Flakey Friends

Archived Q&A and Reviews

She's a great friend -- that is, when she shows up

March 2006

I've got a friend who I love spending time with. She's a great listener, funny and interesting -- that is, when she shows up. Sometimes when I think we have made plans, I cannot reach her that day and end up wondering whether I misunderstood. She usually calls back late in the day saying sorry, don't know where the time went, etc. (she has a toddler as do I, so I somewhat understand how time disappears w/o explanation). But just as often, the plans work out and we have a great time. Many times she'll quickly get off the phone with me saying ''can I call you right back?'' -- only she doesn't call back -- even though she is usually the one initiating the call. I've tried calling her back to follow up, but often I get the answering machine! She still calls me and asks me to do stuff, but I've become reluctant to commit. I don't know how to confront her, and I'm not the confronting type. I've even tried making firm commitments, like we'll meet at this time and place, but that hasn't worked, either. Any suggestions on how to handle this? I think she is a good person and doesn't realize that her flakiness is affecting me, because I never say anything, partly because I don't know how to be graceful about it without sounding like an insecure nag, and partly because I'm chicken! anon

I'm sorry you are in this situation. I too have had an ongoing issue with a formerly close friend of mine who is just like the friend you described. My friend's behavior has been (at times) rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful and left me feeling hurt.

But, when things were good, I truly enjoyed her company and liked doing things with her. Over the years we had talks about how it upset me when she was flaky and would blow off plans we had made, but at the end of the day, nothing really changed. I tried to be more patient too, hoping that approaching things differently might help me deal with my flaky friend. A few months ago I finally told her once again how her behavior is affecting me and I decided that from that moment on that I would stop making plans with her. It was a difficult decision, but I decided that I was tired of feeling taken for granted and I wasn't going to put up with her poor behavior any longer. It bothered me that someone I thought of as a good friend was comfortable treating me so poorly. I miss her and wish things could be different, but I'm glad that I stood up for myself.

Maybe it's time to re-evaluate if your friendship with your friend is worth it. Resposible and caring friend

I have a friend that is just like that. The best way that I have found to handle it is make sure that you are not dependant on her to have a good time for whatever you plan. For example, if you want to go to Fairyland, choose a date and time and tell her that you are going and would like for her to come. Let her know that you will wait ten minutes, and if she's not at your meeting point that you will be in the park somewhere and she can find you. That way you have something fun to do whether or not she shows up.

You can be honest with her that it is hard for you to make plans if you are not sure that she is going to be there. I am sure that she has just as much trouble with everyone else. Another friend of ours will only meet the FF (flaky friend) at her house becuase she hates to be stood up.

Now that we all have kids, I have a take it or leave it feeling. When she is there it is great, but I don't ever expect to see her, even if it was her idea. Hope that helps. Joan

I could have written this post five years ago (still could, actually.) I have a friend that sounds exactly the same as yours - hey, maybe she is! Anyway, it's been five years of flaking out and I've just grown to accept the way she is. I've added other, more reliable friends with kids to the mix and spend most of my time with them. I just couldn't count on her to hang out with and fill the long days that SAHM's have. That said, when we do get together now - which varies in frequency GREATLY because of her flakiness - we always have a great time. She's a wonderful, good, affectionate mother and person and she has a huge heart. She's also, well, just flaky. Her carefree attitude is one of the reasons I love her. So, like I said, I've just accepted that as a major feature of who she is and we have a friendship that is good, but unlike any of my other, more reliable friendships. -Totally Understand!
From the people with the flakey friends. I am one of those flakey friends and it was not something I was proud of and wasn't even aware of until years later. Flakey friends can be fun and cheerful and interesting but sometimes flake out because inside they feel overwhelmed, they've overbooked, they try to people please too many people and can't show up to everything they over scheduled. Sometimes they are depressed or anxious but don't know how to reach out because they only show up when they are the happy, cheerful, supportive friend.

They flake out not to hurt you but to re-group and slow down or even hide because they aren't very good at taking care of themselves. They don't pace themselves and don't want to say ''no'' but think that ''flaking'' is ok when it isn't.

I've hurt friends when I wasn't intending to, and I am learning to commit to what really works in my life and say ''no'' when it doesn't. Everyone wins. I take care of myself/family and when I say I'll be there, they can count on it. Recovering Flakey Friend

Friends showing up late or cancelling playdates

March 2005

I need a reality check. Lately many of my friends have become flakes. A couple have told me that getting for our playdates on time (it's at an outside location where there is nothing to do until they arrive) is very stressful for them because they have issues getting there on time and they want to know I won't be mad about it. I understand emergencies and occasionally running late, but if I am meeting someone outside of their home, I really make every effort to be on time in order to give them the same courtesy that I expect in return. I think it is inconsiderate when someone is consistently late. Are there other people out there who feel this too?

Another friend of mine cancels our standing playdates at the last minute. It is annoying - and a little hurtful - as this happens on a regular basis. My two sons end up feeling letdown and I am disappointed too, as the other mother is a good friend. Again, legitimate things come up like sick kids and so on, but I think that most of these situations relate to better plans - or even errands - that have cropped up at the last minute.

Don't get me started on RSVPs that aren't answered.

I am often the organizer of events, the person who calls/emails to confirm plans, the kind of person who can be counted on. I am frustrated by all this flakiness and lack of responsibility. We all have two or more children and are SAHMs.
Sometimes friendships can be trying

I don't have an answer for your problem but wanted to let you know that you are not the only one feeling unhappy about friendships. I agree with you that is rude to be consistenly late for dates and to cancel at the last minute. Unfortunately, there is no way to force people to be ''nice.'' Maybe you could try setting up play dates at places where there would be things for you to do until your friends come. Or set a playdate time, and then just add 30 min., then you'll arrive at the same time they arrive (and if you are late once, then maybe they'll start emphasizing more with your feelings). I guess the last resort is to just forget about people who are not responsive and do not seem to be interested in respecting you and your kids, and hope that other, more responsive, friendships will form. Anon
Welcome to Berkeley! You're obviously not from here, or you'd be accustomed to the way things are done around here. wink The flaking on plans/lateness thing used to drive me nuts when I first moved here. Where I'm from people honor their committments to each other and arrive at least 3 minutes early even if it causes great physical discomfort; being on time is late. But flakiness is endemic to the culture here and part of the whole going with the flow thing. You're not going to get your friends to change, and as you can tell, they already are freaked out about how ''uptight'' you seem to them. It's one of these things that you kind of have to accept as part of Berkeley - or the bay area - or California - or however it spreads. I don't bother feeling hurt by lateness or changes in plan anymore - I know it's not personal. People are just in their own groove. Knowing this, and knowing that plans often change, you can expect it and be ready to adapt. If you have a friend who always runs behind, have them meet you at your house first so you can be attending to your own stuff until they get there. Or bring something along to work on while you wait. Or show up late yourself. I really think all you can do is find a way to not let it get to you any more. anon
Reality check, per your request:

While you find your friends flaky and unreliable, they find you rigid and uptight. While your perfectionist tendencies make you a superb event coordinator, your standards are difficult to impossible for the average person to live up to. So, your friends can't help but feel judged, unloved, and rejected because they are not good enough. You must be pretty great for them to put up with feeling that way all the time, but the prognosis is not good for the long term.

You need to decide where your priorities and limits are. If timeliness is that important to you, it might be best to find a group of friends that is as organized as you. If you love your friends dearly, you need to learn how to relax and not expect everyone to live their lives by your rulebook, regardless how 'in the right' you feel you are. That said, there must be limits SOME where, and you'll have to figure out where yours are. While it's a bit manipulative, you can always tell your friends to meet you earlier than you really expect them. We did this at holidays with a relative - always told them to come an hour prior to when we really wanted them there and it worked like a charm. Some people just don't have the skills to plan and manage their time well; some people are in a constant state of chaos/overwhelm. Imagine the thing you are worst at in life, and then imagine that you are expected to be good at this thing in order for your friends to accept you and not be angry with you. Losing proposition, right?

Part of friendship is compromise and meeting halfway. Another part is accepting people as they are and not trying to change them. If your friends back out a lot, then maybe you need to learn how to make tentative dates, so when they flake, you were only somewhat expecting them anyway. I know this will be hard for a personality type like yours. You like precise details and knowing what to expect. But perhaps, in learning how they operate and stretching who you are, you'll find less stress and more joy in your friendships. I truly hope this for you.

Congratulations on being such a responsible and organized mom! I'm sure your friends are jealous of your ability to get places on time and be able to keep all your appointments. I know I am. For some of us, motherhood is a chaotic experience. Getting kids awake, fed, dressed, shoed, and ready to leave is a frustrating and difficult experience, and that's when the kids are in a good mood. I suspect that your friends suffer from the same ailments. anon
can you ask your late friends to meet you 15 minutes earlier than you plan to get at your meeting place? That way you might end up arriving at the same time for things. anon
Have you tried making your activites less dependent on those particular people? (ie, the ones who are always late) Try meeting somewhere that does have things to do, in the absence of other people. Tilden Farm, Aquatic park, the Zoo--somewhere that you and your kids can have fun even if the friends never show, for whatever reason. Lessening the pressure on them to be all of the entertainment might also lessen the pressure on you. Donna
A friend of mine saw your post and thought I WROTE it, so I feel your pain. I share your view that just because you HAVE a 3 year old does not mean you are entitled to have the MANNERS of a 3 year old. I think there are just a lot of flakey people in this world; some of them were flakes before they had kids, some hit the wall of flakedom after they had kids because they were overwhelmed, and some were okay until the scheduling nightmares of two kids, age differences and nap schedules kicked in and were the final straw. That said, many of the people who can't call to tell you they aren't going to show up just have bad manners. Cases in support of this point include the fact that many of these people can keep appointments for beauty and doctors, plan vacations and other financially binding events, and be on time when it benefits them in other ways, like work-related appointments etc. It is especially heartbreaking for little children to not see their friends when you have built them up to expect it, and really unforgivable when there is no good reason, like illness, to cancel at the last minute on little kids. That said I have never gotten angry at anyone who called to explain even a reason like their kid falling asleep en route to the playdate, etc. We all know what is reasonable and what is not with kids, and that they are not always predictable. I have experienced everything you describe and even had people fail to call me when reservations were at stake and just not show up. I have had people call me to change plans right as we were leaving the house (or after we did and I didn't get the message.) Not keeping your word and not calling when you can't make it and being late are all inexcusably rude behaviors, also basically sending the message that your time isn't as important as theirs, as well. My feeling is the more kids and responsibilities you have, the less free time you have and the more you naturally care about whom you spend it with. Let's not forget that these people are setting a bad example of responsible behavior for their own kids and yours in addition to wasting your time. I would (and personally have begun myself) start deleting the flakes from your playdate list and seeking out other more reliable ''mature'' people for friendships. If you really like them, mention how ''disappointed'' your child is when they are late or don't show up and gently remind them to try to call you if this is necessary. I'd personally like to know how anyone who feels stressed out by the prospect of showing up somewhat on time at the park can get through the day with two small children (or walk and chew gum at the same time,) but like most poor excuses, it's probably not the real story. To quote my husband: ''if you don't have a good excuse, I won't force you to come up with a bad one.'' I used to work full time at a demanding job, then worked part time with my first child, and now I stay home with two kids and through it all, I could still figure out how to use a telephone and write an appt on a calendar. I'd also like to add that my 12 year old Mother's Helper is better at calling when she says she will than many adults I know, so i think it is a question of good manners rather than maturity. You have my sympathy and I hope you can resolve this with your friends you value and otherwise meet some people who have their acts together. Good luck! Sick of It As Well.
The tactful thing to do, I suppose, would be to decline the next invitation and then say, ''I'm sorry, it's just that my kids get so disappointed when I make these play dates and then you can't make them.'' Then, suggest an activity with a larger group so that a no-show doesn't ruin the event.

For your friends that say being on time stresses them out, here's my advice: Tell them where you will be at what time and then leave when you're done, even if they have just arrived. Give 'em a hug and a smile on the way out. If they want more of your busy day, they'll show up on time in the future. -- Tsan

Your friends are doing you a favor by being honest and saying that committing to a playdate is stressful for them (better for them to just say it, than for them to silently harbor resentment toward you, no?)

In my opinion, people take this playdate thing a little too seriously. It's challenging and often maddening to get out the door and somewhere on time, with kids in tow (last-minute diaper changes, someone's hungry NOW, etc.). Stuff comes up. People have lives. Sometimes there's a time crunch. For me, it's not worth it the stress. It's no wonder that my second-born kid has never had a formal playdate (but still gets lots of social interaction elsewhere).

That's great that you are diligent about sticking to your commitments and being prompt, but not everyone holds themselves to those standards, at least when it comes to playdates. You'd be better off finding playdate families who take the playdate arrangement as seriously as you do.

As an aside, I think the whole kid birthday party thing is out of control too. We've declined a few invitations just because it gets to be too much of a demand on our family time. But we ALWAYS RSVP when we don't (or do) attend... No playdates please

I strongly disagree with the suggestion that you are too rigid and uptight to be worthy of a playdate. From what I gathered from your post, you are simply asking for some respect from your friends. Just because we are all mothers who sometimes have a hard time getting out the door doesn't mean we are no longer individual, social, responsible human beings who are capable of picking up the phone and respecting our friendships. In this day and age of cell phones (unless you are somewhere where there is no service), there is no excuse for not calling if you are going to be more than a few minutes late (i.e. if you are going to the zoo, call and say you'll catch up with them at the flamingos or camels, for God's sake). I hope that your friends read your post and start to feel badly for taking you for granted. You deserve better. And I firmly believe that women should be nicer, and more supportive, of each other. Don't forget that as SAHM, we are essentially colleagues to one another. Would you blow off a meeting with a colleague? I'd call if I were even 5 minutes late.

Finally, canceling at the last minute (for no good reason) when small children are involved is also inexcusable. My kids can certainly understand when their best friend is sick and can't make it, but I've been waiting at a park for an hour before, explaining to my son that his best friend will be here soon, I'm sure. When he finally did show up, it turned out that they had found something interesting to watch on their way instead of meeting us at the park. Thanks a lot. I also know the feeling of craving some adult conversation - when friends cancel, we lose out on that, too.

Suggesting setting the meeting time earlier is well intentioned but misses the point. I'm not always on time and I'm struggling with this SAHM thing. But I always call to say that the poop-machine has hit and we've had 5 tantrums already this morning. Then, I actually get SUPPORT from my friends when we finally DO make it! Good luck. mother of 2

I was very interested in the responses that came out last time on this topic and I wanted to give some moral support to the original questioner...

I can understand being late (esp. when traveling with kids--we all know how hard it can be to get out of the house). But in my opinion (and in my circle of friends, some of whom are from the midwest like me and my wife, and some of whom are native Californians), there is NO excuse to cancel a get-together, or just not show up, for no reason. Sickness, an unscheduled nap, etc., are good reasons to cancel something, but the polite thing to do is call. Deciding that it's just too much effort, or that you really need to run to the grocery store instead, doesn't fly.

Just my 2 cents... Respectful of others' time and hoping for the same...

I just read the initial responses and wanted to add that I'm sad and surprised by the number of people who are okay with being flaky. Even though our Bay Area culture is more laid-back than most other areas, to me that's not a good reason to be unreliable. Basic courtesies are simply being polite & well- mannered, and respecting commitments, striving to be on time, remembering to RSVP are part of being a responsible person. I'm disappointed to hear many people take these things lightly. I don't have any good advice to add, only that perhaps seeking out like-minded people is the best answer. Another reliable mom
To the person who responded to this question with:

''Welcome to Berkeley! You're obviously not from here, or you'd be accustomed to the way things are done around here. wink The flaking on plans/lateness thing used to drive me nuts when I first moved here. Where I'm from people honor their committments to each other.''

As someone who was born and raised in Berkeley and has lived in several other places in the US, I think you should look at everyone elses' responses and note than no one else brought up the fact that tardiness, courteousness, and general good manners were lacking in this area because that's just how it is here. I am continuously surprised at peaples' lack of consideration when it comes to scheduling or making plans. Why just yesterday, someone showed up to my house an hour late for an appointment (isn't that what an appointment means?), and seemed genuinely shocked when I was annoyed. She presumed that telling me she'd be at my house at noon meant she could arrive any time during lunch time! And she's not only not from here, she's from another country. So I wouldn't go attributing bad manners to someone's address. This is something that is partly inherent, partly instilled. To the original poster, it's difficult to manage other people's shortcomings, so maybe just focus on what you can change--your level of frustration and attitude towards it. Good luck. Ms. Manners, too.

Just another 2 cents on this topic. When you do not demonstrate respect for the people you care about, neither will your children. Getting out of the house for a playdate may be difficult, but when you explain to your child (even a toddler) that so-and-so is waiting for us and it is not considerate of others to be late, then your child will learn some social etiquette as well. This is not being too rigid, this is about common decency. anon.
I think most of the crowd got understandably sidetracked by the comment about Berkeley reliability so I wanted to give some concrete advice about what our family does. (By the way, my best friend and I are both Berkeley natives and we manage to keep our commitments to each other and to others JUST FINE!

Flakiness is not in the water but perhaps the town attracts people who are looking for an excuse to be flaky.) As you acknowledge, there are factors that delay us (or force us to cancel at the last second)so I always try to discuss the possible pitfalls beforehand and check in shortly before departure to make sure things are running on time. Set up a phone call before leaving the house (or via cell) as part of the play date. I also do not tell my kids that we are meeting someone unless I am positive the person will show. I also tell them that after a certain time the date is basically cancelled, ''We will leave the park at X.'' For example we have friends who are INSANELY late so we tell them to call before they leave and if it is too late we simply tell them to forget it. My experience is that if people realize you will not wait around for them forever they work harder to show up. And finally, if people continue to be flaky, I just stop making plans. This, incidentally, has happened to me too! I learned my lesson. Hope this helps.
Try to be on time even with wee ones