How Your Flaky Friend May Have Gotten That Way
There's a reason some people are unreliable, and it's not that they don't care.
Posted Nov 05, 2015
Everyone has a flaky friend. You may even be that friend. I’ve certainly been that friend from time to time.
"Flakiness”—generally meaning having a habit of canceling plans shortly before said plans are about to begin—is a trend generally attributed to people’s overscheduled lives, conflicting commitments, and constant access to each other through personal technology, or a combination of all three.
It makes perfect sense that if someone felt exhausted from the strain of being overscheduled or pulled in all directions and could cancel plans “in the moment” (using his or her computer or phone), she would be more likely to indeed cancel those plans.
While this understanding of flakiness is likely true for many people, my own experience is a little different: When I have flaked, it was not because I was overscheduled. I had enough time and energy to get to the party and back. And it was not that I was invited to many events each night and had to flake on a few of them.
No, I was just nervous.
As strange as it may sound to some, I have frequently been—and at times still am—a little scared of seeing my friends. It's not because my friends are people to be scared of; they're amazing. I just knew that if I went, I would be keyed up all night. I would have to constantly soothe my anxious, overstimulated nerves. And sometimes, I just couldn’t bring myself to do the work of having fun.
Now that I’m a relationship coach, I know that I was caught in a classic social anxiety struggle between wanting to be with people and also wanting to be comfortably at ease. For the socially anxious, introverted, or highly-sensitive person, these two desires are rarely fulfilled in the same place at the same time: So, sometimes my desire to be with people won, and I went ahead with my plans. And sometimes the desire to be at ease won, and I flaked.
During this same period of my life, one of my best friends became a bit of a flake herself. As we all do, she made excuses for flaking that made it sound like she was simply in high demand. I bought the excuses for a while, but knowing that my own flakiness was really a symptom of something deeper, I decided to ask her if anything was wrong.
In a conversation that began about the superficial act of flaking, I found out that she had been feeling really down. She was having a hard time getting motivated to do anything, including engage socially. For her, flaking wasn’t about being overscheduled. It wasn’t about being reliant on technology. And it wasn’t even about avoiding anxiety, as it was for me. My friend flaked when she couldn’t muster sufficient belief that the social event would be enjoyable. She flaked when she couldn’t see the point of going. She had lost some hope that there was fun out there in the world.
She was depressed.
If my story—and my friend’s—indicates anything, it’s that flakiness may not always be what it seems. It's a behavioral pattern that could easily signify deeper emotional distress. If you’re the person always getting flaked on, you have every right to feel frustrated, and to call the behavior rude. But after the frustration passes, ask yourself, “What’s really going on with my friend?”
Don’t assume that because he or she doesn’t show up, they're too busy, too important, or too in demand. Instead, they may be too scared, too stressed, or too sad.
I am a relationship coach and the author of Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships.