From The Straits Times    |

Credit: Getty

One of the best things about having friends is that you can always rely on them – or most of the time, at least. But what if you, well, can’t? What if they’re flaky? Many of us know people who are irresponsible or unpredictable. And if you have friends who behave this way, it could be tough to maintain a friendship with them.  

Someone who is flaky will cancel or reschedule plans often or simply turn up late, with no regard to how long the other person has waited or, indeed, where they are waiting. After all, this could be at a table in a busy restaurant, dealing with angry stares from staff and waiting customers, or perhaps you’ve trudged to the other end of town to meet them after a long day at work, only to find them bail at the last minute. 

Sarah Ng, a 42-year-old occupational therapist, has a flaky friend: “She cancels on plans at the very last minute or shows up very late for appointments – like three hours late – if she knows other people will be around. She’s just very unreliable.”

The two have been friends since their teens and have kept in touch, despite both moving away from Singapore at various points. Sarah admits that she didn’t mind it as much when they were younger but now she’s in her 40s, she finds it “quite trying”. She has never spoken to her friend about it – as she thinks “it would be weird” – but has been minimising their meet-ups lately.   

Grace Loh, psychotherapist, counsellor and coach at Counselling Perspective, lists a few factors that could lead to flakiness in individuals:

  • anxiety or social anxiety, which may cause them to avoid social situations or cancel plans due to overwhelming discomfort or fear
  • poor time management skills or difficulties with prioritisation can lead individuals to overcommit and subsequently cancel plans
  • conflict avoidance may also contribute to flakiness, as individuals opt to cancel plans rather than confront uncomfortable situations or conversations
  • a lack of consideration for others’ time and feelings, where individuals prioritise their own convenience over honouring commitments.

Should you cut ties with flaky friends?

Some of us will cut ties with flaky people after a while but many of us remain friends, perhaps because we’ve known them for a long time and genuinely enjoy their company (when they do show up) or because we’re more forgiving. Also, it might not be the one personality trait that defines them; they may have other redeeming qualities or maybe they’ve been there for you when you needed them so you have a soft spot for them. 

It’s normal to go through a range of emotions when dealing with a flaky friend. Grace explains that experiencing abandonment due to a friend’s consistent cancellations or failure to follow through on commitments can evoke feelings of rejection and loneliness. Similarly, consistent unmet expectations for quality time or support may lead to disappointment and frustration, impacting the trust and intimacy within the friendship. 

Also, frustration could arise from the unpredictability and unreliability of a flaky friend, causing a sense of powerlessness in the relationship dynamics. Uncertainty and insecurity manifest due to inconsistent behaviour and unreliable communication, creating a lack of stability and trust in the friendship. 

“Ultimately, repeated disregard for one’s time and feelings can breed resentment towards the friend, potentially straining the relationship further and necessitating emotional processing and boundary setting in therapy,” she adds. 

Tips for dealing with a flaky friend

There are many benefits to having friends as good friendships play a crucial role in our lives by providing emotional support, enhancing resilience and promoting overall well-being. Friends also offer a sense of belonging and security, aiding individuals in navigating life’s challenges. Plus, they contribute to increased resilience by offering diverse perspectives, coping strategies and encouragement during difficult times.

“These relationships are linked to better mental and physical health outcomes, including reduced stress, heightened happiness and improved self-esteem,” Grace reveals. “Friendships fulfil the innate human need for social connection, fostering a sense of community and alleviating feelings of loneliness. Moreover, friendships facilitate personal growth by enabling individuals to learn about themselves, develop empathy and hone essential social skills like communication and conflict resolution.”

However, it can be frustrating when your friend is flaky. Grace says that, in navigating the complexities of dealing with a flaky friend, it’s crucial to employ a multifaceted approach:

  1. Clearly communicate your expectations concerning commitments and follow-through in the friendship, establishing a foundation of mutual understanding.
  2. Express how their flakiness impacts you emotionally and socially, underlining the significance of reliability for maintaining trust and closeness in the relationship. 
  3. Setting boundaries regarding future interactions is essential; this could involve limiting the frequency of making plans or reassessing the level of investment in the friendship if the behaviour persists. Prioritising self-care is equally important, as it entails engaging in activities and relationships that promote personal fulfilment and support, even if it means creating distance from the flaky friend. 
  4. Exercising selectivity is key; assessing the extent of forgiveness and understanding you’re willing to extend based on individual circumstances and the overall health of the friendship ensures a balanced approach to maintaining emotional well-being amidst challenges.

So if you have a flaky friend that you are just about done with, the first step is to have a direct and calm conversation with them, expressing your feelings and concerns openly. Grace notes that it’s important to approach the situation with understanding, considering potential underlying reasons for their behaviour such as anxiety or stress, while also advocating for one’s own needs in the friendship. 

“Setting realistic expectations is key, acknowledging the friend’s limitations while prioritising personal well-being,” she advises. “Emphasising quality over quantity in the friendship by seeking meaningful connections and shared experiences fosters a healthier dynamic. 

“Additionally, diversifying one’s social circle to include reliable and considerate friends who respect the time and effort invested in the relationship can provide additional support and stability,” she adds.