Are non-committal friends the new normal?
October 22, 2016 11:36 AM   Subscribe

It is sometimes a herculean struggle to get people in my friend group to commit to events. Often 50% to 75% will cancel the day of the event, just hours before. None of them have kids, serious relationships, or crazy work schedules. Is it me? Could I organize things differently? Or is this the new normal?

Most of these friends are between 25 and 35 and of varying genders. I am the oldest person in the group. As stated above, no kids, no serious partners, no unexpected changes in work schedules. Everyone knows everyone else, at least in passing, and I have never heard any rumblings of drama, missing stairs or the like. A few are ex-lovers but remain good friends. I've gone out one-on-one with almost everyone, sometimes initiated by me, sometimes them, and they apparently enjoy my company because they keep talking to me.

But here are some very common scenarios:

1. I post on Facebook (the primary way we all communicate, and the way many of us met) that I would like to go to Event, and would anyone like to join me? I don't want to go alone, so if no one responds, I would stay home or do something else. I post these as soon as I learn of the event, usually 2-3 weeks in advance.

2. I post that I am going to Event, whether anyone else wants to go or not, but people are welcome to join me. These are kind of ad-hoc, anywhere from the day before to the week before.

3. I suggest we create Event (e.g. picnic, trip to museum, going to a dance club) and try to round up a group of people. I create a Facebook group and invite specific people. Let's say 20. They are welcome to invite friends. I try to plan these at least two weeks in advance. I pick things that are inexpensive (under $20) or free because most people don't have a lot of financial resources. I offer to pay for people who want to come but can't for purely financial reasons.

Most of the time, people express great interest at first! Some say they would like to go, but can't because of a conflict. Some are on the fence, depending on schedule/finances/pet care/etc, and some say they are definitely going. The fence sitters slowly drop off as the event approaches, and so do some of the definitelys. The day of, I usually have two or three Definitelys, and five to ten maybes. I try to contact everyone individually. Almost to a person, they are still noncommittal. Out of 10 definitelys + maybes, usually 2 show up, and one of them is an hour late. We have a great time, but I'm annoyed at the amount of work it took to get to that point. At the aforementioned picnic, as of two hours before the event I didn't have a clear headcount, so I could not plan food purchases. I don't know how I would handle a wedding!

It's getting very frustrating. If I don't initiate things, it's very rare that anyone plans anything in advance - mostly it's "hey does anyone want to go to a movie on the other side of town that starts in an hour"? What is going on? Is this just how people are these days? Are they snake people? Or is there something I can do differently? Note: I can't just "find another group of friends"; as a 41 year old single childless gay trans guy I don't fit in anywhere and I'm just going to have a different set of problems in any other group.
posted by AFABulous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
100% normal from what I can tell. (I'm 36) Most people my age and younger tend to treat anything planned more than a day in advance as completely tentative.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:44 AM on October 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

The way you are inviting people (passive, big groups) tells people that it is not Their Particular Company you're seeking but A Big Group of People so they perceive you don't care whether they as individuals turn up and don't prioritise it.

Invite people directly and personally and see if that changes anything.
posted by bimbam at 11:49 AM on October 22, 2016 [155 favorites]

I have this problem. And sometimes I am the problem.

I'm not completely sure what the answer is, but I suggest stopping putting together larger events like this, since it seems like it's consistently frustrating to you. I've had better luck with specific one-on-one events. They stick in my head better, my commitment feels more serious and less "oh that sounds fun, if I'm in the mood that night I'll do it."

Does the group get together in other ways besides you organizing? How does that happen? Does it work well? What makes it work?
posted by bunderful at 11:49 AM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

These are all pretty soft invites and pretty soft commits.
posted by fixedgear at 11:49 AM on October 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

I experience this to a degree, although with my circles it's more likely to be an activity planned by email or text. When people cancel pretty last minute, I chalk up to it being easier to cancel via text than it would be to actually call someone and cancel like in the pioneer days. I feel like with Facebook events it could be to your detriment that you're inviting a group. Even though I get your intention that the more you invite, the more likely you'll get some attendance. I might read a Facebook invite and think, "hmmm there's a lot of people going or potentially going, so it's ok if I flake out or procrastinate on my decision." I know that's incredibly rude, but that's how I treat Facebook.
Anecdotally, I can tell you I'm much more organized with my mom friends and activities with them. I think it's because we have so little free time, we schedule the time we do have really carefully and never want to miss it. Because that brunch with a friend for 2 hours next Saturday may be my only solo social activity all month. So I find I take that time really seriously, also knowing it's my friends precious free time too.
posted by areaperson at 11:49 AM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you actually said anything to your closer friends, one on one, about this? But "let's casually invite 30 people to this thing on facebook oh no they don't always show up" feels like not so much of a problem, because it feels like a 'let us see who shows up' and not a specific invite to someone.
posted by jeather at 11:51 AM on October 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you're inviting 20 people on Facebook to a group activity you plan to do anyway, that's a casual invitation, so people are going to treat it casually. I'd be curious if this still happens when you invite specific people to do specific things ("hey, friend X, I noticed you're interested in this movie; want to see it and get dinner?")
posted by thetortoise at 11:51 AM on October 22, 2016 [13 favorites]

This is a thing. My solution to it has been to just invite way more people than I expect to show up. For example my partner and I threw a game night recently. We already had a couple people coming over for something else earlier in the day, so we figured they'd stay and play. Then we invited about 10 other people. Of that number, we were really impressed when a total of 6 people turned up. My instinct is to not invite more people than will comfortably fit in our place, or than will easily be able to do the activity together. However, if you build in shrinkage due to flaking, you have far fewer dud parties in my opinion.

It's also important to remember barrier to entry for this sort of thing. If an event costs something to attend (even if it's like "event held at bar, guests expected to purchase drinks"), it's more likely people will flake. If the event involves driving any significant distance, it's more likely people will flake. If the event is held at a time when a lot of people have other obligations, it's more likely people will flake.

Also, anyone who RSVPs "maybe" or "interested" to a Facebook event is not coming. They would click "no" but feel it's not socially acceptable for some reason.
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 AM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: No, it doesn't usually happen one-on-one. I haven't had this level of flakiness when going to dinner with people.

The reason I like to plan group things is ... things are fun in groups! It's also fun for my friends to get to know each other. Inviting each person individually would be a LOT of work if coordinating various schedules or locations is needed. "Joe, how's 8 pm? Bob, Joe can't do 8 pm. How is 6 pm? Jerry, can you do 6 pm? Okay, but Jill needs a ride? Can Sue pick her up?" As I said, I do check in with people individually if they have said maybe or definitely. But mass updates are easiest for time/location/other information.

NO ONE checks email. No one. I don't even have most of their addresses (or phone numbers). I've probably gotten two emails from this group of people in a year, but I get frequent Facebook messages and occasional texts and Twitter DMs from them.
posted by AFABulous at 12:00 PM on October 22, 2016

Also, you'll probably find that almost no one will take you up on letting you pay their way for an event like this. Most people don't like to talk about money, to be dependent on others, or for people to know how little they have. So they'd rather just not attend a fun event rather than attending but now AFABulous will know that they're so broke they had to borrow $20 to get into a haunted house.
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I attribute this to a weird knock-on effect from too much Internet/social media... we've been rewired to habitually look for diversions from things instead of looking forward to things. Any scheduled event is something you have the urge to get out of, no matter how much you're looking forward to it. But being asked to do something right now is appealing as a distraction from... whatever it is you're supposed to be doing.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:12 PM on October 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

Nope, same thing with me. Stopped asking a friend of mine if she wanted to go someplace, then constantly at that day she'd say she didn't want to get out of bed. And one time, asked me if I wanted to have a coffee later that day. Another friend of mine kind of "disconnected" from social media, and totally forgot he was supposed to meet me at a party last Saturday. This is someone who went in and out of Facebook because of FOMO. And these weren't big planned events, they were direct invitations over chat for free stuff that we'd both enjoy.

I think this is more an effect of instant communication than anything else. Because it's easier to come up with something, it's also easy to treat almost everything as a soft invite as fixedgear said. People are also bombarded with invited for shitloads of events, and eventually, a maybe for your meetup goes in the same mindbasket as other events they are mass-invited and have no interest of attending. Over at our Creative Mornings chapter (free, requires inscription but that isn't stricly enforced), I'm happy if half + one of all on the paper show up.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:18 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The reason I like to plan group things is ... things are fun in groups! It's also fun for my friends to get to know each other.

I have committed in recent times to saying yes to most things I'm invited to and going to everything I've said yes to. but it's hell and I wish I could relapse into being a flake again sooner rather than later because things are no fucking fun in groups.

It is a lot of fun to be the center organizing person who knows everybody there and therefore always has somebody to talk to and someone to introduce, sure. but that is pretty much the only situation where I can see your point of view. You know your own friends and if they all agree that things are fun in groups then there you go, it's half generational malaise and half Facebook degeneracy. but I would give anything to know more people who know that things are fun in groups OF UP TO FOUR PEOPLE MAX and then a whole lot of no fun. maybe they just like the idea of big group activity plans but not the part where it actually happens. maybe they don't want to say that they don't even like the idea of big group activity plans because they don't want to be boring buzzkills.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:24 PM on October 22, 2016 [28 favorites]

usually 2-3 weeks in advance.

Nobody knows what they're doing 2-3 weeks from now, and even if they do agree, the [something they just heard about] will get agreed to and the reminder for your thing won't happen until day of, at which point they will already have [outfit for something they just heard about or etc].
So, unless it involves expensive tickets that must be snapped up before they sell out, keep your invites to [week of event] and follow up the next day via txt (everybody gets those) of either "cool! Can't wait to see u at [event]" or "hey I posted an invite at [social media place] wanna come along? Lemme know"
posted by sexyrobot at 12:27 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't consider soft invites that involve larger groups the same way as I consider personal invites that are one-on-one or a smaller group (maximum 3-5 people). Big group things seem to have a more optional feel and I don't feel bad about flaking if I'm not feeling it while more personal invites with a small group are something I plan my day around.
posted by quince at 12:28 PM on October 22, 2016 [19 favorites]

  1. I don't regard most Facebook event invites as serious invites (a few, yes). I'll make them if I feel like it, but I usually won't say "yes" to them either. Maybe that's just me. Also, if I see that someone has invited 100 people to a picnic at the park, it's clear that they don't expect 100 people to show up.
  2. People, especially kids these days, are definitely engaging in some kind of realtime social arbitrage, where one person goes to event X, another goes to event Y, and they text each other to try to determine who is having more fun. So it wouldn't surprise me if these same people are more likely to flake at the last minute.

posted by adamrice at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have friends who I can consistently rely on to keep their word and others who I anticipate flaking almost every time. If I want to attend or host an event, I pick one or two reliable people who I really want to see and lock them in on the date. Once we few are committed, then I can blanket-invite the rest and not care if they actually come or not and not be disappointed when they flake.
posted by RoadScholar at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think it's also a function of the app- I have things that I'm not interested in that I say I'm interested in just to get updates on (art events, for example). Or, sometimes I'll say I'm going to an event just to see if it will spark other friends who I know would be maybes into being yesses. If i hear nothing specific from them, I don't go.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:21 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with bimbam--I get wanting to do a group outing but it seems like you're casting too wide a net.

I'm definitely one of those "it's not a plan until you tell me an exact time and date and I agree to it" kind of person. I make tons of tentative plans with friends ("we should grab lunch soon!" "we should check out that exhibit sometime!") but don't count on anything until a specific time is set, so I totally get how people flake.

It's a lot of fun to do things in groups but I think you'll have a lot more luck if you stick to a smaller group like 6-8. For one, it seems a lot less casual and more like you actually want to spend time with these specific people. Also, it's a lot easier to coordinate/plan for activities when it's smaller, and some people just really don't like big (15-20 person) groups. I view friend hangouts on three levels:

1) Giant group events (20+ people)--I fully expect tons of people to drop out of these, I always se them as a "feel free to drop by if you can" sort of thing. These are best if it's a long open ended hangout at a bar/park/etc and people can drop by late (sometimes hours). To actually get it to happen I just ensure that a core number of people (at least 5 or so) will definitely attend, by asking them personally. Usually more will come. That way you won't end up sitting alone at a large reserved table, crying. You'll have at least 5 friends there.

2) Smaller group hangouts (4-12)--I expect some to flake last minute for these, too, but it's a lot less pressure. For these I again make sure a small core of friends commits, so either way it'll be fun. Also I always send plenty of reminders to people who have said yes, using language assuming that they'll of course be there ("see you tomorrow at 3 pm, Wendy!").

1) One-on-one -- Nail down a specific time and place, and I always always check the day-of to see if it's still on, and I'm always prepared for cancellations with a plan B activity for myself.

So I think in every case, asking a few individuals personally to ensure attendance is pretty important. And just always have a backup plan, something you'll enjoy doing, so you'll never really be disappointed. I think in this day and age with so much going on people just have a lot of options, and with the internet/social media it's a lot easier to just flake out.
posted by sprezzy at 1:24 PM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ooo yes, like RoadScholar said..."locking people in" for certain things is important.
posted by sprezzy at 1:25 PM on October 22, 2016

I think sprezzy gets at something important:

The more structured the event, the fewer people you should expect to participate.
posted by Sara C. at 1:42 PM on October 22, 2016

Do all of your friends know all of your other friends? That is, do your work friends, former school friends, random hobby friends, distant cousins, etc. all know and like each other? I am often invited to big group things via Facebook and I don't go because I will only know the host. Perhaps you are not as socially anxious as me, but I guarantee at least some of your friends are terrified they're going to accept an invite to see you and be stuck for several hours trying to be polite to someone they don't know or like or be faced with offending you by leaving early.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:46 PM on October 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

1. Yes, this is the new normal.
2. If your desire to get get a group to enjoy an activity together, you are casting to small a net. 20 FB invites will not yield a group. It might yield one person, or if you are working as hard as you are to follow up, 2 people. If you want a group of 10 without the effort you are putting in, invite 200 - 300 people. As others have said, FB invites are very passive. It is a numbers game.
posted by hworth at 1:52 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you are keen on finding a compatriot for a specific event, then go after a particular person. Get their cell number, email, whatever they respond to.

Facebook is pretty useless to me for a big event. I get all sorts of invites, but the ones that I really pay attention to are the emailed sort. If you want to build group traction, come up with a regular event that people will get into the routine of attending.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:12 PM on October 22, 2016

You're also in prime career-building ages there. Combined with roles that aren't senior enough...I bet some people are flaking with cause work is crazy that Day or it was the day before, plus the large group thing.

I'm 46 and old too but I find the large group thing gets less fun every year with a very few exceptions.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:26 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is me. I am almost certainly driving you nuts. I'm not a millennial either (38, sigh...) so I should know better and even without the childcare commitments nothing i say or do on facebook is a legit commitment. Unless we've had the text (or FB messenger) conversation "Me: what time should i show up for XXX? You: 8 Me: Ok - see you then, might be a few minutes late", I'm probably not coming. If i do, it's the exception, not the rule.

I'd like to think I'm the kind of person who goes out and does all these things, but thats not the actual reality. The FB accept should be more loosely translated as a "it sounds theoretically awesome and i'll try and be there if nothing blows up at work and i can convince myself to put on pants". And in a lot of cases, going out is more effort than i'm willing to actually do after a long day.
posted by cgg at 2:50 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you're inviting friends from different friend groups, this is just how it is. I think it's somewhat easier to get a turnout if it's people who already hang out with each other.

The only thing I can think of, given your parameters, is to actually require more commitment. Like, everyone contributes $20 in advance to fund the purchase of something? That way they're less likely to flake. But, if it isn't something they really want to do, they're less likely to sign up in the first place.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:59 PM on October 22, 2016

The thing is you're not actually inviting people, you're organizing events and doing it in a very passive, noncommittal way. You're not communicating to the individuals who step forward that you actually want them there.

It's like you're sitting in a draft and you want to close the window, but instead of getting up and closing the window, you say to no-one in particular "Are you cold?"

I mean, yeah, actually organizing to go to stuff with individuals is a lot of effort, and they may flake even then, in which case the answer is not to set anything up with that individual again. But you haven't actually gotten to the point of having that problem.

I get that you don't want to commit to the effort of organizing stuff on an individual basis, but in that case people aren't going to commit to the effort of actually turning up because it doesn't seem like it's about them.
posted by tel3path at 3:06 PM on October 22, 2016 [14 favorites]

Here was my process the last time I planned an event (party at my place):
I invited about 35 people about 3 weeks in advance, expecting around 30 people to show up.
I created a Facebook invite, inviting whoever I could via Facebook and the the rest via email.
I contacted (or had my husband contact), every single person individually. Based on their individual responses, I could tell that about 10 would not be able to make it, a few more were liable to be flaky - you need to have individual conversations or you will not be able to get a sense for how serious they are.
I invited another 10 people, not inviting them via Facebook so they wouldn't know they were second choices.
I made lists of people, sorted into definite and maybes.
I continued to remind people of the event whenever I bumped into them and sent out reminders on Facebook closer to the event date.
My mom told me to expect about 10% of my definites to flake at the last minute.
In the end, ~30 people showed up, most of the definites, a few maybes and a couple last minute friends of friends.
It was a lot of work, just emotionally, you really have to bug people to keep the event top of mind.
posted by peacheater at 3:12 PM on October 22, 2016

I confess that I would look at a Facebook group event commitment as less of a commitment if I was busy or stressed. I take it more seriously if I've committed by text or whatsapp. No idea why, except that it feels less personal.
posted by frumiousb at 3:46 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you're seeing people flake partly because you're inviting people from different social circles who don't know each other/don't have a pre-existing relationship. Meeting new people and navigating new group dynamics requires much more social energy than hanging out one-on-one or in existing groups with friends. Plus, these people have no idea if they will like each other or not, and since people have so little free time these days they are less likely to want to take the risk.

I think if you change your group activities to people who know and like each other, you'll probably have a better rate of return. Then, you can add one or two new people to these activities and see how they get along. If your group likes the new people, you can start incorporating the new people in the group activities and things will snowball from there.
posted by emilynoa at 4:12 PM on October 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think you're seeing people flake partly because you're inviting people from different social circles who don't know each other/don't have a pre-existing relationship.

I came in to say the same thing. Going to an event where the only person I know well is the host sounds like a lot of work to me.

The other question is, what kind of events are these? Are they the sort of things that people look forward to for weeks - rare, exciting, and tied to your identity? Or are they more mundane? Nothing wrong with either, but people are going to prioritize the identity-affirming events a lot more.


If I don't initiate things, it's very rare that anyone plans anything in advance
Almost to a person, they are still noncommittal

Honestly, it sounds like people in your group just don't like going out. It could be as simple as that. Or maybe all of their going-out energy is already being spent on romantic partners - that's very common in cities. (In my experience, picnics, museums, and movies are the sort of things people do on dates. Going to a dance club is definitely group-of-friends territory, but generally requires a lot of energy.) Or maybe they'd rather take time to nurture in-person relationships and leave the mostly-on-Facebook relationships as they are.

If you want to do more things with this specific group, I would cultivate closer individual friendships (in person, not online, whenever possible) and then invite those friends to smaller, 3-8 person gatherings. Consider also making the gatherings themselves a little more intimate or identity-affirming.
posted by danceswithlight at 4:42 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess people keep missing this part of the question: Everyone knows everyone else, at least in passing. We're all already part of the same social group - I'm not combining the church choir with a r/atheism meetup. We all have the same basic political beliefs, similar tastes in music, movies, etc. And we all have one very major life experience in common. I've never seen anyone stand around awkwardly because they can't find someone to talk to or don't know what to talk about.
posted by AFABulous at 5:31 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes this is a thing, and it's not you. In fact kudos to you for continuing to plan group events; I can't think of anyone who even tries anymore (except for parties in their home, those must be harder to flake on).
posted by soakimbo at 6:31 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also agree with the people above - I consider the kind of invitation that you're sending to be presented in an optional way, and I really need a lot of energy and motivation to go somewhere with people I don't know well. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don't. And it's definitely not the host's fault; I appreciate their efforts.

Here are my strategies when I'm hosting:
The tie-in: When I want to see a large number of my group of friends, I tend to connect it to something that's already happening. For example, one of our friends who moved away is back in town in a couple of weeks, so we're hosting a 'hi and we missed you party.' Or a birthday party - people tend to come to those. We also have a regular activity that we all do together, so getting people together after that is easier because they're already out (and probably hungry).

The co-host: For things without a tie-in, I confirm a time and date with the most important 3-4 people, the people I know will commit, and then build from there. Even choosing the activity is collaborative, so it's more like 'I want to hang out with you people' and less 'there's this thing that I don't want to do alone.' That part does require the work that you described above, but then at least you know you'll have a few people who are committed to the event as you are. They choose it, they own it, and they'll have a good time.
posted by oryelle at 6:34 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, my friend group in town (about the same age and circumstances) has traveled to multiple foreign countries together, but somehow it's a huge chore to get everyone in the same spot for a movie night every couple months. Your process sounds pretty much like mine - I text/talk to everyone individually to gauge interest, and then invite everyone to a facebook to work out logistics (time/date/etc). Luckily there are a couple other reliable people in the group, so I tend to prioritize their availability over that of the flakes (so if [reliable person] is free Monday but not Tuesday, I may decide to do the event on Monday even if in theory more people are available on Tuesday).

The nuclear option would, I suppose, be to just stop organizing events (or only limit yourself to doing stuff with the reliable people) and wait for one of the flakes to take up the mantle of social coordinator so they get a taste of how frustrating it is - this is basically what happened to me (the previous social coordinator moved away and I know that I have become much more reliable/responsive to others' event planning since I've started trying to do it myself..)
posted by btfreek at 6:43 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are these just timeline posts, or actual (private) "events"? I get (and have seen others get) much better results by using fb events for even very minor get-togethers, since it gives people a dedicated forum to check on, and it gives the organizer a public-facing way to manage RSVPs. If you're already doing that and folks are still this flakey, I'm sorry because that is well beyond what I'd expect from the similarly-aged group of folks I know. Mine would mostly be late, but they'd almost all ultimately show, and the ones who didn't would tend to be known for it.
posted by teremala at 7:27 PM on October 22, 2016

For me, at least, it actually has nothing to do with the other people - it's that a large, casual, no-effort group invitation has no reason for me to actually be there. That goes double if it's an event I have to pay for. No one's counting on me, or if they are, they certainly don't say so.

If I'm going to someone's house, even if it's a huge group, then I need to be solid in my RSVP, because people will be cooking for me or buying food for me. If I'm going to a bar that doesn't require reservations, it doesn't matter, because everyone is buying their own food.

Same with "hey who wants to check out this museum?" It doesn't matter how many people are going, because you're there to check out a museum which is a solo activity done in multiple, rather than an activity that needs a certain amount of people. Room Escape I would always show up to if I RSVP'd.

Basically, people's perceived event obligation is always: (Effort of host) x (level of personal request) x (actual fun of event), / (number of people invited) x (casualness of request)
posted by corb at 7:32 PM on October 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

I feel this is normal.

The events I go to are usually 2-10 people or for a special occasion. If there are significantly more people, I don't feel like I get to spend time talking with them all anyway. So I would rather just spend time with them separately.

Also, it sounds like the Facebook events you are hosting are very passive and general. Yeah, I like the idea of going on Art Walks. But when I've had a long week, it's drizzling outside, and I'd have to fight for parking, I'm going to cancel.

The events we host/attend are usually at home dinners. So there's a built in event and it's free for the guests (though they usually bring something). Then it feels like going out and doing something special, but you end up spending less money than actually going out. If someone invites me to do something that I have to pay full price for, and not specifically to spend time with me, then I don't really feel I'm obligated to attend.
posted by ethidda at 7:51 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think things that are framed as "events" have a more optional feel, especially if people see that lots of people are invited. They can kind of fade noncommitally into the Facebook crowd. I know you said you're following up with people individually, but I think you'll have more success with this approach:

Either get your hands on people's phone numbers or use Facebook messenger to reach out to a small group of people, maximum six, for a low-key gathering. If you can host a small dinner at your home, great -- if not, maybe ask people to try out a new restaurant in town (I'm definitely not set up to host people at my house, and I totally get it if this isn't your thing; the idea is a warm, unstructured activity with lots of face time among the group). People should ideally be able to see that there's only a handful of invitees.

Coordinating from there will probably have its challenges, as you mention -- you may need to discreetly reach out to some backup folks if slots don't fill up (without letting them know they're the backups), but I think your end result will be much more satisfying for everyone. And as people build their friendships with each other in those settings, they'll look ever more forward to hanging out, so I think the gatherings will gain momentum over time.

I know this leaves you potentially solo for the more structured activities you like to enjoy with company, and I'm not sure what the solution is to that particular scenario. But as for just getting together with friends for friends' sake, I think small-scale, meal-centric (or coffee-centric or drink-centric) gatherings could really pay off effort-wise and gain some traction.
posted by delight at 8:28 PM on October 22, 2016

Yeah, "I want to hang out with anyone in this large group, no preference as to who" gets a very different level of commitment from me as an attendee than "friend! I want to hang out with you and Joe in particular!"

I'm an introvert, so my theoretical desire to spend time with people is always going to exceed my day-of-the-event actual desire to leave the house. So I think that's what's driving some of the flakiness you see. Put that in conjunction with the large group problem, and it's very easy for people to think, "eh, there are lots of other people who will show up, I won't be missed."

Also another introvert thing is that even if I "know" people they are probably not part of the extremely small subset of people I find actively relaxing to spend time with. Gearing up to spend time with those in the "I like you, but don't know you well enough to let you into my inner circle" people is exhausting. It makes a social event feel like work. So maybe you need to seek out more extroverts (who presumably don't feel this way.)
posted by MsMolly at 10:09 PM on October 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

Definitely agreeing with people above, if you're inviting an amorphous Group, you aren't inviting anyone in particular. Something's coming up in a couple weeks? I might tag it as Interested as a "I haven't immediately said no, this sounds interesting, let's tag it so I don't forget", but that's about as far as that goes. Things sound much more interesting in the abstract most times than they do when it's the day of and do I really want to be out with even more people after work and there's Civilization waiting at home...

If you want people specifically to show up, you have to specifically ask people to come. The way you're doing it, it says to me "I don't actually care if you make it, I'm just looking for bodies", like you don't want to get turned down so keeping it open means there's always another option or other people who'll turn up. Groups that large even hypothetically are often imposing/deterring.

Alternately framed, you're seeing a lot of work which you're putting into it, but is that work visible or even desired by the people in question?
posted by CrystalDave at 10:15 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking it's largely Facebook. If I get invited by email and I RSVP, I usually feel I at least need to apologize if I don't show. Facebook invites code to me as far less intimate.

(If no one uses email -- which seems odd, but whatever-- use Facebook Messenger. Saying "I'll be there," to me at least, is much more of a commitment than hitting a 'attending' button.)
posted by steady-state strawberry at 10:24 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Everyone knows everyone else, at least in passing."

A lot of people have a different definition of "knows" than you seem to. "In passing" is not "knows" to me. In order for me to consider something to be a get together with friends, I have to actually be friends with all the other people involved. Member of the same social group isn't going to cut it.

Organizing a large group of people is a lot of work. A lot of people flat out don't like doing things in groups, and a lot of people who do tend to have a lot of commitments and so they're flaky. I think that your desire to have a large group and your desire not to work hard at organizing are mutually exclusive.
posted by decathecting at 11:09 PM on October 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I'm with MsMolly. The idea of these events sounds great and sometimes I accept because I want to be the kind of person who goes to things and socialises with people, but really introversion and getting older and tireder means that unless the stars have aligned perfectly, I'm not going to go. I find socialising with people I don't know super duper well really hard.

I was at something recently with about a dozen group of people I know (well enough that I've been on holiday with about half of them) but even then I find chatting in a group hard and I spent more time trailing around keeping the host company in the kitchen and helping with the baby.

I sometimes wonder if I was less of a flake in my early twenties because flaking meant leaving people wondering if you were lost (no mobile phones), if because I had more energy or because I generally drank so much then I could've conversed with a lamp post.
posted by kitten magic at 1:01 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I should add that I really appreciate people like you organising things and inviting me and I feel slightly guilty everytime they come up because I want to want to go and would like to be that person but unfortunately I'm generally not.
posted by kitten magic at 1:04 AM on October 23, 2016

I have witnessed both epic wonderful group parties and kinda sad under attended parties in the last month. The epic parties the invite was by email and followed up personally, the less awesome parties were a FB invite.

Text these people to ask for their emails. Or send the invite as a group text and follow up one on one. People will make a commitment to you, their friend, but not to the vague idea of "Sunday apple picking."

But yes, this is a thing, and generational, and it totally blows. Be the old-fashioned, community creating change you wish to see in the world! Do it by asking people point-blank: "I would love to see you at my birthday party-- will you be there?" Yes, you will lose some people due to scheduling conflicts.
posted by athirstforsalt at 2:21 AM on October 23, 2016

This is the new normal, and it sucks. Not just for things like this, but for clubs and hobby events too - in fact, even more so, because there have often had to be more things organised in advance. A friend of mine now includes in his event descriptions for his club something like "if you say you're attending, you had better damn well attend unless you have a good excuse". And he will message to chew people out if they say 'yes' to an event and don't go. This seems to be effective for the group.

I feel like this really can be trained out of some people. I was a slight flake in high school, until a friend basically sat me down and told me how much it sucked to set up a night out and have most of the people drop out at the last minute (this was pre-mobile phones, so this was calling on landlines), and all the things you said about it actually being work to set these things up, stressful if people drop out at the last minute and so on. Now if I say I'm going, I go, unless I'm genuinely ill or the car won't start.

(I was going to say it can be trained out of people in general, but then I read the responses upthread and found out that there are people who know the negative impact of their behaviour as flakes and yet still do it. I know there are issues like anxiety etc at work, but surely that can be acknowledged by making yourself a 'maybe'/'interested' for something like this?)
posted by Vortisaur at 4:19 AM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

What works for me for medium-sized groups is individual email invites + a Doodle link to register availability. Occasionally someone still drops out, but the loss rate is way lower than for a more open-ended invitation like a meetup or FB invite.

The second strategy is to coordinate in a way that encourages participants to commit to bring something or contribute in some way. If someone has promised to bring a cake to your picnic, they're more likely to understand it's not cool for them to drop out. (Contributions without financial cost are also possible, depending on what the activity is.)
posted by shattersock at 6:24 AM on October 23, 2016

When I get an invite on facebook to an event of 15+ people I do not think "I am being invited to an event," I think "I am being notified that an event is occurring."

There is an easy solution to this though: just group text or group email these same people! That creates a totally different context.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:45 AM on October 23, 2016 [11 favorites]

Exactly. I would never ever flake on an invite I'd accepted, and I similarly get wound up if other people do it to me. But I don't see how a message via Facebook is any kind of serious invitation. If people want me to do something (or vice versa) they will text/imessage/email, and that's how we'll plan what's going to happen. I believe it's the medium you're using that's the "non-committal" part here, not the friends themselves.

I hadn't thought about it this way before, but your description of the three types of messages just didn't look like invitations to me at all. To be honest, it seems to me that most Facebook posts are narcissistic or passive-aggressive messages that I usually assume are aimed at someone other than me.
posted by tillsbury at 4:35 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid to say that I believe even if you make personalized invitations to people, that it is indeed true that this level of flakiness is "normal", although I personally am of a similar ilk and I find it incredibly irritating.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:11 PM on October 23, 2016

I haven't read all the responses, but those I did read seemed to have the theme of "invite people personally, rather than as a group via facebook, and this problem will go away".

Not in my experience, it won't. I have had similar experiences to you, when trying to organize game nights or dinners in my home. I usually use personalized email to invite people, and sometimes invite people in person. I used to invite 8 people or so--because that's about the most I can comfortably host. But after too many last-minute text or email cancellations, I've started inviting more like a dozen people--knowing that some will invariably flake out, even after we work out the byzantine task of finding a date that supposedly works with everyone's schedules.

Last time, two separate people cancelled by text hours before, literally as I was walking out of the store having purchased more wine and food than I would have otherwise.

So, in addition to inviting people personally, I'd suggest you also make sure you invite more people than you really want to show up (maybe far more!) as insurance. If 20 isn't enough, go for 30! It's never been my experience (and it sounds like it hasn't been yours, either) that *more* people show up than expected--it's always fewer. So I would suggest "overbooking".

Maybe also make it explicitly clear what you are doing to prepare for the event. People can be thoughtless, but being reminded that there is actually a human being on the other end who is impacted by your behaviour, might help. Next time I host, I think I'm going to send out not only a reminder, but specifics about what I will be preparing, and how I am excited for X person to try Y dish or Z game. In your case, maybe let people know a day or two in advance that you are excited to be doing Thing, and are glad to have cleared your busy schedule in anticipation of Thing and Good Company.

As to why people take their commitments so casually, I don't always know. But it's not limited to millennials. I'm 43 and the people I invite are mostly around my age, with a couple a bit older.

One friend has young twins he shares custody of, and one friend has four kids he is mostly responsible for, so I get that Kid Emergencies are going to take precedence. But single, childless friends? Still do this just as much. And it really irks me. Some of the reasons are shitty, too. One of the above-mentioned last-minute cancellations was because his father's birthday was the day after the gaming!! Ummm... did you not know when your own father's birthday was when you responded "definitely yes"? And why do you need to refrain from gaming the day *before* his birthday, when he lives a few miles away?
posted by mysterious_stranger at 11:55 PM on October 23, 2016

As the event organiser you're naturally going to prioritise this in your life, but I bet people are filing this under "Something that might be fun if there's nothing else going on and I feel like doing it on the day." You need to help people out to move the event to "I am going to this event so I must make sure to block out this day".

In addition to sending out your FB invites (which I will add to the chorus that I would view is passive and totally non-committal) single out 3-4 people and have a direct conversation with them about the event in the coming days. Ask them if they know if so-and-so is also coming (not part of the 3-4 you are directly talking to) and don't be shy about asking them to ask them about it next time they see them or talk to them. You need to keep the conversation engaging and frequent so that it's top of mind for people. And NOT through FB, which is just a stream of noise these days.
posted by like_neon at 1:26 AM on October 24, 2016

Nth-ing the "yes, this is the new normal". I don't like it. I find it awkward to arrange things one-on-one but I used to be great at organising group events. Back when it was all done by email, people would commit. Facebook somehow makes things seem irrelevant.
posted by easternblot at 3:01 AM on October 24, 2016

I guess people keep missing this part of the question: Everyone knows everyone else, at least in passing.

Right, but that means they may have other backchannels and other ways of connecting to the extent they need/want to, and that if they miss this event they may see the people they really want to at the next one.

I had a group like this in [former city] and we had events like this all the time, but everyone had their People that they were most intent on seeing. I was visiting [former city] last month and sent out an invitation for brunch to a dozen of my closer-ish people. Eight said yes; one showed up on time. Another six trickled in over the next hour(!) but pretty much everyone had gotten used to the mindset that in this group, there would be another chance to see everyone and no one single event was important... even if the guy who was organizing was visiting town for the first time in six months and they'd each been personally invited.
posted by psoas at 10:00 AM on October 24, 2016

I'm an extrovert and even though I LOVE socializing I rarely go to events organized in this manner because like others have said, (1) inviting so many people seems passive / like my specific presence is nonessential, and (2) my time is still limited (work, hobbies, gym, sleep, etc. are still a factor for us extroverts) so anything other than the events I am HIGHLY enthused about and that will rejuvenate me aren't going to make the cut. I also have my besties, and hanging out with them is huge payoff and fun every time. I can't tell how close your group is, but how close I am to the actual people going is a huge factor in how worth it it is.

Another question -- are the things you're inviting these friends to the kind of things they actually like? Would they do them on their own? If they're into movies across town but not the museum, can you co-plan the next movie outing with them? You can keep hype alive by continually posting to the FB event, but it's easier to convince people to do something they already want to do. For example, basically all of my friends are party/dance music people. But I still have to sort of mentally keep track of what subgenres of dance music people enjoy, and how much I think they would like a particular party before I invest a ton of time in trying to get them to come with me. I also have to keep in mind if they are going to something else the day before, if they just came back from a big trip, or are being flaky because they just disappeared into a new relationship or whatever. I always reach out individually to friends and then based on the enthusiasm of their response to that initial suggestion, keep engaging/reminding them (e.g. "I'm so excited for Friday!" a few days before) or just drop it.

The other 2 strategies I can suggest are:
- Plan the next outing at the previous hangout. If you do get people out and they're having a good time, it's usually pretty easy to generate ideas of what else y'all should do. Plus then they have some ownership over it.
- As others have said, start small (the most key 2-3 people) and work your way out. Use texting. Make it personal.
posted by internet of pillows at 5:07 PM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

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