cut off flaky friend?
February 27, 2014 7:28 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with a friend who you really like, who is really unreliable?

I've had a friend for several years; in many ways I consider him my best friend. I really like his personality, we communicate so easily and understand each other always in conversation. It's one of those "kindred spirit" friendships. When we hang out, we always have a great time and hours past without notice. He is 100% present when we talk, gives great advice, is a great listener, and in general is very nice.

However, on a practical level he is very unreliable, and always has been (from my point of view). We live in different countries, and will make plans to video chat which requires lots of planning, sort of, because of the time zone difference. In the past he has completely dropped the ball on communications over and over again, often leaving me hanging. He always apologizes and changes his behavior a little bit, but usually reverts back.

Recently we have been talking about doing a business venture together (because we have so many ideas and agree on many things) and he made all of these plans for us to talk once a week, research for us to do in between, and such. So, I did the research, and he told me at the last second he couldn't make our first meeting and I haven't heard from him in three weeks. This is typical of stuff he does.

The problem is, it drives me crazy and I think it's disrespectful. and yet he is a unique friend; I don't have any other friends that I enjoy talking to as much and who I feel understand me as well. Perhaps I could find one, I admit.

My questions, essentially: Is it worth dealing with this crap when the friend is special? Or is it less painful in the end to cut him out of my life? If I keep him in my life, how do I deal with this flaky crap? If I cut him off, how do I deal with the loss of friendship, and stick to my guns of not contacting him?

note: I've talked to him about this issue so many times; he always apologizes and it seems to get better initially but then it happens again.
posted by bearette to Human Relations (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Why are you thinking of going into business with his guy? That sounds like a terrible idea.
posted by Dasein at 7:30 AM on February 27, 2014 [22 favorites]

Yup! He sounds flaky.

DO NOT go into business with him.

Tell him next time: "I'll leave skype on, and when you're free give me a buzz and if I'm free we can chat." Don't plan it. Just leave it open ended.

This relationship will either continue or fizzle out on its own, so you don't really have to do anything here.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:30 AM on February 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: note: I already sent him a message nixing the business. My main concerns are the questions at the end of my explanation.
posted by bearette at 7:33 AM on February 27, 2014

You can have flaky friends, but limit your expectations. Only plan open-ended stuff with this friend...say you'll chat online when you're both there, you'll catch up when you catch up, etc.
posted by xingcat at 7:34 AM on February 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

I think you are hugely wise to cut him out of your BUSINESS/PROFESSIONAL life. For the other, just scale back the friendship expectations. I don't think you need to completely and deliberately cut things off with him, but I do think you need to manage your expectations. You know he is unreliable and a flake, so stop making plans with him. Having things happen ad hoc, like St. Peepsburg suggests. Stop making deliberate plans with him. If things happen spontaneously, great! But plans clearly aren't going to work. If notices and asks why you can explain that his frequent/constant flaking out on plans and his being so unreliable was starting to take a toll on your friendship, so rather than continue to be disappointed by him over and over again you are trying to have the friendship work in a way that hopefully better accounts for that. And if do ever make plans with him in the future, just assume everything is a "maybe", despite what he says, and plan accordingly. If you have a "maybe" plan with him but a concrete awesome plan comes up at the same time I would maybe consider rescheduling the maybe plan with him and doing the awesome thing that evening instead. That keeps you from being extra frustrated and irritated with him. Keeps you from having "I could have been doing that other awesome thing I was invited to, instead I am just sitting here with nothing to do because flakey friend flaked out again!"
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

My questions, essentially: Is it worth dealing with this crap when the friend is special?

Yes. This is not a spouse whom you need to rely on to raise your children. We're all weird, we all have quirks. Take the good parts of the friend, know he's not going to change, and leave the rest.
posted by Melismata at 7:36 AM on February 27, 2014 [13 favorites]

Socially, you may not need to cut him out of your life completely if you can adjust your expectations to match reality instead of chasing the fantasy. You have done all you can. Stop making your plans around him. If you run into each other online, serendipitously, that's great. If he wants to chat despite the distance and time zones, let him bend over backwards to do it at your convenience.
posted by jon1270 at 7:37 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's an old aphorism: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result"

Your friend is flaky. You know he's flaky. Yet you keep making plans that rely on him to not be flaky. I agree with other posters that maybe you can lower your expectations. Accept him for who he is, and make plans that are more open-ended, like, "I'll email you" or "I'll be on skype from X to Y."

Being in a long-distance friendship with someone who is a flake is hard. I don't think you would have to do anything explicit to cut him off. If you stop doing the lion's share of the work to keep the lines open, he will likely fade away naturally.
posted by muddgirl at 7:38 AM on February 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is the way he is. If the way he is is making you feel bad and disrespected, then you shouldn't be friends with him. If you can let go of the fact that he needs to play by your rules of friendship, then you can be friends with him just fine. But you can't, realistically, expect him to meet your expectations.

I have a number of flaky friends and my relationships with them are really casual and I make sure to not depend on them for stuff. It's a friendship boundary just like any other. I don't have to "deal" with their behavior because how they act is how I expect them to act.
posted by griphus at 7:38 AM on February 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Good times when together + hard time getting together = Make it easier to get together. Meet him where he's at, because he's your friend and would do the same for you.

Bad times when together + hard time getting together = Don't bother getting together. Because, why? But that's not your situation.
posted by bleep at 7:41 AM on February 27, 2014

If you want to cut him off because it upsets you too much, that is fine. If you want to keep your friendship with him, try moving to asynchronous conversation and leaving a chat app open when you are available so if you both happen to be free at the same time, you can videochat, and if not, well, you haven't rearranged any schedules for it.
posted by jeather at 7:43 AM on February 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

*By "meet him where he's at", I don't mean you literally have to move to his country, btw. I mean in terms of how you relate to him. Just the things mentioned above like leaving your skype on when you're available and not spending a lot of time and energy trying to stick to a mode of connection that doesn't work for you guys.
posted by bleep at 7:43 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't have to officially end this friendship. You just have to accept that he'll always be unreliable, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Plan your chat dates so that you have something else to do if (when) he doesn't show, or switch to email or some other form of asynchronous communication that doesn't require advance planning. Give him the opportunity to take the lead; either he'll step up, or he'll fade.

People who regularly flake out or temporarily disappear can still be close and highly-valued friends. They'll never be the kind of friends who will help you move or throw you an amazing party, and they do tend to be more distant than friends who make a regular effort, but you can still have a connection with them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:44 AM on February 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

I will also say that one of my close friends was, in the past, very unreliable (we'd make plans and she just wouldn't show). I decided the friendship was worth it and readjusted the way I made plans, and now, 15 years later, we are still friends and she is reliable. So just because he is like this now doesn't mean he'll be like it forever.

But you can't always be waiting for him to change, because he might not change.
posted by jeather at 7:58 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

All friendships are not created equal. I have certain friends who will always be there for me no matter what and I know who they are. There are other friends I can count for lesser levels of support, and then there are friends in whom I don't place a lot of trust.

That's all okay, because every friendship is unique in how it rewards me.

Set your expectations of this person accordingly, don't put yourself in situations where his flakiness can do you material harm, and things should be fine and you can continue to experience the rewarding parts of the relationship.
posted by DWRoelands at 8:00 AM on February 27, 2014

Is it worth dealing with this crap when the friend is special?

Based on my personal experience, the answer to this question is yes. It sounds like my best friend is very similar to the way you describe your friend here: unreliable, cancels at the last minute, inconsistent, etc.

I struggled with this a lot, especially early on. Ultimately, what it came down to is accepting the fact that this behavior does bother me, and frankly, I probably wouldn't accept it from many other people, but the rewards of having this person as a friend are worth more to me than the hassles of their faults.

On a practical level, I do my best not to set them up for failure. I no longer make plans that would leave me severely inconvenienced if they bail at the last minute (like buying expensive concerts). Since this person tends to be forgetful, I accept the fact that I will probably need to remind them about the plans we've made. (Nixing the business venture was definitely a good call in your case.)

I also came to terms with a couple of things in our friendship:

1. I had to accept that this isn't someone who I could rely on to come through for me in a crisis. That was hard to deal with at first, because it's nice to think that your best friend is someone who will be there for you when you need them the most, but I have other people like that in my life, and I don't have the power (or the right) to make this person into the perfect friend that I want them to be.

2. With my friend, I remind myself that this about them and not me. They're not flaking because they are trying to be disrespectful or don't value the friendship. This is just how they are, and it's something they struggle with across most domains of their life.*

3. I remind myself that we all have our own strengths and faults. What this person lacks in reliability, they make up for in many other ways. I know that I could tell them anything, and they don't judge me for it. We can talk for hours on end, and I always enjoy our time together. Sure, I still get annoyed about the flakiness, but the friendship is worth so much more to me than these challenges.

But this is my particular situation. At the end of the day, it's really up to you to decide what you're willing to tolerate in your relationship.

*If you believe this is about your friend taking you for granted rather than an overall flakiness, that's another matter, and one I would be less willing to put up with. In fact, I have let go of friendships when I believed that they just didn't care about the relationship enough to prioritize it.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:08 AM on February 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Have you told him how much it bothers you that he flakes out and leaves you hanging at the last minute? I think you need to tell him that he should try to follow through on plans you guys make, or commit himself to less plans. At least, I definitely wouldn't end your friendship without talking to him about this bugging you.

It may also be that the long-distance friendship thing isn't something he can handle very well and maybe you need to be more the type of friends who: when you see each other - great, but when you're apart, you mostly live your separate lives. I don't know how much you are wanting to have these long-distance Skype sessions or whatever, but maybe you need to expect less of that given the distance between you? He could be flaky, but you could be expecting too much too, depending.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:16 AM on February 27, 2014

I have a couple of friends I would describe as flaky when it comes to being on time and following through with plans, but who I could absolutely depend on in an emergency. I would never cut them out of my life, but they occupy a different social spot than the friends who always come through.

When I make plans with these flaky friends, I've found it's very sanity-preserving to have a backup ready to go - someone else to hang out with on short notice, or something fun to do on my own. If I start out with the knowledge that there's a good chance Amy's going to flake out on me, I won't be surprised or particularly upset if that does happen, and having a backup means I don't waste time dithering about my unfulfilled plans. My evening can't be ruined if I have the next-best fun thing to do already lined up.

It took practice to do this in a way that didn't have me gritting my teeth, but now it works fine, and when Amy does come through, that's a lovely surprise, and I'm free to really enjoy time with her, rather than carrying the resentment of the previous times she's flaked on me.
posted by jessicapierce at 8:17 AM on February 27, 2014

Yes, absolutely maintain the friendship, if you have the resources to do so. "We forgive because we have been forgiven much" is generally true for most people. If we reflect deeply on ourselves, we'll find that we bring much to the table, but we also cause pain on some level in our relationships.

I think adjusting expectations is the way to go. Often the hardest part in things like this is simply admitting that some of our favorite people in the world can cause us pain, rather than being our idealized version of them that we desire. Realizing this is not the case, and finding that we have the capacity to love them despite their faults and our frustrations, is a big part of growing as a person. But it's not about ignoring the pain or issues or pretending it doesn't exist. It's about being honest with people regarding our disappointments, and still having the capacity to invest in their lives.

I think there are definite exceptions to this general mode of operation (we all have limits); but I think we should be careful regarding what we break fellowship over in life. I think we too often do this haphazardly when we insist on ideals and high expectations for people, rather than taking a brutally honest look at the human condition, and realizing that we all fall short. And really, it's not that we give up having high expectations for people, because we should have them. It's about having grace to let them keep trying to become better. Sometimes it takes a lot of tries, and then something sticks. Sometimes people struggle with things for life, but we develop virtues in ourselves by still giving ourselves to people who have faults, simply because they are innately valuable as human beings.

That being said, though, I wouldn't do the business venture. This is different than the value we place on our interpersonal relationships, as it's just ... business. That should be evaluated on pragmatic terms.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:51 AM on February 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

You're female and he's male? Has there ever been romantic tension?

I cut off a friend like this recently, but we were exes and I am somewhat attracted to him, so he was a priority for me while I was not as much a priority for him. (He claims he had to flake on me because I am too attractive/we are too likely to crush. Smells like bullshit to me, but I don't know.)

I am much better off not seeing him in person, but he still sends me links and happy birthday emails and I'm okay with that. I have come to realize I am going to be emailed-when-bored-at-work-or-has-a-passing-thought girl and I've accepted it. He likes it, I'm comfortable with it.

So now we're email buddies. He also has ADD, maybe your guy does as well? Anyway I solved my thing by scrapping the in person part, maybe you can too.
posted by quincunx at 9:07 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've got some good friends that are flakes. I've dealt with this by always having a backup plan. As in, we made plans to do X, but if she cancels, I do y. Y is something I am really looking forward to so it's a win-win.
If video chats are too much work, communicate via Whatzapp instead. That way you don't have to set up a time, just send messages whenever.
posted by Neekee at 9:34 AM on February 27, 2014

If I keep him in my life, how do I deal with this flaky crap?

I find I'm a lot more relaxed about people when I expect them to be who they are rather than who I want them to be.

This guy is flaky and irresponsible. That doesn't have to negate the things you do like about him.
posted by ook at 10:11 AM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with a lot of what's being said here. I have had similar problems with flaky friends. I was getting pretty hurt, but then I decided I had to make a decision: either cut them off, or just accept that they were going to be flaky and it didn't really reflect anything about ME. It's just how they are (and it was easier once I realized they treated all their other friends the exact same way). So I lowered my expectations and made myself a rule that if they are flaky, it means nothing about me and I'll just go hang out with someone else. And it works for the most part, although sometimes I still do get annoyed at them (hey I'm human).

I would definitely advise you NOT to go into business with him. That is for certain. It's opening you up to a lot of trouble.
posted by christiehawk at 11:56 AM on February 27, 2014

He always apologizes and changes his behavior a little bit, but usually reverts back.

He gives you just enough positive reinforcement to keep you in the friendship on his terms. That isn't cool.

He'll change when the consequences are great enough that he realizes it's better to do the right thing (be there when he says he will), than to do the less-right thing (to flake).

I see no reason for you to continue to participate in this dynamic, since it frustrates you. Your perfectly healthy needs -- to be treated respectfully, to be able to trust him in the very basic, minimal task of just showing up for you -- aren't being met.

There are plenty of interesting, reliable people you can bond with, who will have his good qualities without the the unnecessary flake-factor.

I'd stop contacting him altogether. If he sacks up at some point and asks why, and wants to know what he can do to repair the friendship, then you can revisit it.

As it stands, this is a pretty one-sided arrangement. Feh. Life is too long to suffer flakes.
posted by nacho fries at 12:30 PM on February 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have some friends like this, and I agree the key is to adjust your expectation and be thoughtful about what types of activities you plan together. "Let's make a reservation at a trendy restaurant that won't seat you until your whole party is there" = bad. "I'm having some friends over Friday night to sit around and drink wine, and you're welcome to drop by" = good. You guys are in different spots, but I like the idea of "message me when we're both online!" I actually have some college friendships that we keep up in this way -- when we both happen to be on Skype or Gchat, we'll talk and catch up, and if our schedules don't mesh for a few weeks, that's okay too.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:36 PM on February 27, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. These answers were helpful.
posted by bearette at 11:45 AM on March 1, 2014

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