Flake on me once, shame on you. Flake on me twice, shame on me.
December 31, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

I'd like some help thinking about how to respond to being blown off for the first time early on in a relationship.

I’m looking for thoughts on how to respond to when people (friends or romantic partners) blow me off early on in getting to know them. Since I don’t yet know them well, it’s usually not clear to me whether one instance of flakiness is an accident or the first sign of a pattern (of flakiness or being not that interested in spending time with me), so it’s hard for me to know how to respond in a way that lets people know that I’m not OK with being blown off. I realize that I can’t change flaky people or make them want to spend time with me if they don’t, but I’m also aware that—at least to some degree—you get the respect you demand. If they contact me to apologize, it seems too forgiving and like not great boundary-setting to just tell them that it’s OK, and too severe to chastise them or not spend time with them again (first, because I don’t know yet that it’s a pattern, and second, because—for some people in my life—the pros of spending time with them really do outweigh the cons of getting flaked on occasionally). Similarly, if they totally forgot about the plans and continue contacting me but not apologizing, it's not clear to me whether I should let it go or let them know that they blew me off. I’m interested in hearing ideas for middle-ground responses.

Right now, my general game plan with flaky people is to not initiate further contact or plans until they make an effort to make further plans and/or explain what happened. I know that being blown off multiple times means I need to walk away. I'm specifically looking for suggestions for when they do initiate further contact/plans.

As an example: I have gone out several times with a new friend whom I like a great deal. My understanding is that this feeling is mutual; she has told me on more than one occasion, unprompted, that she really enjoys my company. She has never blown me off. Yesterday, I texted her to say we should go out soon, and suggested that night if she didn’t have to work. She said she did have to work but that she would love to go out after, so I asked her to text me when she was done. She responded that she would and suggested that we also make plans for early next week. When she gets off work depends in part on her coworkers, so there was no set time that she would text me. By the time I realized she wasn’t going to text me, it was too late to go out, and so I went to bed rather than calling her or texting her. I still haven’t heard from her.

I've read this relate askme.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Call her and ask her what happened. That's how you respond. Not texting, not wondering, not waiting. Take the initiative and have a back and forth conversation about what happened and any possible misunderstandings and how they can be avoided in the future.

it’s usually not clear to me whether one instance of flakiness is an accident or the first sign of a pattern (of flakiness or being not that interested in spending time with me)

Well...that's not clear to us either, unfortunately. We don't know if it's a pattern with her but she did suggest also meeting early next week, so I don't think it's a question of being not that interested in spending time with you.
posted by iconomy at 10:10 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

The moment a person detects that you are a friend that requires maintenance, they will stop wanting to hang out with you. Flaking out is not a sign of disrespect - something else probably just came up and your friend got distracted. Stop taking it so personally. If they don't apologize, let it slide. When they 'initiate further contact/plans', you say "great! When? and Where?"
posted by Think_Long at 10:10 AM on December 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'd probably drive you crazy. I have the best of intentions when it comes to friends and making plans, and I spend a lot of time saying "We need to get together!" and "Let's have lunch soon!" and "How about a movie sometime?" And I am sincere in those sentiments, but when it comes down to it my friendships unfortunately come after my kids, husband, job, dogs, cats, volunteer commitments, groceries, laundry, doctor's appointments and waiting on various repairpeople.

I love my friends and wish I had more, but at the end of the day any cancellations or unfulfilled invitations have very little to do with them and more to do with the juggle I do every day to keep my life moving forward. Thankfully my friends are very understanding (as I try to be with them), and if someone were to get pissy with me about it I would cut them loose without a backwards glance.

So, I guess I'm trying to say, maybe it's not about you. Walk away if that's what you really want to do, but if you're trying to make a statement it will probably be lost on someone who hasn't invested much in the relationship yet.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 10:13 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm more forgiving with flakiness if it's a situation like you describe. The plans were kind of up in the air and depended on what time she got off work. She may have gotten off late and been really tired and just passed out. I'd give her another chance but I'd be very weary of future flakiness because it's too early to tell if it's part of a pattern or not.

I'm not forgiving of flakiness if it involves making concrete plans with a specific time and place that's understood between two parties and the person doesn't show up and doesn't text or call. I pretty much write them off unless they had a family emergency or were in an accident. It just shows a lack of respect and a gross lack of character that I don't have time for.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:16 AM on December 31, 2011 [10 favorites]

My general handling for the specific example you gave is to give myself a time limit they have to contact me by and if they don't within that time limit, I'm done. Usually I make it generous, because getting blown off pisses me off, but I don't think it's intentional most of the time so I try to be generous.

Specifically there are legit reasons that can lead to the appearance of flakiness but aren't. For example, the guy I'm dating has a kind of shitty phone and it runs out of battery too frequently. So sometimes he's not texting me back because his phone's out of battery. And there was that time he went home to see his family for the day and forgot his charger. Each time I've mentioned it after the fact -- also after I've had time to chill out -- he's apologized. Sometimes he's apologized unprompted.

At the same time, I've had friends that legit flaked out, and I've stopped being friends because I'm not going to waste my time on someone who makes concrete plans and then forgets.

So I think you need to take it on a case by case basis.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:22 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I let it go and make plans the next time that don't require me waiting around for a text or something. I feel that the "let's make a plan to make plans" thing doesn't work for me, because I am the sort of dork who feels like I have a plan, while others don't, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. I think it's worth differentiating between people who flake [i.e. make a plan and break it, in their own minds] and people who have tentative plans that don't wind up gelling and are just like this.

When I've talked this out with good friends in the past, I've been surprised sometimes that what I thought was a flaked-out-on plan, they just thought we were batting around ideas. And so you have to set your comfort level with other people and also try to set up plan-making with them in ways that isn't likely to fail, for both of you. So something like "How about I swing by after work?" (i.e. we now have a plan) is better than "Why don't you text me when you are free?" (i.e. I am waiting for you to contact me again)

At some level, you know you are not-that-psyched about flakiness but you seem to be extra-vigilant about potential flakiness and I don't think that gets you anywhere. If someone turns out to be a clear-cut flake, just stop hanging out with them. If there's a middle ground you can reach, try to find that. Find a way to make plans that DO work out, if you can do that and be clear about what your own needs are in ways that are just explained as communication differences, not the other person being a bad version of you.

So for plans with this woman I'd just say "Hey that text after work thing doesn't seem to work so well for me, how about next time we just plan to meet at the bar at 8 and that should give you time to get there after work?" [or whatever]. I think a lot of people have sort of built in ways of doing the plan thing in their heads and this woman may have had any number of valid reasons for not texting and without asking you won't know what's up. And even WITH asking you may not know because other people's brains work differently and they make different rational decisions based on their own priorities.

And really I think if someone says sorry about something like that, it's totally okay to both be understanding but also like "Yeah that was sort of a pain, let's find a way to make that not happen" which makes it clear that you can be forgiving but you'd prefer things went differently in the future. At some level if you're not dating people I think it's worth understanding that everyone is juggling multiple things in their lives and trying to make your issues into a major thing if you are not someone's SO is often a high maintenance move and not really workable unless you're with someone else who likes that level of interaction and intensity.
posted by jessamyn at 10:23 AM on December 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

With respect to your example with your new friend, there could be a number of reasons why she didn't contact you. The simplest one is that perhaps she had to work a lot later and a lot more intensively than she expected to and thus was just not in a position to send you a message.

If there was no set time for a meeting, a learning point from that is maybe to start saying to people when similar situations look like they might arise (in a friendly way, of course) "OK, if I don't hear from you by X o'clock, I'll assume you're unavailable, but I'll let you know where I end up if I go out / you want to catch up later". You've set a clear boundary, ensured you have given yourself time to do something else and and also kept open the opportunity for them to catch up later if possible; you can then go on and plan an alternative activity or what have you.

On preview, MaryDellamorte got there first!
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:25 AM on December 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

"I'll call you when I get off of work" with no specific plans = "I would really like to do something but in all likelihood will be too tired so let's see"
posted by bradbane at 10:29 AM on December 31, 2011 [10 favorites]

Without knowing specifics of your friend's job, it's possible that by the time she got off work, she figured it was too late to go out and maybe too late to contact you.

If someone apologizes unprompted, especially if they had a good reason, I would be pretty forgiving.
posted by maurreen at 10:30 AM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you're doing the right thing by ignoring it.

I wouldn't do this:
Call her and ask her what happened.

Assume that it's just a fluke for now and make sure your plans are more definite next time so you're not waiting on her. If it becomes a pattern, then you can say something.
posted by timsneezed at 10:35 AM on December 31, 2011

My way of dealing with it is to never make a plan that will require me to sit around waiting for a phone call, because that drives me batshit insane. If someone suggests that kind of thing, I assume that means that a) that kind of planning doesn't drive them crazy and therefore b) they are much less likely to be neurotic and precise about it than I want them to be.

What I would do in that situation is say "Ok, I'm going to go bring my laptop downtown and be at this coffeeshop from 6-8, then I'm thinking about grabbing a beer. Call me when you get off and we can meet up." That way I have my plans and if the other person can't make it my day isn't screwed up and I don't end up going to bed early and seething.

If she doesn't flake regularly and she apologized, then I wouldn't worry about this being a problem - just recognize that this planning style doesn't work for you and do things differently in the future.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:36 AM on December 31, 2011 [8 favorites]

"I'll call you when I get off of work" with no specific plans = "I would really like to do something but in all likelihood will be too tired so let's see"
posted by bradbane at 10:29 AM on December 31 [+] [!]

Yep. She probably didn't know you were just sitting around waiting. Never make those kind of plans. They never work out as well as actual plans. If someone has a thing, I tell them they can give me a call and maybe we'll do something. I don't actually plan on doing that thing as the center of my day/night.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:39 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

By the time I realized she wasn’t going to text me, it was too late to go out

This was a mistake on your part. You should have checked back in with her as the hour grew late ("Looks like you're working late, let's try next week") but because you didn't, a mild annoyance has turned into a wasted evening and anger on your part.

Which brings us to your main question, determining if a new acquaintance is a flake. And the way to do this is: gradually and dispassionately. Allow them a couple of broken plans before you say "it bugs me when we make plans and then don't carry through.". Allow a few more before you escalate that statement further. Then bail if appropriate.

Most of all remember that relationships grow slowly. Hanging the full weight of your expectations off a new one is a bad idea and leads to situations like you detail above. Cover your bets so you don't end up angry and offputting to someone you barely know.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:57 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yesterday, I texted her to say we should go out soon, and suggested that night if she didn’t have to work. She said she did have to work but that she would love to go out after, so I asked her to text me when she was done. She responded that she would and suggested that we also make plans for early next week.

You really shouldn't have been sitting around the house waiting for her to call. She really meant 'let's make plans for early next week.'
posted by empath at 11:01 AM on December 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have very low tolerance for flaky people and usually just end up dumping them as friends.

However, in this case, you probably could have just texted her: "Hey when do you think you'll be getting off?"

I pride myself on being good about keeping plans. However, there are times when I'm just exhausted or in a bad mood and frankly hoping to get out of it. In those cases, if neither of us has explicitly planned to be the first contactor, I'll wait for them to contact me.

If they do, I figure they really want to hang out and I keep my commitment. If they don't, I figure maybe they didn't want to do it that bad either, and take it as a chance to go take a nap or whatever. Maybe that's what happened here.

I'm not saying "chase" people who are proven flakes, I'm just saying in ambiguous situations like this go ahead and reach out to find out what's going on.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:29 AM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Asking someone to do something same-day is either rude or strictly a casual arrangement, depending on context. She may very well have a few opinions about your behavior - like, it was your request, she's working, you figure out the details and don't put it all on her.

But if your tolerance for "flakiness" is that low, then just don't re-engage with people who don't meet your standards. You don't need to lecture them or demand an apology, just move on.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:48 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think applying a standard rule is necessary unless you are talking about setting personal boundaries; it's really all on a case by case basis.
You like this person and it's early on in the friendship, so give her a break. She's never done this before and it's a busy time right now. Personally, I'd wait until she contacted you, but don't stew about it or worry.
I take it this is a significant issue to you. Enough so you want to put it out there right away? That would depend on how you do it.
When I was was young, I'd take flakiness personally until I realized just how common it is.
Don't wait around for other people, and if you do, put a time limit on it: I will wait x amount of time before I just do [blank].
Personally, I don't like waiting and I like people to be on time, but a lot of people are not this way, so I expect people to be late and somewhat careless, depending on if I want them in my life or not, and I'm happily surprised when they are prompt and courteous, which they mostly are, most of the time.
You are still getting to know her, so get to know this about her and judge how much you are willing to put up with.
In this case, you could have texted her to see what was going on, you could have gone out anyway, etc.
Figure out why this is such a big issue with you and if you need to tell people about it, but once you're close enough, I'm sure it will come up.
posted by provoliminal at 12:11 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I want to caution you against having a too stringent or too low-tolerance idea of what "flakiness" is and expecting other people to know, understand, or even care. I'm with every one else who thinks this was a poor example of someone blowing you off, for all the reasons given above - and others, like perhaps she felt like it would have been rude to text you after a certain time. Regardless, the fact that so many people in this thread don't think it was that big of a deal should suggest to you that despite your disappointment, it probably wouldn't be a big deal to most people and that maybe you should temper your reaction/response to acknowledge that.

I do think a lot of it depends on context/situation -- what happened with your friend above isn't really a flaking, but if she had said "I'm getting off at 8, meet me at this bar" and then not shown up that'd be different... as it would also be different if she said that and then texted you later and said she couldn't make it. I actually sat here and typed out paragraphs upon paragraphs of different scenarios and responses but:

The truth is that generally, telling people you don't appreciate being flaked on will really only have the effect of people either not wanting to make plans with you, or people being rather anxious about making plans with you. It pretty much will not guarantee that people will make plans with you and always follow through, which I think is your goal. If you give a person a couple of chances and find their behavior objectionable, you are probably better off not making plans with them anymore rather than trying to figure out what it means.
posted by sm1tten at 12:14 PM on December 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

My rule is pretty much make a plan (and yeah, I take plans probably too seriously) and if the person flakes, then the next plan is up to them. No initiation on your part. But you can't reprimand them, no one wants to deal with that. However, I have just a small number of friends because of probably my lack of spontaneity and open-mindedness with respect to plan-making so keep that in mind too!
posted by bquarters at 12:31 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

> She responded that she would and suggested that we also make plans for early next week.

I would read this (as a Guess-er) as "No, I'd rather make plans for early next week" and would probably respond by saying "Would you rather leave it until next week, then?". Seems slightly odd to make two sets of indefinite plans at once, and would suggest to me that she's not committed to meeting the same day.
posted by paduasoy at 12:51 PM on December 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

When responding to being blown off, I usually ask myself "what do I want to gain out of this?". Do I want the person to apologize? Do I want the person to explain why they weren't there? What is that going to change, for me? Is it worth nagging them over? 99% of the time, my response is "I want them to acknowledge that their behaviour was wrong in order to soothe my hurt ego". Is that likely to happen without damaging the relationship? Not really. Not early on.

I second the suggestion to turn flaky suggestions into concrete plans (ie. she says "I'll contact you when I get out of work", you say "I was thinking we could go to X around (time interval)"; after that time interval passes, they were too busy to come and you do something else). I usually have an alternate non-time sensitive activity to do while waiting/in case they don't show, like reading a book or doing coursework etc. Sure that's a little boring in comparison to going out and partying but I make sure to occupy myself with something I genuinely enjoy in case this friend flakes out.

I also encourage you to give people the benefit of the doubt. Life happens. While you may be the kind of person to send a message if you're not going to make it, they may have legitimate reasons (to them, maybe not to you) for missing your rendez-vous. Try not to hold a grudge and instead focus on letting it go.
posted by buteo at 1:29 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Making plans for when someone's getting off work is one of the easiest ways to get "blown off." Because what sounds fun early in the day doesn't always sound fun when you're tired and finally done with your shift. Saying "I'll text after work" is like the lowest possible commitment a person can make to you, and she should not be held to the same standard as someone with whom you made real plans.

You should have intuited this and made other plans -- possibly plans that she could have joined in on if/when she got in touch, but really your prime obligation is to yourself and your own entertainment.

If you have multiple examples of this kind of thing, you shouldn't be setting your standards based on them. You should be filing them under "shit happens" or "human nature."

In cases where it really is a barrier to getting close with someone, all you can do is A) politely let them know how much this bothers you, exactly once, and then B) keep trying with other people who have the same values.

Being a fussbudget or a stickler with regards to the finer points of these things, however, is just going to make people feel pressured, and will have the ironic effect of making them care less about committing to plans with you. So I think you need to be as gracious as possible about it, as often as possible.
posted by hermitosis at 1:49 PM on December 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am fairly picky about people just not showing up, but you seem a bit more extreme than even I am. If someone flakes one time, then calls to apologise, saying something like "It's okay" doesn't seem like you're excusing all flakiness forever, it seems like you're understanding that occasionally life gets in the way. If someone flakes out a lot, then all the apologies in the world don't matter. If someone just absolutely forgot about the plans, they probably won't apologise because they don't remember there's anything to apologise for -- it's fine, the next time you speak to them, to ask them what happened to your plans to do x.

"I don't know how late I have to work" -- she might really have wanted to see you, then had it slip her mind after a hard day at work, or she might have just been unable to cope with another thing (which is understandable, but if she remembered and just didn't want to go, it's pretty rude not to even text you to say she wasn't up for it). Honestly, if you are getting friendly, it's fine to call or text the next day and ask what happened, and take it from there.

The first time this happens, a tit-for-tat "I won't call you until you call me first" thing is immature (I get the urge, I have to fight it myself), and if it's regular but worth still seeing the person, it's normal to let them make the plans instead of you.
posted by jeather at 3:39 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

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