I imagine that humanizing someone who perpetually cancels plans might not be high on anyone’s list of priorities, but what if we were to remove the act of ‘flaking out’ from the conversation and talk only about the flake — the person behind the action?
Because the flake is not a bad person, probably. The flake is maybe someone who doesn’t manage their time very well, or someone who is chronically ill or depressed, or someone who has trouble saying no. Maybe the flake has a job they are overly-attached to for sentimental or financial reasons. Perhaps the flake is just a pushover who gets bullied into commitments that they don’t want to honor. It’s easy to write the flake off as someone who sits around thinking that their time and desires outweigh that of another person’s, but couldn’t that be said of everyone? Does this flaw set flakes apart from everyone else?
The ‘socially acceptable‘ thing to do, when you make plans, is to stick to your word and execute the plan. But not everyone is designed to do ‘the socially acceptable thing.’ Just as there are people who like to schedule every hour of their day months in advance, there are people who feel most comfortable not adhering to a plan. There are people who are happiest and at their best when they don’t have a concrete blueprint they must follow. When you ask a person like this to make a plan with you, you may be asking them to sacrifice their happiness to conform to what you think is good and normal behavior. How is getting super upset and unreasonable about them flaking less selfish than their behavior?
There’s nothing wrong with compromising, which is what a ‘flakey’ person might be doing when they agree to go along with a plan, but is the person who likes to nail down a date, place, and time asked to compromise anything? No, and mostly they’re getting what they want — which is the company of a person who may or may not want to be there. Think about that for a second — why would you want that? Wouldn’t you prefer, if this person is truly your friend, or your lover, or your whoever, that they cancel when they’re not feeling up for it, rather than showing up with a fake smile plastered on their face as they go through the motions of being friends with you? Why would anyone want that?
When people criticize flakes, I have to wonder what makes them think that their worldview is the one that needn’t be challenged. I wonder if they actually want the flake’s company, or if they just want someone around to validate them. If you care about someone, which is ostensibly the reason you’d want to hang out with them, wouldn’t you try to respect that sometimes they need to do what feels right for them, rather than what’s right for you? That their not wanting to do something they previously agreed to do might have nothing to do with you, but with the thousands of other things happening in their life that might take precedence over getting a drink with you? How is getting angry that a person has a life that does not exclusively unfold around you a rational reaction to canceled plans? That seems like the same kind of self-centered train of thought flakes are accused of.
People like to point out, when chastising flakes, that there was once a time when technology didn’t allow you to just cancel plans. You either had to honor your commitments, or stand someone up and be a jerk. First, we don’t live in that time anymore. Sorry. Second, just because that was the way things were, does that mean it was the right way? Should we hold someone to their word at the expense of their own happiness? Why do you get to decide who should be happy; and why would you want to do that to someone, even if you could? (You can’t.) Holding people accountable makes sense in the workplace, where someone is being paid to complete a task — do you want to treat your personal relationships like work? Finally, no one has signed a social contract wherein we all agree to give the same weight and priority to every ‘commitment.’ Your definition of a commitment might not look the same as mine. If I say, “maybe” to getting a drink on Tuesday, I probably don’t see that as an ironclad obligation to which I am now bound forever. Even couples who vow to love each other forever get divorced.
I’m not saying it’s a good look to cancel on people at the last minute. (I have flaked before; mostly I avoid committing to plans now to escape hearing, “BUT YOU SAID…”) And it’s also OK and natural to be annoyed when plans consistently fall through with the same person. (I’ve also been the annoyed party, and I haven’t always handled it gracefully.) But maybe, if we tried to adjust our expectations on a case-by-case basis instead of thinking “this is what’s owed to me by everyone; this is the right and wrong social behavior,” we’d all be a little happier. When it comes to making and keeping plans, we could all afford to compromise.