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First person

I care about my friends… so why am I so flaky?

By December 26, 2021No Comments

THE ESSAY

 

Are you a last minute canceller? Do your friends know you as ‘the flake’? Megan Cassidy is here to say, well, her too, but she’s got advice on how to turn it around…


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This week I heard the term ‘loss-chasing’ on some podcast or other. It’s a phrase used in reference to gambling addiction, whereby the gambler actually wants to lose a couple of times, so that she can keep playing and get an even bigger adrenaline rush when she actually wins. She’ll take incredible risks in order to chase these losses, acting compulsively and against all rational thinking.

It clicked for me – when it comes to social outings and meet-ups, I’m a loss-chaser. I have a full on cancelling addiction. Even though I care about my friends, I constantly take risks with my friendships, pushing people I love to the absolute limits of their tolerance with my reckless impulsivity, and ultimately chasing that high of finally getting my shit together and honouring an arrangement to meet up, only after 3-4 last minute reschedules. 

Of course, I always enjoy seeing friends when it does happen, and leave feeling triumphant and fulfilled, only to put a follow up plan in the diary and start the cancellation cycle all over again. 

The theory is that flakes are selfish narcissists, that they have no regard for other people’s time or feelings, and that they only care about themselves. But if that was the case, why do I feel (and seemingly chase) this constant, chronic guilt and anxiety that I’m going to lose all my lovely friends to a cancelling addiction?

I don’t think I’m a bad person, and I don’t think my flakiness is driven by selfishness. I rarely cancel because ‘I just don’t feel like it’ or because I’m succumbing to the rapture of a few unplanned free hours, as tempting as it is. Most of the time, I have genuine reasons to cancel plans. I’ve over-booked myself. I’m actually burned out. I got a last minute Invisalign appointment. Okay, sort of selfish. 

I (and the other flakes in my life) make plans in total good faith, fully believing that when the time comes I will be delighted to get into my hiking boots on a Sunday morning and take on Tibradden with my old pal from school. I make this plan because I identify as someone who is social and has friends, and in the abstract, this is something that a sociable person does. I also want to be a person who hikes on Sunday mornings, hangover-free, and this plan aligns perfectly with that aspiration. 

But that’s exactly my problem – there is a gaping disconnect between how I identify in the abstract, – an active, healthy person with lots of friends – and what my present self wants in the minutiae of everyday life.

When us flakes make future plans for our future selves, we have the best of intentions, but our forecasting is somehow way off – and when it comes time to execute on the plans, it’s almost impossible to reconcile that big picture ideal with the actual detail of making it happen. Going to bed early on Saturday night, getting up early and putting your boots on, collecting the car from the garage the night before so you have a way to get there, having no signal at the summit even though your sister is going through a breakup. Suddenly, it’s the plan itself that becomes abstract, and it’s hard to visualise being on the mountain, with your pal, in your hiking boots, against all of these odds.

The little voice in your head starts to list the reasons it just doesn’t make sense to go. ‘You have a big week coming up, you need to prep. It’s chaos to try and get the car back from the mechanics tonight, when you have so much on with work. You’ve been friends for years, she’s hardly going to dump you over one little cancellation.’ And suddenly you find yourself typing ‘Listen I’m so sorry but…’

It’s an awful cycle riddled with guilt and inner conflict, and while we often hear advice on how to deal with the flakes in our lives, I have found there’s a lack of dialogue on how to deal with your own flakiness. Because no-one wants to be a flake. 

Since it’s the season of social meet ups (Disclaimer* Obviously meet up safely and according to current guidelines – and of course if you don’t feel comfortable attending something because of Covid, that is a completely valid reason not to show up)  I thought I’d compile a few things that have helped me overcome my flakey tendencies over the last few weeks. 

  • Plan the details  

This has been a huge one for me in closing the gap between the ‘idea’ of meeting up with someone and the reality of it. The minute it’s booked in, I start planning the minutiae, even just in my head, to make it more real. I think about what I’ll wear, and if I need to have anything washed in advance. I think about other things I can tick off my to-do list while I’m in the area. I even sometimes buy the person a little gift. That way when the day comes, I’ve already confronted the details, and it doesn’t overwhelm me or startle me into cancelling. 

  • Know your personality type

… And schedule for it. In a world that celebrates extroversion, it has taken me a long time to fully embrace the fact that I am an introvert. I get my energy from alone time, and if I spend too much time with other people I get drained and burned out. So while in theory I would like to be a person with social engagements every night of the week – that doesn’t work for me in practice, and I will inevitably cancel on one or two. Knowing this has helped me make realistic plans, making sure I have time in my calendar to be alone with my books. 

  • Embrace constructive suffering 

Here’s where we do need to take responsibility for our actions and accept that while we may not be selfish people – it is selfish to cancel. So if you’ve over-booked yourself or you are too disorganised to make it work on the day, force yourself to suffer through it in an effort to teach yourself a lesson. The more we cancel and get away with it, the more we reinforce the feedback loop that it’s okay to cancel on a whim, when it’s not. Go through with your plans no matter what once or twice, and I promise you’ll get better at planning realistically going forward. If you can’t go through with the arrangement, at least force yourself to pick up the phone and call instead of firing off a quick Whatsapp. Being confronted with the other person’s humanity makes the reality of what you’re doing hit home. It’s not nice. 

  • Empathise

It sounds slightly sociopathic to need to be told to empathise, but I know that myself and my fellow introverts struggle with this sometimes. Because we spend so much time in our heads and alone, we don’t put as much investment into quality time with friends and family as extroverts do, and we don’t tend to get as offended when someone cancels on us – because it just means more beloved alone time. The cruel irony is that we actually tend to cancel more on the people we love the most – because we know the relationship runs deeper than one meet-up and we won’t lose them if we don’t show up.

But asking the other person how they feel when you cancel can be very insightful. My younger sister is a total extrovert and genuinely looks forward to getting out and about with people (can you imagine). She makes it her business to fill up her free time with social events because that’s how she relaxes. She feels genuinely rejected and bereft when I cancel at the last minute, because she would have filled her free time with someone else – a concept that is alien to me. Hearing this from her has increased my sense of responsibility when I make a plan and I’m much more likely to show up or say from the get go that it probably won’t happen. 

Since I’ve implemented these little strategies I’m carving out a whole new feedback loop in the reward centre of my brain. I’m genuinely getting my kicks from feeling organised, staying true to my word, and enjoying social connection with friends that introverts as well as extroverts desperately need. I’m so much happier and the sense of duty is actually somewhat freeing – I no longer have the cognitive dissonance of wanting to show up for my friend but feeling I have a right to cancel, which leads to decision fatigue, worry, etc etc. 

Now, I still take enormous pleasure in someone else cancelling on me – the elation of plans dissolving in front of my eyes through no fault of my own will always be a joy. I have friendships that are built on a shared appreciation of compulsive cancelling (hi Cassie!) and will always reserve the right to send a little giddy ‘will we just leave it?’ text to these people. Just know if you get one of these texts from me that I’m considering you to be a fellow flake – and if you’re not, tell it to me straight. Let’s hold each other accountable. It’s not okay to flippantly cancel. Whether it’s a hike, a video call, or something small you promised to do for someone. Plan deliberately… and show up! 

@meganmariecass

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