• Resolving Problems

How To Deal With A Flaky Friend

Published: March 6, 2022 | Last Updated: March 7, 2022 By | Reply Continue Reading

Do you have an unreliable, flaky friend? It’s a pretty common complaint I hear about from readers and even among my own friends. And it’s something that often frays friendships and even ends them entirely.

What is a flaky friend?

A flaky friend is someone who tends to be unreliable and unpredictable. In short, you can’t count on this person because they continually disappoint you and change their mind on a dime. Even if they say they are going to do something, you have no confidence in them coming through because they are undependable. It’s a habit rather than a one-time event.

This friend may be the no-show who doesn’t keep the lunch date you set up weeks ago, leaving you waiting for them at the table. When you call, your friend apologizes and says they forgot to put it on their calendar. Or, she agreed to pick up your daughter from daycare and you get a call from the teacher saying no one has shown up and you’ll be charged a late pickup fee.

Or it could be a friend who cancels plans at the very last minute. For example, they agreed to help you out on your moving day and when the day comes, they call to tell you they really aren’t up to the task on that day. They have the nerve to suggest you try to find someone else at the last minute.  

Or, perhaps, it’s the friend who is consistently late. No matter what time you plan to get together, you are always the one left waiting—10 minutes, 20 minutes, or a half-hour.

And then there is the friend who never commits, always giving you a maybe rather than a yes or no. It leaves you up in the air not knowing whether your friend will come through for you.

Sometimes, it can be hard to recognize or admit that a close friend is flaky because they aren’t flaky all of the time. They over-promise, giving you mixed messages that catch you off-guard. 

On the subject of such friends, Caroline Corcoran writes in Refinery29:

…every now and again they throw us a morsel: the kind of night out which is still being talked about a year later, a supportive chat when things are rubbish, or a genuinely thoughtful present.

Something which reminds us why we are friends with them in the first place, which is usually because we love hanging out with them above almost anyone else. Which only makes their flakiness more annoying.

Why would a friend be flaky?

Flaky friends usually lack self-awareness and don’t characterize themselves as unreliable. It’s the people around them who are likely to notice—and to suffer the consequences. 

A friend may have an unrealistic sense of time. They fully intend to meet their obligations but bite off more than they can chew. If it’s the time required to meet you at the train, they may fail to take traffic into account. Or they are late to pick you up at your home when you have tickets for a movie or plans to meet someone else because they were finishing up a project that took more time than they thought.

Some friends have a nagging awareness that they won’t be able to (or don’t want to) come through for you but simply have difficulty saying “no.” Your friend agreed to babysit for your toddler son so you could do a chore but really didn’t want to do it; at the last minute, you get a call that something else important has come up and they can’t make it. You wonder how you got to be such a low priority in their life. 

They may be self-centered, so preoccupied with themselves that they show little consideration for the needs or feelings of others.

How do you deal with a flaky friend?

Well, there aren’t too many options: You can overlook, forgive or confront your flaky friend. 

Overlooking someone’s behavior that is consistently upsetting and grating probably isn’t a good approach for two reasons. It will make you uncomfortable, anxious, and angry each time your friend lets you down. Also, if you overlook, you are failing to give your friends feedback so they’ll be more likely to repeat the same behavior, disappointing you again and again.

Forgiving might work if the lapses are occasional and come with somewhat sincere apologies. Extenuating circumstances may cause someone to behave in ways that appear flaky but are understandable. For example, your friend is a caregiver for a disabled child or ill parent and those responsibilities have to come first. Or your friend may be dealing with a physical or emotional problem (like social anxiety or depression) of their own that makes it difficult for them to follow through on commitments. They know where their priorities lie and simply don’t have the energy. They may make decisions based on impulse rather than solid thinking.

What can you say to a flaky friend?

Confronting a flaky friend works—sometimes—especially when the individual lacks awareness of how their flakiness is affecting others. Confronting doesn’t mean being confrontational; rather it means being honest and upfront.

  • Be specific in describing the situation(s) when they disappointed you. 
  • Tell your friend what they did and explain how it made (makes) you feel. 
  • Ask them why this is happening to see if they are totally self-centered or recognize the problems they are causing you (and probably others).
  • Ask them to be more respectful of their commitments to you because you value the friendship and don’t want it to be compromised. 
  • Bear in mind that old habits die hard and you may have to have the talk more than once.

What are some tools to help you avoid flakiness?

Setting boundaries can help. Let your friend know in advance that your time is as valuable to you, as their time is to them. If you agree to meet for dinner and they’re not there within 10 minutes of the reservation—and don’t have the courtesy to call—you’re leaving.

If someone is unreliable, avoid making long-term plans with them. Why put a deposit on a tour or purchase an airline ticket when there is a good chance your friend will opt out at the last minute and you’ll be left losing your money? Instead, count on them as spontaneous friends with whom you can do something at the last minute.

Rely on other friends who are more dependable. Minimize the time you spend with a flaky person and think through—and avoid—the circumstances that are most annoying.

You can also dilute the friendship and only include the flaky friend group plans so you’ll have other people around if they don’t show up.

When to end a friendship with a flaky friend?

Ending a friendship is never easy, regardless of the situation or circumstances. There may, in fact, be many other aspects of the friendship that you appreciate and enjoy. For example, your friend may not be reliable but you have the best times when you’re together; you can tell her almost anything and she’ll understand. If this is the case, rather than ending the friendship summarily, step back. Either see the person less frequently or take a break from the friendship.

Pay attention to your feelings. Only you can gauge how much you are willing to forgive or overlook if the other person isn’t willing to change. Ask yourself some questions:

  • How upsetting is the friendship to you? 
  • What has been its trajectory over time? Is it getting better or worse?
  • How meaningful is the friendship?
  • Are you feeling a sense of desperation because you don’t have many other friends? Are you willing to nurture friendships that may potentially be more gratifying?
  • Overall, does provide more pain than gains or vice versa? 

If you do need to end the friendship, try not to take it too personally or be too disappointed. It’s not just you: This individual is likely to behave the same with others.

Other posts about flaky friends on The Friendship Blog:

When A Friend is Unreliable: You Can’t Count on Her!

Dealing with an unreliable friend

My flaky friend makes me feel disposable

How To Deal With A Flaky Friend

Have you had an experience with a flaky friend? How did you handle it?

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Category: Disappointing friends, RESOLVING PROBLEMS

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