Should I confront my friend about their flakiness?
June 3, 2008 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Dealing with a friend whose tendency to vacillate with both plans and moods is driving me slowly mad. Should I speak with them about this, or find a way to deal with it?

We will refer to this friend of mine as B.
B is a close friend, whom I've known for several years. We share many mutual friends, and are ourselves close, to the extent that we discuss a lot of personal details and advise each other on various conundrums we encounter. I like B, and enjoy spending time with B, and truly care about B, but I have been finding it increasingly difficult to be patient and graceful about a particular pattern of B's, when I find it incredibly frustrating.

Here is an example: B and I were out with friends of ours, and I saw something that I really wanted to purchase. It was just a few dollars more than I had on me at the time, and I said as much. B immediately offered to lend me the money, and I said, "Oh, thanks! That'd be great. I'll pay you back, definitely." I imagined that we were not far from an ATM, and would have the opportunity to repay B shortly. However, almost immediately (like, two seconds later), B rescinded the offer, saying there might be something B would want to buy at the next place we stopped, and B didn't want to be without the money in that case, BUT IF, at the end of the outing, B hadn't spent the money, and I still wanted to buy the thing I was looking at, we could come back and then B would lend me the money.

The pattern I'm trying to represent here is: 1) make an offer/commitment, 2) retract said offer/commitment, 3) make a promise that it seems B imagines will make up for it, despite the fact that the promise in (3) is highly unlikely to take place.

Here is another example: A while ago, B and I were going to attend a gathering together, and I told B that I was interested in checking out Event 2 (where other friends of ours were in attendance) after Gathering 1. B said they might be willing to do so, and so we went to Gathering 1. Mid-way through Gathering 1, B expressed the thought that Gathering 1 was so enjoyable that maybe B wouldn't be into moving on to Event 2 after all. As I was dependant on B for a ride, this was pretty disheartening. B then proceeded to tell me that, even if B wasn't going to Event 2, B would still drive me there. Although I knew this was probably as likely as suddenly sprouting wings and flying there myself, rather than calling B out on this, I nodded and assured B that that would be fine. Of course, we did not end up going to Event 2, and of course, B did not drive me there after all. I felt bad, as I'd told a mutual friend I'd try to be there, but it was out of my hands.

In both of these scenarios, it's less B's unwillingness to do what I want to do (lend me $5, drive to Event 2) that irritates me, than the fact that B explicitly offers to do things, and then does not. I understand not wanting to give me $5. I understand deciding not to attend an event you weren't really stoked to attend all along. I don't understand verbally committing to something and then backing out of it at will, frequently.

This seems to happen a lot with B making plans: B will agree to an outing, and then realize several minutes, hours, or days later that it's in conflict with other plans, or B just doesn't feel like it anymore, or B agreed to the outing or commitment on a whim. B will then assure the host or inviter for the event that B might still come, if B feels like it - even when it is often apparent to me that B will most likely not end up going. I can understand doing this on occasion - everyone changes their mind, there's nothing wrong with that - but this is so frequent an occurrence with B that I feel I can never take B's word when plans are being made.

I cannot deny that this has begun to infuriate me every time I see an example of it (and of course, with confirmation bias playing into it, it seems to happen more often than it really does). This has been seriously affecting my mood around B recently, and my strategy so far has been to avoid having lots of contact with B, figuring that if I just reduce my exposure, I'll better be able to let it slide off my back. But, I'm still residually annoyed when I do see B, and I don't like interacting with B while essentially biting my tongue (hard) all the time; I prefer to have an open dialogue. In the past, we have had a few conversations about frustrating or hurtful habits that the other person does, and I am fighting with myself over whether or not I should bring this pattern of behavior up. The problem is that B is highly sensitive about criticism, and the last time I brought up anything about her habits, it was something I shouldn't have (it was a really minor quirk that was just driving me nuts at the time.)

But, I suspect this is something B should maybe address, because I know it's not just me that's annoyed by it. B is generally acknowledged to be kind of flaky amongst our group, but I don't see anyone else stepping in to talk with B about it.

So. Here are my questions:

1) Should I bring this up with B?
1a) If I do, what is the best way to frame the situation?

Throwaway email: if you need it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Previously from, perhaps, your friend's perspective.

Stop relying on her for favors.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2008

First off, it's good to acknowledge the bias that you hold. I was very happy to see that.

But onto your question. If you're going to have to have interact with B in the future, I would bring it up. But not in a "I don't want to be your friend anymore" kind of way, I'd do it in a "I still want to hang out with you but I'm not going to rely on you for anything" kind of way. Good luck pulling that off though, I have no advice for how to do it.

Karma will catch up to her. It always does. If you wanted to, you could try pulling the same stuff on her. That could be effective, but could also be considered poor form by anyone over 12, so use that with caution.
posted by theichibun at 2:33 PM on June 3, 2008

This is what I would do: I'm not saying that it's applicable to your situation.

Next time B offered to do something for me, I'd explain that it was fine, and that I'd already arranged this huge awkward thing that cost me a fortune/required me to call in every favour ever/whatever, and that I didn't need B's help. I would have already made a backup plan (where possible), because of B's flakiness, and then really make a huge fuss of refusing when B offered to do [whatever]. If/when B asked why I didn't want their help, I'd casually mention that s/he generally didn't back up offers of help with actual help. All with a smile on my face, to soften the blow a bit. if B didn't get the hint, then I wouldn't bother being clear, and would absolutely refuse to rely on B in the future, to the point of making it obvious.

What I think you should do is wait until a relevant situation arose, and then ether say "B, you promised to do $this, and I relied on you to do $this. If you knew you were incapable of doing $, why did you offer to do it?" Put your cards on the table.

But either way, I absolutely would not rely on someone unreliable, no matter how close we were.
posted by Solomon at 2:36 PM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

It seems to me like calling her on it when it happens is the only sane way to handle it - you don't have to be aggressive, just say "hey, remember that you said you'd do x?" You're not going to get a useful response, but if you keep calling her on it, she may start to recognize the pattern of behavior.

In your second example, at the events, I would have said very pointedly "Hey, you said you'd drive me to Event 2 - I have a friend waiting for me there. Do I need to make other plans?" and say this early enough that you could, feasibly, make other plans. And then... make other plans. Call a cab, call a different friend, etc. Make your desires a priority, at least some of the time.

Because, ultimately, she's doing it cause it works. She gets to change her mind whenever, follow through or not as whim strikes, and she suffers no consequences for doing so. Give her some consequences - even if you have to tell her, quite pointedly, that you can't count on her to follow through so you're not inviting her/letting her drive/etc.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:39 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well this is just a thought.... make your own plans. To me this whole situation smacks of you following B's lead every time. If you wanted that item then you could have found an ATM and gone back to get it. If you wanted to go to that show then you should have gotten on B's ass to get you there rather than taking a passive approach to the situation. You know how this person behaves, so it also stands to reason that you can consider that in advance and plan accordingly. If something is important to you then find a way to do it, regardless of what B's plans are.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 2:42 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

The sanest option is to assume that her offers to do anything for you simply aren't reliable. If you don't take her up on anything, you can't be dissapointed when she rescinds. You'll just have to create solutions to problems (being short five bucks, needing a ride, etc.) that don't involve relying on her.
posted by scody at 2:47 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hit post too soon, sorry.

it was a really minor quirk that was just driving me nuts at the time

Consider that this may be the case again.

I think that it's pretty much impossible for you to have this discussion with someone without them feeling defensive and hurt, because you're essentially saying "Something you have been doing over and over, for the last x years, sucks for this reason. It is a character flaw, and everyone else notices it too and it's been going on for so long." You haven't brought it up before now, right? It seems really back-stabby to collect all this anger and frustration and unload it on her all at once.

The best approach, if you really must do this, is to catch her in the act. She must be hurting you or inconveniencing you, you're not the etiquette cops, so don't try to police all of her behavior towards everyone.

Example: "Hey, I appreciate the ride, but could you please not say you're going to give me a ride somewhere and then go back on it? It's really irritating. I could have arranged a ride with someone else."

"It really hurts my feelings when you say you'll come to my party and then back out. Don't do it again. Next time please say you're not sure."

"Hey, can we go back to that store now? No? You said we could. That's really disappointing. Please don't do it again."

The key is to not bring up the million times she's done it in the past--she can't change the past, especially if she didn't know it was a problem at the time!

And in the future, don't hold this stuff in until it becomes completely toxic. Call her out on it immediately. Yes, she might get miffed, but then you talk about it for a second, one/both of you apologizes, and you MOVE. ON.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:48 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

B sounds passive aggressive to the nth degree. Instead of just saying, "No, I don't want to go to Event 2," B indicates whatever it takes to get you to go along with B in the first place, and then backs out so that you are stuck doing what B really wanted to do.

I've been a victim of this, and you can bring it up if you really think it is unconscious on B's part. But it's more likely this is B's way of getting what B wants. In B's mind, B is devilishly clever and you have no idea that you are being manipulated in this way.

You are either going to have to be really hard-nosed and insist that B do what B has promised, even if it takes confrontation ("you promised we would go to event 2, take me there now or we are through hanging out together"), or you will have to make plans that DO NOT require B to come through on ANY promises.

It's not fair to get frustrated and expect B to change unless you have dealt with the situation head-on, since it's likely this is the way B always handles situations that make him/her uncomfortable.
posted by misha at 2:53 PM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

B indicates whatever it takes to get you to go along with B in the first place, and then backs out so that you are stuck doing what B really wanted to do.

If you'll notice, they had plans to go to event 1 together before the OP even mentioned event 2. B never "promised" the OP that she would go to event 2, she just said she might like to go. Then she said she wouldn't like to go, after all, because she was enjoying herself and didn't want to leave. Maybe it's a bit selfish (I don't actually think so), but I don't see the manipulation.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:05 PM on June 3, 2008

This seems to happen a lot with B making plans: B will agree to an outing, and then realize several minutes, hours, or days later that it's in conflict with other plans, or B just doesn't feel like it anymore....this is so frequent an occurrence with B that I feel I can never take B's word when plans are being made

I think that's selfish, yes.
posted by misha at 3:17 PM on June 3, 2008

What result would you like to achieve?

1. To get B to change her behavior? It sounds like this is a pretty ingrained pattern for her, and I'm having trouble thinking of what you might be able to say to her to cause her behavior to change, and to change for any lasting period of time.

2. To vent? You won't end up feeling better, because you're acknowledging that B won't take it well.

I know this sounds flip, and I do not mean it that way - but if you want to continue to be friends with B, you just have to acknowledge that this behavior is a part of who she is and you can't get annoyed every time you see it happen. Especially when it is behavior that doesn't directly involve you - it's not up to you to try to reform B for the benefit of the social group.

Don't rely on her. When she makes an offer, see it for what it is - a big fat "maybe". If you want to do something, make your own plans for how to get there. If you're short on cash, find your own $5, put the item on hold, whatever you would do if B wasn't there or if B was totally broke. As far as commitments for group social events, maybe B will be at the next party or group outing or whatever, or maybe she won't - does it matter that much?

Building up resentment about something you can't really change is harming you, it's not harming B.
posted by KAS at 3:22 PM on June 3, 2008

It sounds like you're relying on leeching money and rides from B and getting annoyed when she doesn't let you. In the second Event 1 and 2 example, if she only said maybe to 2, then how is she renegging? There was nothing stopping you from finding your own way to Event 2, or going to an ATM and going back to buy the item in the first example.

It's a lot easier to change your own behaviour rather than the behaviour of others. If you know this is a pattern with B, then don't rely on her in the future, and do your own thing.
posted by Sar at 3:42 PM on June 3, 2008

I live with someone like B, who's a pleaser. He says what he thinks people want to hear, not because he's a pathological liar, but because deep in his heart, he'd really like to be able to fulfill on the promise. He wants to be Superman, the guy that rescues everyone. For whatever reason - forgetfulness, stress, overextension - he often does not come through. Because he's my life partner, I can have a more direct conversation with him about it than you might with your friend. However, accusations and expressions of disappointment do not work. They poison our relationship, and they don't change his behavior.

I can wish all day that he were different, but what matters to me is his intent. He offered to do $nicething, and he had the honest intent of following through, but his brain got in the way. The positive side is that he often does nice things spontaneously, and if I focus on these, rather than what he doesn't do, it creates a much better relationship. Hopefully your friend does nice things for you as well as stupid things, otherwise why is B your friend?
posted by desjardins at 3:52 PM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't stand for that shit cause it makes me insane: unlike desjardins, intent doesn't interest me. So I am not friends with people who don't come through. That is pretty much your choice. Work around it or let B fade into an acquaintance you just see at big parties.
posted by dame at 4:37 PM on June 3, 2008

When you're in a group setting and B does the thing where she immediately reneges on an offer or promise to do something, turn right away to the next friend in your group and ask her or him for that $2, or that ride to the next event. Don't be taken into the whole wait-and-see game that B is playing. Who knows? Maybe B will be relieved to not have her offer relied upon. And another friend may be happy that you asked and prove to be a more reliable person.
posted by PY at 4:39 PM on June 3, 2008

I live with someone like B, who's a pleaser. He says what he thinks people want to hear, not because he's a pathological liar, but because deep in his heart, he'd really like to be able to fulfill on the promise.

I think this is more B's problem than any kind of evil machinations to get you to do what she wants. In my experience with people like this, it's a combination of lack of foresight, wanting to please/fear of confrontation, and just plain flakiness. Even if B wanted to change this behavior, I believe that she wouldn't be able to because she'll thinks she's fixing it when she's actually not.

It's not that she's planning on upsetting you from the start, it's more that her words don't mean as much to her as yours do to you (if she's anything like the people I know).
posted by LionIndex at 4:50 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You have an unreliable friend. I have one too. She's a lifelong friend and a great person, but she can't make a commitment to save her life. "I'll pick you up at 8" meant I might see her at 9:30, or maybe I would call her to find that she wasn't coming at all. It used to drive me insane, and make me feel kind of stoogey, until I (a) realized she did it to everyone, not just me, and (2) stopped relying on her. So now "I'll pick you up at 8" is met with "I'm riding with X, let's meet there." "I'll lend you this book when I'm done with it" means I should get my own copy if I ever want to read it. She's much more enjoyable when I'm not trying to make her be someone she's not, and it's OK to have one or two unreliable friends as long as you don't let their unreliability affect you.
posted by boomchicka at 5:20 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

p.s. The above only works if the unreliable friend is part of a larger circle, as opposed to a best or only friend.
posted by boomchicka at 5:21 PM on June 3, 2008

you know she is a flake. why keep relying on her for things that you know she will flake out on?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:23 PM on June 3, 2008

Confronting this person will not do any good. Some people are anal-retentive, and some people are flaky. I've learned not to "read" a flaky person's offers/promises the same way I would interpret the same thing if I or one of my similarly anal-retentive friends said it. Just appreciate your flaky friends for who they are but don't count on them for anything. It's all part of accepting that you can't really change a basic personality trait like that - you can just work around it.
posted by matildaben at 5:27 PM on June 3, 2008

If this person has enough good traits that you value her friendship, then you need to make rules of interaction which allow for her "quirk" and which simultaneously allow you to stay sane and liking her. Therefore, just stop putting yourself in a position where her flakiness is going to be an issue, you will be surprised at how freeing it is. Friendship is a two-way street, if she has traits you value enough, then you have to just find a way to work around the things you can't stand.

I have a friend similar to this, who is very very dear to me, the only way I can stay friends with him is by making my own rules about our friendship (rules about my own behaviour and expectations, not about his behaviour). So if we make plans, I always, always have a backup plan, if he's late picking me up for a time-sensitive event like a movie, I simply don't go (and I tell him when we first make the plans that I am not going if he is late). If I am not relying on him for transportation/entertainment/whatever, I cannot be annoyed when he fails to come through. I am reasonable and consistent, I make allowances when they are warranted, but it means that I can accept my friend for who he is, with all his foibles, and at the same time, not be constantly irritated by behaviour which I know is not going to change, but which irritates me nonetheless.
posted by biscotti at 5:51 PM on June 3, 2008

I think others have it right.

First, stop relying on her for rides or money. If you want to have available cash, plan ahead or bring a credit card. If you need a ride somewhere, get it from someone who has committed (not just saying "they might like") to go to whatever it is. Or call a cab, ride a bus, buy a car, whatever.

Second, don't make any plans that require her presence. Or if you do plan 1 on 1 events, then yes, call her out if she's showing up absurdly late - by not being there. "Oh, since it was an hour later, I went off and did something else."

I have to say, your examples may have poisoned the well, because as stated, it sounds like your friend is a people-pleaser, and you have a tendency to mooch. If you imagined an ATM was nearby, why not go pull out money yourself? If someone says they "might" go on to Event B, take them at their word and find definite transport.

From dealing with moochers who are always short of cash or demand a ride somewhere not convenient to the person with the actual car (and how rare that gas money offer is), I'd say you're in a perfect storm of moocher meets flaky people pleaser who says yes but means no. It reminds me of a weekly gathering where one person, who was perfectly capable of riding the bus, but was lazy, kept asking another friend if they could get a ride. The other friend kept saying, "sorry, I've got stuff in my car, can't." This repeated for a few weeks until finally I had to tell the friend with the car to just give a flat out no, which they finally did, making the fatal mistake of giving the true reason that it was a fair bit out of their way. To which, the other person said, "well, couldn't you drop me somewhere more convenient?"
posted by canine epigram at 6:04 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who acted like this. And she had the self awareness to realise that she made offers to appear generous, and to have folk feel grateful to her. She couldn't help herself, she felt she had to buy friendships by making promises she sorta knew, somewhere inside, that she wouldn't keep, but that put her friends in her debt for awhile.

Your friend is trying to control situations with you, make you hang on a little. She is probably doing this because she doesn't feel secure in her ability to gain or hold your attention.

When interacting with her, you may need to be clearer about expected outcomes and keep the ball in your court. "I need $5 to buy this thing. I'm going to find an ATM. Do you want to wait here or come with me?" I have to leave this gathering to get to the other event. I'm leaving now to catch transport. Do you want to come?"

As others have said, don't place yourself in positions of expectation with this person. Act in a way that makes them realise that you are willing to act on your own behalf and follow through on your plans. They will soon learn that if they want to hang out with you, they'll have to follow through too.
posted by Kerasia at 7:09 PM on June 3, 2008

B speaks up too soon in an effort to please and relieve the pressure. In my question that sondriliac linked, I was given a lot of good advice about saying no, taking the time before committing, and then if I commit giving it a chance. Now B is not asking this question and you can't actually change her behavior. This is not completely a character flaw, it's also a matter of ingrained personality and when someone's personality is attacked they don't usually react in a positive way. Also, I think a lot of it is your problem, which is why you're so mad when apparently no one else is bent out of shape about it. Confronting her would be a bad idea.

In both of the examples, she either didn't really commit or she changed her mind quickly but still left you an out. In neither example did you indicate if you tried to take her up on the initial offer! Did you ask her for the ride later? Did you ask her to take you to an ATM or did you ask her for the money? You're the one asking for favors but it seems you leave it up to her when she's already indicated at the very least reluctance or flat out denial. I admit I'm kind of proud of her for putting her own needs first (I might need that money) rather than giving it to you and then silently resenting you later, but of course now you're resenting her.

I have found that it is not good to confront people about issues like this, because the problem is really made up of a bunch of "incidents" and the other person will not see the big picture that you see. You've got to handle this in the moment and be more resolute. She seems like she has a "buy-in" communication style, so rather than being direct she offers ideas and hopes you'll buy in. So when she says, "I really like it at this party but I'll be glad to drive you to X.....", it's still up in the air until you say, "Can you drive me to X now?" You've got to try meeting her halfway.
posted by Danila at 11:03 PM on June 3, 2008

Should I speak with them about this, or find a way to deal with it?


And by 'deal with it' I mean always rely on other means, and by 'speak with them' I mostly mean be ahead of the game so you can often say, 'No, thank you, I've made other arrangements,' and follow up with 'But I hope to see you there.' There might come a time when you can bring it up in more detail, maybe even when said friend asks 'Why do you never go places with me?' and you can kindly but clearly explain that you've never been able to rely on them. Don't push for this conversation, let your new behavior pattern sink in first.

Meanwhile, it won't do you any good to stand around muttering 'if you feel like it' under your breath every time this person speaks of the future, but it will do you good to remember that that really is what's going on.

If and only if it will help, you might also tip off the more discreet among your mutual acquaintances to the fact. Don't let them rely for you, even by leaving phone messages for you or whatever, if you can help it.

If you have standing arrangements/routines/habits that rely on this person, get out of them. Trust me, I worked for one of these people and it took years off my life. Replace the means the person was supplying, or just replace the ends they pursued, but don't let them suck you into their vortex of irreality.
posted by eritain at 11:17 PM on June 3, 2008

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