The Flakiness Epidemic: Is It Ruining Your Friendships?

It's a dog eat dog world; either you cancel, or get cancelled onPhoto by Lily Brown

The Flakiness Epidemic: Is It Ruining Your Friendships?

by Tabi Jackson Gee |
Published on

When was the last time your social diary panned out how it was meant to: last year? Me too. Last month? Lucky you. Last week? I don't believe you.

We are in the midst of an epidemic. Messages are sent, reservations made and diaries synced months in advance, just for those same plans to be cancelled or changed at the very last minute. And, it’s a dog eat dog world: either you cancel, or you get cancelled on.

It seems the more connected we are via instant messaging and 24 hour transport, the more we're treating each other's time as inferior. But what’s causing this modern malady?

Research into technology and the affect it’s having on millennials’ social lives is still scarce, but one 2012 study by social network Badoo found that 36% of Brits spent more time socialising online than in person. And it’s not too big a leap to conclude that our access to other people via the internet has made us less motivated to interact in real life.

There are three types of flake:

Freelance journalist, blogger and sometimes-flake Alya Mooro agrees this is part of the problem. 'I definitely think we are in the middle of a flakiness epidemic' says 27-year old Alya. 'I think it's because we all feel so drained and depleted, especially socially, probably in large part thanks to social media and the fact that we feel like we're sharing and seeing so much of other people's lives all the time anyway.'

Then of course there’s all the other pressures of modern life. The housing crises, job uncertainty, political instability… It’s no wonder our social lives are suffering. When you’re working silly hours trying to negotiate life as a young professional in an unpredictable job market, whilst paying bills, looking after yourself - and still making time to call mum - you’re already at full capacity. Which means making plans months in advance only to cancel them when the time comes is often the only space you can make for yourself - because frankly, you’re tired. And a night in on your own is the only thing between you and a nervous breakdown.

'Flakiness definitely came about as a product of me spreading myself too thin' says 28-year old Jules Nelson, who’s now stopped making plans full stop. 'I was making plans I couldn't keep or didn't want to keep because I was tired. Or another, easier, potentially funner option came my way. Embarrassing, but true.'

Jules, like many young women, would fall into two of the three flakiness categories that psychologist - and author of The Friendship Fix Dr Andrea Bonior- believes characterise people with a penchant for cancelling plans.

First, there’s the conflict-avoidant flake, the passive one who would rather say yes to a plan to avoid confrontation then cancel at a later date (by text, naturally). Then there’s the FOMO flake, who may be tempted by a new, funner plan. And finally there’s the flake who has poor time management, ambitiously thinking they can do far more than they actually can and ultimately letting people down.

Is technology to blame? Probably.

The easiest thing to blame for this very 2016 quandary is that great enabler of flakiness: technology. While Twitter and Instagram provide new ways to make new friends and stay in touch with people, they also cheapen our relationships. Catching up over Facebook Messenger is a crap substitute for hanging out in the pub, yet we’ve come to rely on it to plug a gap in our hectic social lives.

Then there’s the constant barrage of events organised online. 'Social media means there are constant invites and subsequent no shows to events' says 27-year old Toby*, who has a one strike policy when it comes to flakiness. 'I think that the more bullshit invites that are flung round the more no shows are legitimised. And sometimes this overflows into personal friendships.'

Is flaking the new normal?

As anyone who’s been cancelled on one too many times by the same friend knows, sooner or later it takes its toll. 'The trust has gone' says Dr Bonior. 'If you can’t trust them to turn up for drinks then you can’t trust them with your secrets.' What’s perhaps scarier than this is the idea that it’s a vicious circle. The more that one crap flakey friend does it, the more it normalises the behaviour.

One woman who’s vowed to put an end to this perpetual cycle is 27-year old Miranda Braithwaite. 'I now make a conscious effort to go to everything that I have said yes to' explains Miranda. 'Or at least apologise if I can’t go to something - because you so often hear of birthday drinks where 60 people have said yes they will go but in reality only three turn up.'

But birthdays, weddings, and your boss’s leaving party aside - surely the odd bit of flakiness isn’t so bad? 'I think it truly is alright to do it every now and again' says Dr Bonior. 'But we have to keep an eye on what our normal means. When every now and again means 20-30% of the time that’s probably still too high. And we have to be honest with ourselves about whether there are patterns. Whether we’re always flaking on the same situation with the same people, because then you can start to wonder - what’s going on here, why do I always flake in this situation.'

I ask Dr Bonior about another suspicion that’s bugging me: are women worse culprits than men? 'I think women have a harder time saying no, so that they get themselves into more activities in the first place that are unwanted or harder to squeeze in' she offers. 'So in that regard, they are probably more prone to flaking. But I also think they are more likely to feel guilty about doing so and worry about the fact that they are doing it!'

It’s not just friendships that are suffering

So while women may be more prone to it than men, and young more prone than old, it’s scary to realise that this trend isn’t just affecting our social lives. Increasingly casual romantic relationships and insincere professional ones are symptomatic of the flakiness epidemic, too. 'It’s the same kind of norms that are shifting so it does apply to professional areas too' says Dr Bonior. 'Also people’s professional lives and personal lives are so intertwined, you’re soliciting work from friends and people that you know personally. So I think the trends apply here as well.'

As we navigate the tumultuous waters that are our mid-twenties, perhaps this is just another part of growing up. Knowing when to say yes, when to say no, and when to suck it up and stick to a plan even if you are a bit tired. Work pressures aren’t going anywhere, and as we hit late our twenties and enter our early thirties, I’ll hazard a guess that things aren’t going to get that much easier. Better to learn these lessons now, then.

'I seem to be in a point in life where my time increasingly is not something I control' offers 27-year old Claire Fraser. 'On top of my own plans I now have to layer on other people’s plans - engagements, weddings, leaving parties - and work plans. The days I do have free are spent trying to cram a week of life shit into a night. The point of all this is that time is precious. And choosing to spend it in a certain way, with a certain person, on a certain night - is a choice.'

I suggest to Dr Bonior that perhaps our generation's much-lamented selfishness and narcissism, facilitated by social media, could also prove beneficial if it helps us learn to put ourselves first. 'I think that can be a good thing, for instance, when accepting a social engagement' she replies. 'But use that self-focus as a way to say no at the beginning.'

The question remains: will millennials grow out of being unreliable flakes? Or will we one day find ourselves cancelling plans to see our grandchild's nativity play, because we simply can’t be arsed.

*some names have been changed

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Meet The Millennials Who Are Ditching Smartphones For Good

Why Are Millennials The Most Nostalgic Generation Ever?

How Tinder's Stopping Us Having Sex

Follow Tabi on Twitter @tabijgee

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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