god I don't really actually want to do this I'm too scared," sets in, she awkwardly and abruptly cancels those plans out.

For me (also socially anxious), I prefer spur-of-the-moment outings, like "We did a great job today, want to grab some drinks?" at 4:45pm. This doesn't give me time to think, "Oh god, what if this happens?? What if this person's there?? But I don't even drink!!" It takes me out of my comfort zone, which for some reason makes me more at ease once I'm actually at the destination.

It's been hard for me to realize that people invite me to things because they want me to be there, not because they feel obligated to either because of work relations or long-term friendships. Yeah it doesn't make any sense to me either.

In the meantime, I'd hate having me as a friend sometimes, so just stop trying to make plans with her. Personally, if she's anything like me, I'd hate hearing "Um, why do you always bail all the time?" because that just emphasizes what I already knew about myself and would probably stop me from trying to make plans with anyone out of embarrassment.
posted by june made him a gemini at 11:05 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Agreed with june... gemini. I have the worst time keeping/making plans even with the most enthusiastic new friends because of social anxiety. But this is definitely my problem and no one else's. I know that a lot of the time when people try to make plans with me, I noticeably cool, because I can't really visualize how they will play out, and if I don't trust/know the person well, I'm afraid to be stuck in a situation with them. (This is usually only an issue with new friends I know are drama-rama, but if I can't read someone well it comes up too.) So if it seems like this might be true at all, don't take it personally, but maybe leave it up to her to make the first move.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:09 AM on November 27, 2011

saucysault's answer, but do it overtly and out loud. When making plans, actually say yeah, that sounds like fun, even if you don't show up.
posted by ctmf at 11:29 AM on November 27, 2011

(or, "no, because if you don't show up, I'll be screwed.")
posted by ctmf at 11:30 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of people simply overbook themselves habitually and never figure out how to kick the habit. Like being perpetually late. Just give up assuming any plan she makes will happen. If she shows up at something you were going to do anyways, that's nice. Otherwise assume she will never show.
posted by ead at 1:27 PM on November 27, 2011

My strategy for this is to only ask the flaky person to something last-minute. Then they can't double-book themselves and can't forget.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:33 PM on November 27, 2011

Just make plans that will be fun even if the flaky person doesn't show; assume they're not going to show and if they do it's a nice bonus.
I too am of this school of thought.

It also helps me to remember that for some people, "plans" are more like options than actual plans. When she makes plans with you, she's not really making a commitment, she's wondering aloud if that might possibly be on the table.
posted by Xany at 1:33 PM on November 27, 2011

I don't tolerate flakiness well - I tend to just stop bothering with that sort. I also have social anxiety, so as others mentioned, spur-of-the-moment plans work better for me because I don't have time to over-think it. (However, it would make me incredibly anxious to flake or not follow through on plans made in advance, so mileage varies -- sometimes I push through, sometimes I don't. Someone who never does is someone you can't reliably make plans with, even if it's something they are struggling with.)

However, I think much of how to respond to this depends on who is initiating the plans - if it's mostly her initiating and then not following through, I would just stop committing entirely. You don't have to make a production of it, but just stop saying yes. If it's mostly you initiating, either stop taking the lead on this or try something more casual than plans, like a quick bite to eat or drink, and not a double-date.
posted by sm1tten at 2:10 PM on November 27, 2011

I am that flaky friend this year. Two big things are making me flaky: a really shitty year of health issues, and a tumultuous relationship with my on/off boyfriend. The former happens randomly and renders me ill at odd hours, the latter has just beeen really hard. Money woes have also limited my hang out time. It might be that this girl's pride/ego is too sensitive and she can't bring herself to tell you why she keeps bailing, but that's no excuse. COnfront her gently, and go from there.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:49 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

There was a question like this before- it sounds like she is a very good work friend. Not a 'regular life' friend. Enjoy her company at work and leave it at that.
posted by bquarters at 4:33 PM on November 27, 2011

Response by poster: In reply to a few of your questions, yes i have met her boyfriend he is real but they rarely see each other. And we have made plans for friday, i told her i'd let her know a movie time so after that its up to her if she shows up or not.

Thank you for everyones advice so far!
posted by ohtimorousme at 6:55 PM on November 27, 2011

The hardest part about flaky friends is choosing not to see her behavior as a diss upon yourself, or your worthwhileness as a friend. I don't think chronically flaky people get that their unreliability can be interpreted as a rather mean snub. The connection just isn't there.

I had this one flaky friend who (after a long series of incidents that included me calling her out for her flakiness) invited me to her birthday party later on in the evening, agreeing to call me with information to meet up. She seemed really interested in having me there, and I wanted to believe that she would stop her habit of breaking plans. So I got a present and wrapped it and then ... no contact from her. I was busy with my regular evening stuff and didn't even realize she'd forgotten me until it was too late. It was so typical of her I had to laugh. And she never remembered that she'd invited me. I just put her present back in my Present Box and let it go.

Some people are just like that. Don't let it get you down. They're the ones missing out.

You'd better believe that when my flaky friend gets excited about an event I'm organizing and asks for special adjustments to plans ("Oh, I really want to be there but I have XYZ, could we do it earlier/later?"), I'm politely inflexible. I treat her like a garnish to whatever is going on. Pretty addition, sure, but nobody holds off a nice meal because the parsley is missing.
posted by griselda at 2:18 AM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

My cousin told me about a friend who was similar (would make plans and then show up at the appointed time on the wrong day or flake out in general). What he decided was that he would make plans with this person, but also have something alternate planned in case the friend didn't show up. So, if the dude flaked out, my cousin's day wouldn't be ruined.

The first few times this guy made plans and did the usual thing, my cousin went on with his alternate plans. Then came a day when they were supposed to go to a movie. Guy shows up at my cousin's house three hours late. My cousin told the guy he could come in and hang out, but that my cousin was involved in another task.

They eventually drifted apart, but my cousin felt a lot better that he took a stand instead of continuing to get stepped on.
posted by reenum at 5:21 PM on December 1, 2011

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