photo by Liza Summer for Pexels
by Victoria Stokes
Do you have flaky friends? Not sure if things can improve and how much you should (or shouldn’t) put up with?
Are they a flaky friend?
You’ve been looking forward to brunch with your best friend for ages, they readily agreed to it, and you’ve been exchanging “Can’t wait to catch up!” texts for weeks.
Then just as you are about to leave and meet them, their message comes through. “Sorry, can’t make it today. Another time perhaps?”.
Life often gets in the way of our plans. But with flaky friends, they are either always bailing, or always late, or even doesn’t show up and sends an excuse after the fact.
Left unchecked, it can all put a strain on your relationships. But before you fire off a confrontational response, it’s a good idea to look at where flaky behaviour comes from, and learn healthy ways to cope if you’re on the receiving end.
What causes flaky behaviour?
Most of us have experienced the overwhelm of overcommitting. If flaking is a new occurrence for someone, it’s possible your friend really does have too much on. When we’re stressed we can have a whole host of physical and mental health problems to contend with, from foggy brain to unorganised thinking.
So, ask yourself, has your flaky friend experienced a big life change recently, or are they going through something really stressful? Like a breakup, financial issues, or a change to their career? Maybe they’ve experienced a loss and grief is making it difficult for them to stay on top of their commitments.
It’s also possible they’re going through hormonal changes. Pregnancy, recently giving birth (‘mum brain’), and going through the menopause can contribute to difficulties in staying organised. Menopause is shown by research to even affect memory recall.
Is your friend a people pleaser?
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Your friend might have a very bad case of people pleasing, a.k.a., codependency. Look at their other relationships. Do they tend to say yes to things they don’t want to do? Are they always concerned with what people think and if people are happy with them?
Flakey behaviour and mental health
Aside from codependency, what other mental health issues might be driving your friend to be such a letdown?
One of the most common reasons people have time and organisation issues is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A recent research review suggests that people with ADHD have an abnormal perception of time, a characteristic that could cause them to be late, or not show up at all.
Or your friend might be an anxiety sufferer. Social anxiety in particular may cause people to isolate themselves and flake on plans if they suddenly feel panicked at the thought of socialising.
Cancelling plans can also be a sign of depression. When we are depressed simple things like getting ready and going out can feel insurmountable.
Poor social choices can also be a characteristic of some personality disorders. One example is avoidant personality disorder.
How to deal with flaky friends
When your friend is on form, you love being around them. So you want to stay friends, but you need things to improve. What is the best approach?
Again, it is important to note if your friend might be under a lot of stress they haven’t been sharing, or have a mental health issue. This isn’t about letting people walk all over you, it’s about being honest about whether this is a new habit for them and there might be a valid reason.
And if it turns out that you realise you might have been a bit too demanding and uncompromising, it pays to have self-compassion, too.
2. Have a conversation.
It’s okay to ask your friend if there’s something wrong, or to gently point out that they’ve cancelled plans a lot recently. Remember not to use blame language and to have the conversation from a calm space. This is also a chance to discuss boundaries, both yours and theirs, over future cancellations.
3. Look at the bigger picture.
Again, if we are always complaining about others, sometimes it’s that our own expectations are unrealistic. Look at what the friendship does provide otherwise. Maybe your friend hasn’t shown up for lunch the past few months, but can you rely on them when you need it most? Is there a healthy give and take in your relationship? Can they be counted on for support?
4. Make sure your boundaries are clear.
Are too accepting? Do people see you as a pushover, so they have no problems cancelling on you at the last minute? Are you even guilty of using such phrases as, “Come only if you really want too”, then blaming then if they cancel? Make it very clear to others how much notice you need for a cancellation and how long you will wait if someone is late.
5. Let go of flaky friends if it’s truly time.
Just like your friend can decide to cancel, you too also have a choice. If you find your friend’s flakiness is putting too much of a strain on you? You can decide to end the friendship, or put some distance between you until the matter is resolved.
What if you’re the flaky friend?
Maybe you’re reading all of this and you’ve realised that you’re the flaky friend. This behaviour isn’t something to be afraid of. Rather it can be used as a tool for self-enquiry. This can mean some journalling or mindfulness meditation, or it might be taking the leap and working with a therapist. Therapy is a wonderful tool for learning how to relate in healthy, helpful ways, and how to cultivate friendships we feel safe in and inspired by.
Time to seek support and improve your relationships? We connect you with a team of some of London’s most highly rated relationship therapists who can help. Or try our sister site to find UK-wide registered therapists ranked by user feedback.
Victoria Stokes is a former Deputy Editor turned freelance writer specialising in mental health and wellbeing.