We've all had them: the flaky friend who can't be counted on for anything. She says she's in for the potluck? Don't let her be in charge of an entree. She RSVPed yes for that birthday dinner? Make a reservation for one fewer. She says she'll pick you up at the airport? You'd have more faith in the driving skills of your average bassett hound.
But there's some anecdotal evidence that technology is making it even easier for us to flake. With the proliferation of Evites, Facebook RSVPs, and texting, you can get out of a commitment with the click of a button: no hearing a disapproving voice, no guilty lump in your throat. And you can even try to convince yourself that you didn't inconvenience or disappoint anyone. There's no doubt that some of the negative repercussions of cancelling plans disappear when you do it like a hit-and-run from your smartphone. Indeed, 43 percent of 18-24 year-olds have cancelled plans online, according to a recent study commissioned by the social network Badoo. And the fewer the negative consequences, the more tempting it is to do it again! But before we turn into a nation of fader-outers, here's what to consider before cancelling plans:
How Integral Am I? You might think your absence won't matter much, but as any host who's anxiously watched looked at the clock in their empty house knows, even one person can make or break a party. Be honest to yourself about whether you are likely to significantly alter the event by not showing up. You sometimes have more of an impact than you think (with not enough people to chip in money, not enough dishes at a potluck, or maybe you were the person that would have significantly helped different sets of friends mingle, for instance.)
Will This Person Truly Understand? If you're trying to build a new friendship, begging off just because you're tired might leave a permanently bad impression. But if it's a close friendship where both of you are used to cutting each other slack and being each other's escape valve, it's likely just to be a blip on the screen. Then again, it could be bigger than you realize: take a step back, and ask yourself if this event is more important to your friend than you are letting yourself acknowledge. Would you be hurt if they did the same to you?
Is My Excuse Truly Legitimate? Perhaps you have a bona fide conflict, or a bona fide stomach bug. But all too often, we're just tired, and looking for to legitimize our lazinesst. Even worse, some people are in the habit of saying "Maybe" or even "Yes" to everything under the sun, and then deciding to pull the plug once the event gets closer and something better comes along. Be honest with yourself: did you truly intend to go in the first place? If the answer is no, your behavior needs modifying.
Is There a Pattern? Has your flakiness been increasing lately? Do you flake more with certain people than others? Often, flaking out on plans is a clue that something else is going on: you've overbooked yourself in life, or you're not really into certain friends but hanging on as a sense of obligation. Ask yourself if there is something you're hiding from that you're not admitting to yourself. Or are you really trying to get out of this relationship? Or perhaps it has to do with something going on with you: are there feelings you're ignoring? Often, what seems on the surface to be flakiness is actually a problem with attention span, depression, or social anxiety.
The more you cancel events, especially at the last minute, the more frayed your relationships will become. There are simply only so many times an exhausted/coming down with something/hard week at work/just want to veg mindset can come first without your friends feeling like they'll always come last. Pushing through your fatigue to just show up at that happy hour, and resisting the urge to bail on your friend's brunch just because some other people did and you never liked that restaurant anyway, will help stem the tide and keep your friendships in working order.
copyright Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.
Dr. Andrea Bonior is the author of The Friendship Fix. She is a licensed psychologist and long-time writer of the Baggage Check advice column for the Washington Post Express.