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"What? Your goldfish is sick again?" Photo by Justlife

On flaking: How to Deal

“Oh no! Darn it, I just remembered that I… I promised my friend’s brother’s godmother that I would help her, um, change her fax cartridge tonight… because she’s going out of town tomorrow… on an African safari!”

Penny, from the Wedding Planner (2000)

This is a line from the Wedding Planner, where Judy Greer bailed on Jennifer Lopez at the movies. She came up with this ridiculous excuse to flake on the fly, obvs. And it was definitely pre-modern communication – double obvs. But we forgive Judy, or Penny, because this way J-Lo could have a magical night with Matthew McConaughey’s character.

Now – real life. You know the deal. You make plans. You exchange texts saying how excited you are about the plans. You confirm the plans the day before….AND THEN the morning of, or hours before even, you get the text you don’t even have to finish reading: “Hey, so sorry, but…family/friend/child/pet/work emergency/weird accident/calendar mishap….raincheck bla bla bla”.

Now, this is not an indictment on flaking. I have done it. I have had it done to me. I probably will flake again, maybe on you. But I think a good “flaking guide” is in order to save friendships and relationships everywhere – so here is my DAOFitLife Flake Guide – from both the flaker and flakee side (PS, this has a guide to some really good excuses for you flakes!)

Just in case you needed a reminder on Judy Greer’s flake in the Wedding Planner (and yes J-Lo and MM were so young, some of us are so old, bla bla bla):

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I would KILL for that jacket – and that best friend. At least she flaked in person.

What is “flaking”

Flaking” is a term used to describe a person who cancels or fails to follow through on plans at the last minute. Someone who does this often is designated by the noun, “flake”. Did you know one of the most common Google searches is, “What is a good excuse to flake on a date?”

Flaking can also refer to a person who is vague about making plans, giving them an excuse to not follow through because they are not “confirmed”. “Yeah, we will totally do lunch! I will touch base with you the week after the next 3-day weekend so we can touch base the following weekend to make plans next year.”

 Or the stealth flaker, that is only available on Thursdays between 1-130 and if you can’t make that, then you are the one flaking!

Ghosting is easier in the digital age when you can hide behind a laptop. Andrey Popov @ Adobe Stock

What about “ghosting”

Ghosting is like flake’s evil cousin. Ghosting was what you used to call it when someone would leave a party to buy a pack of cigarettes and doesn’t come back.Ghosting can happen in any type of relationship, but is common in dating. People abruptly cut off contact for many reasons, including to avoid conflict, protect feelings, and put their own emotional needs first. One recent survey found that over 30 percent of participants either ghosted or were ghosted by a friend.

Although, ghosting can certainly happen in friendships. I used to have a close friend that ghosted me merely because I told her I did not feel comfortable texting about personal, private affairs. It was terribly hurtful, and I never got any closure, which is I think is the worst about ghosting.

African American businesswoman juggling many objects and feeling overwhelmed

Why we do it 

Because sometimes, it’s just too cold! (especially if you are on the East Coast, or California, lately).

Can you believe there was a time,  without cell phones, where you actually had to show up where you made plans? What the heck?! Now, it takes a 5 second text, and being “stood up” is a relic of 90s sitcoms and romcoms. It’s also less personal. Digital access at all times can make us forget that there are real people on the other end. Our devices are our interface. That depersonalization sets the stage for the easy out.

But why do people want out when no one held a gun to their heads to make plans? Research shows people generally tend to overestimate the positive aspects of an event they planned in the future. So by the time the actual plans that sound great roll around, the positive filter has folded into a current atmosphere of being overwhelmed. Now, what sounded great a few weeks ago can be just another thing in our way. 

Another reason this keeps happening? We are constantly overextending and overbooking ourselves. Some of this arises from the hesitance to just say “no” at the beginning. Some of it is failure to communicate with others in our household about what the plans are (i.e., you agree to go to couple X’s dinner and are unaware your SO planned a weekend ski trip). Some of this is just naturally expecting other plans to fall through – well, because we all flake. 

If you are the flakee or ghostee

Well, it can suck. But it’s sort of a multi-stage process that co-exists with how good of a friend the person is. The better friend, the more “chances” they get. It goes down to whether you subscribe to the core belief that flaking is indicia of someone’s true character. Some people believe that, and some don’t.

Start with giving a pass

So assuming it is a good friend, and the “excuse” is generally bulletproof like being sick, give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially if they are the ride or die type of friend, like the one who has seen you puke in your purse and never judged. 

If the person is a serial flaker, don’t center plans around them

If there are serial excuses for every time that the person is supposed to hang out, stop making plants with them individually. Invite the person if you are having a party, or a group hang out, but hinging your plans for the weekend on that person may not be the best idea. 

Put the ball in their court

Once the flakee flakes, let them make the new plans. It is a lot harder to justify breaking plans you made yourself. And if they flake or ghost – AGAIN – maybe that’s a sign to let them go. After all, we are all busy, and we only have so much time. Constant flaking, ghosting, and being late is a sign that someone does not value yours. 

woman leaning on white wooden table while holding black Android smartphone
Photo by Kev Costello

Know that it is usually not about you….

Another consideration for a good friend constantly flaking – there could be a deeper psychological meaning. This friend could be going through a hard  time, and maybe needs a nudge to talk about what is really going on. Depression and other mental health issues can cause isolating. So reach out. Have a heart to heart and ask them if there is anything they want to talk about. You would be surprised how much you are not aware is going on in people’s lives – well, because most of us (including me) are so self-involved.

….But there is a chance it could be 

Unfortunately, the flaking or ghosting could also be about you. Friend break-ups are a heck of a lot harder than relationship break-ups. With relationship break-ups, you have to make it explicit that you are no longer exclusive. With friends, you both can really just get so busy, but totally fall in line and pick it back up when you see each other next. It does not have to be an explicit “unfrirending” or “conscious decoupling.” Still, the limbo sucks, so if you do suspect something is up, and the friendship means a lot to you, you could give the person a chance by saying, “Hey, if I have done anything to upset you, I would like to know how to make it right.” It could totally have been a miscommunication (usually not an in-person one) and you could be saving a valuable friendship by just clearing the air.

It’s also okay if you decide you want to call out your flaker/ghoster

If none of the above apply, and they are just straight up flaking, not everyone will be content to just let a flaker/ghoster go. If you want to express that what they did was hurtful and disrespectful, especially if it cost you money (i.e., concert tickets, wedding guest costs), that’s a perfectly valid response, too.

However, experts warn it may not bring real closure or a sense of emotional satisfaction. You might feel better in the moment, but make sure you pick a time when you are cooled off and not emotional to discuss that you were looking forward to the plans and feel disappointed by the last minute notice to cancel.

If you are the flaker

If you are really flaky, at least be believable. I suggest you read up on best excuses, ranked:

And my tips below, curated from all the best flaking resources.

If you are going to cancel plans, follow these guidelines:

  1. Give a heads up as early as possible. Like, if you know you are sick a few days before, then tell the other person ASAP because getting sick is usually not a surprise.
  2. Don’t kill anybody. Your aunt and grandparents can only die so many times. Plus, karma.
  3. It’s ok to tell a little white lie (I think), but have plausible deniability if it is not a real excuse. Not being truthful about whether you are in town is a really easy way to get caught and never have the person speak to you again. You are better off omitting the reason, or just saying, “I don’t feel well,” which definitely is less serious than an illness and leaves room for a miracle recovery the next day. We all know it’s pretty much code for “I don’t feel like it,” but it’s better than lying. 
  4. UNLESS YOU ARE AN ER DOCTOR, OR WORK FOR NASA, THERE ARE NO BELIEVABLE WORK EMERGENCIES. You are not curing cancer crunching spreadsheet numbers or writing that legal memo this weekend. We have super busy jobs, too.
  5. If you are in a relationship, check with your SO before you commit to plans. Throwing your bae under the bus may make you feel like you did nothing wrong, but it’s still flaking.
  6. Give a call, not a text. Yes, it’s so outdated, but the courtesy of a phone call and an apology even if over voicemail will go a long way. But then you do have to send a text, because most people don’t check their voicemails (which may seem like a waste of time, but hey, you are the one breaking the plans).
  7. Consider whether it’s easier to just go rather than reschedule. Sometimes rescheduling takes more mental energy than actually just showing up, even if you don’t feel like it or whatever. 
  8. Lead the rescheduling and if there is a next time, be there unless gale force winds stop you. 
  9. If you are bailing last minute on an RSVP, send a gift and a card to the hosts. If it is a significant event, like a wedding, unless it is a true emergency, don’t cancel. 
  10. If you would rather pull hair out of the drain then see this person, consider whether you just have grown apart, or maybe you have grown, and they haven’t. Seriously, it’s ok. Sometimes freindships just naturally fade. That person was in your life at the right time, and vice versa. If the friendship is really valuable, you will want to see them eventually!

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