We've all had at least one "flaky" friend who can't be counted on for anything. She says she's in for the potluck? OK, just don't let her be in charge of an entree. He RSVP-ed for that birthday dinner? To be safe, make a reservation for one fewer. She says she'll pick you up at the airport? Do you have another option? Can your beagle drive?
There's some anecdotal evidence that our new technology is actually making it even easier for us to be flaky. With the proliferation of Evites, Facebook RSVPs, and the like, you can get out of a commitment at the last minute with the touch of a screen—without hearing a disapproving voice or getting a guilty lump in your throat. You can even try to convince yourself that you didn't actually inconvenience or disappoint anyone.
There's no doubt that some of the negative repercussions of canceling plans disappear when you do it in hit-and-run fashion from your smartphone. And the fewer the negative consequences, the more tempting it is to do it again. (To sample just one group, 43 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds admit that they have cancelled plans online, according to a recent study commissioned by the social network Badoo.)
Before you decide to flake out on a commitment, here are some factors to consider:
- How integral are you? 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; for example, when there may end up being fewer people to share the cost of an event, or when you could have been counted on to help different sets of friends meet up and mingle.
- Will the organizer truly understand? If you're trying to build a new friendship, begging off just because you're tired might leave a permanent bad impression. But if it's a close friendship where both of you are traditionally cut each other slack or act as each other's escape valve, it's likely just to be a blip on the screen—unless it's a bigger deal 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 your excuse legitimate? Perhaps you have a bona fide conflict (or a bona fide stomach bug). But all too often, we're just distracted, apathetic, or tired, and looking for excuses to legitimize our laziness. At the other end of the spectrum, some people get in the habit of replying "Maybe" (or even "Yes") to every opportunity under the sun, and then pull the plug once the event gets closer if something better comes along. Be honest with yourself: Did you truly intend to go in the first place? If the answer is no, but you RSVP-ed yes, 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 your life, or you're not really into certain friends but just hanging on as a sense of obligation. Ask yourself if there is something you're hiding from or not admitting to yourself. Or are you really trying to get out of this relationship? 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 often you cancel, especially at the last minute, the more frayed your relationships can become. There are simply only so many times you can put that exhausted/coming down with something/hard week at work/just want to veg mindset first without your friends feeling like they'll always come last.
Pushing through your fatigue, at least sometimes, to just show up at that happy hour, and resisting the urge to bail on a friend's brunch just because some other people did and you never liked that restaurant anyway, will help 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.