There’s nothing more disappointing than sitting in your favorite coffee shop or sandwich place waiting for a friend, only to get a text at the last minute: “Hey girl! I’m sorry, I COMPLETELY forgot, I have to meet with my professor/walk my dog/take a nap this morning! Can we reschedule?”
Or maybe you’re getting ready to go out. You’ve applied your last coat of mascara and you’re grabbing your bag and heading out the door, and all of a sudden you get a G-chat: “I think I’m just going to stay in tonight. You guys have fun, though!”
Or, even more frustrating, maybe you haven’t seen a friend for weeks or months. Every time you run into her, she swears you’ll “get together soon!” - but without fail, every phone call, text, IM, Facebook message, @mention and smoke signal you send her way goes unanswered.
If any of these stories sound familiar, you may have a flaky friend. Fortunately, there’s still hope - no one’s flaky without reason. Read on for the different types of flaky friends, and how you can fix things with each one...
The Friend Who Doesn’t Realize She’s a Flake
Friends who are unknowingly unreliable are particularly frustrating. They miss lunch dates, they cancel shopping trips at the last minute, they never schedule plans themselves — and worst of all, they never apologize. But a growing list of last-minute cancellations and a failure to mutter even the faintest “I’m sorry” doesn’t necessarily mean your friend is rude or uncaring. She may not even realize she’s letting you down.
That was the case for Allison Lantero, a Boston College ’11 grad and former Her Campus contributing writer. “She would constantly cancel at the last minute and didn’t even realize it,” Allison says of her own hard-to-reach friend. “When we did spend time together though, we always had a blast. But if it was a group activity, I always found myself running plans by her first, and she would still often cancel.”
Dr. Irene Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend and the guru behind The Friendship Blog, recommends confronting a friend who is frequently flaky or irresponsible.
“She may have a problem getting things done or keeping track of things for any number of different reasons, and she may not even be aware of the problem it is creating for her or for others,” Dr. Levine says. “If it is a persistent problem and you value the friendship, you probably want to bring it to your friend’s attention and see if there is a reasonable explanation.”
Allison says a lighthearted confrontation with her own flaky friend worked wonders. “Once we started calling her out on it, she became less scatterbrained, especially when she realized all that she was missing out on,” she says.
So if you have a friend who simply doesn’t realize she’s letting you down, find a time to talk with her. If you’re close enough, simply show up when you know she won’t be busy. Without being rude or accusatory, point out how often she’s canceled on you lately, and explain that you’re having a great time with your other friends but you miss seeing her. Coming face-to-face with the number of times she’s canceled and the amount of fun she’s missed might be all it takes to stop this friend’s forgetfulness for good.
The Friend Who’s a Homebody
Many collegiettes don’t have a shy bone in their body. It’s easy for them to mingle at parties, or meet with a big group of friends for dinner every night. For others, though, social interaction is a bit more nerve-wracking. If your friend constantly bails on plans in favor of staying in, it’s easy to assume she doesn’t want to spend time with you. But it’s more likely that she’s simply nervous.
Kristie Demers, a North Carolina state senior and HC Campus Correspondent, says she was once an unreliable friend because she held onto her high school habit of staying at home. “I was so comfortable and used to making up excuses that I had to have someone else basically plan my social life for me,” she says.
For Kristie, the change came when her best friend realized she’d have to “kidnap” her BFF to spend time with her. She started simply showing up and telling Kristie they were hanging out. “She wasn’t bossy or forceful about it,” Kristie says, “but it definitely helped break me out of my ‘no, I can’t tonight’ shell.”
If your friend bails because she’s shy, realize that it may take a more concerted effort to spend time with her. This doesn’t mean you should push her or place her in situations she’s expressed serious discomfort with. If you have a friend who doesn’t drink and doesn’t like to dance, don’t drag her with you to the club down the street. But you can plan activities your friend enjoys and let her know she’s coming.
Realize, as Kristie says, that “texts and phone-calls aren’t enough to pull this person out of their comfort zone.” Don’t be afraid to “friend-nap” her into a fun activity.
The Friend Who’s Too Busy to Breathe
Some flaky friends’ excuses are totally legitimate. Maybe they have a demanding job. Maybe they’re in the middle of a family crisis. Maybe they’re just overwhelmed with schoolwork. In this situation, the best thing you can offer is your understanding. Talk to your friend and try to figure out what’s making her so constantly unavailable.
This method worked for Chantal Johnson, HC Campus Correspondent at James Madison University. She’d gotten so busy that she was forgetting to text her friends and set up plans, and when they did set something in stone, she’d cancel. “My friend confronted me and we talked about how I was acting,” Chantal says. “I think that if you’re open with your friends, you can avoid these situations by getting to the root of the problem.”
And remember that an important part of being a friend is sticking it out through the hard times, and those hard times might mean she can’t see you as often. “The most important component of a friendship is support. If a friend unconditionally supports me, I can deal with the hard-to-reach aspect,” says Kelsey Mulvey, Boston University student and Her Campus contributing writer.
Should You Keep Your Flaky Friend Around?
Ultimately, the suggestions above will only work if your friend is willing to change. If she’s not, it’s time to evaluate whether she really wants to be in your life (and whether you really want her in yours).
Chantal, the collegiette who learned the importance of communication when dealing with faltering friendships, found that even that method sometimes falls flat. “I wanted to believe that we were really close, but apparently it wasn’t that way to her,” she says of her own flaky friend. “Whenever I really needed to confide in her, she’d never text me back or give me the advice that I needed.”
Although Chantal was able to fix her own flaky ways when a busy schedule made her unreliable, she found that an unsupportive friendship was a bit tougher to deal with. Eventually, the relationship fell apart. Chantal still talks to the girl in question, but doesn’t consider her a friend. “It’s difficult to find the worst in people, but at the end of the day, you see who’s really going to be there for you,” she says.
Dr. Levine says collegiettes need to determine for themselves whether a flaky friend is worth keeping around. “Whether or not it is worthwhile depends on a number of factors, including the length of time you have been friends, how close you are, the reason for the flakiness, how tolerant you are of such behavior, and whether she’s making efforts to correct it,” she says. Ultimately, if you’ve talked to your friend and she still hasn’t changed, whether you keep her in your life is up to you. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to cut ties.
What if You’re the Flake?
Sometimes it’s not your friends who keep bailing out — it’s you. If you’re lucky, your BFFs will read this article and friend-nap you for a fun night out. If not, there are several ways to nip your flaking tendencies in the bud.
First, see if there’s anything you can cut out of your life. As collegiettes we’re often over-achievers balancing an array of commitments. But at some point, you have to accept that there are only 24 hours in a day. Is there a club you’re only attending because it looks good on your resume? Are you spending exorbitant amounts of time on a class you don’t enjoy and don’t need for your major? If your friendships are falling by the wayside, it may be time to say goodbye to some unnecessary commitments. Just be sure to do so professionally and give adequate notice to anyone you’ll be affecting. You don’t want to be a flake to your boss or professor, either!
Second, don’t let school and work crowd friendships out. It’s easy to cancel a lunch date in favor of work or school, but remember that meaningful relationships should be a priority as well. Give yourself a break ? tell your boss you can’t take an extra shift this time, and go laugh for an hour. The world will still be waiting when you’re done.
Finally, remember to reach out to your friends and family and let them know you’re trying to change. “If someone is aware that they are disappointing others and engaging behaviors that are alienating to friends, they may want to seek help,” Dr. Levine says. Ask friends to keep you accountable when you make plans with them - tell them to call you out when you cancel and bail!
And whether you’re the flaker or the flake-ee, remember that there’s always a solution. You just have to be willing to show up and search.
Dr. Irene Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend and The Friendship Blog