Emily explores a widespread epidemic, the symptoms, effects and a possible cure.
It’s some time in the late 1950s. Doris and Bertha have (over the LANDLINE) arranged to meet at a trendy Soho spot for after-work drinks on Thursday to gossip and generally chew the fat. But when Thursday comes, Doris can’t be arsed - because she got a little crazy on Wednesday with Cynthia in Accounts and is hungover and wants to go to bed. BUT she can’t just whack Bertha a Whatsapp to lie about having terrible period pains to get out of the drinks. If she doesn’t show, Bertha will be left hanging, all tarted up with nowhere to go. And she can’t just call or message her - because A. mobile phones don’t exist yet and B. Bertha is out at meetings all day and therefore couldn’t be contacted on the landline - even if she wanted to be. So guess what? Doris has to go, hangover and all because she has no other choice. So she shows up and the two of them actually have a really great time.
What a dreamy state of affairs? People make plans and actually stick to them.
However today sadly the concept of reliability is so alien I bet Charlie Brooker makes an episode of Black Mirror about it.
As usual technology is to blame. Out constant state of connectivity means that we can formulate and cancel plans in the blink of an eye. Nothing is set in stone (or even in pen) and this has lead to the acceptance of serial cancellations. Our digital lives have made everything more informal, more detached. Where once one would receive and RSVP to a party invitation on paper, now we compulsively click ‘attending’ on Facebook events, with no intention of actually going. We speculatively make plans with friends weeks in advance, with no thought as to how we will feel at the time: perhaps we will be tired, or busy at work? But because we know that we have the option of changing plans last minute - we don’t consider the future.
This is what has lead to the emergence of THE SERIAL FLAKES.
Flaking is a dangerous game, if done infrequently it can be fine, but like most things if done in excess - it can have disastrous consequences. Chronic flakiness breeds resentment and even if unintended can come across as exceptionally rude. It assumes that the flaker takes you for granted, and doesn’t value your time or friendship. Our time is precious and when frittered away by an inconsiderate flaker can cause trouble.
(I’ll admit that my own flakiness record isn’t exactly pristine. I’ve flaked many times on some of my nearest and dearest for a plethora of legitimate, such as norovirus, and non-legitimate, reasons aka I was tired and wanted to spend time alone watching Netflix. But I always try to manage the expectations of my friends and respect their time.)
From my perception of Flakers in the wild, I have discovered four prevalent types:
The Tired Flake
Our mentality is very much ‘work hard, play hard.’ This means that we are expected to give 100% to both our work life and our social life. So we plan, and we feel like if we don’t plan then we are somehow missing out. I have friends who I have tried to organise plans with and they don’t have any space in their diary for at least a month in advance?! Extracurriculars are admirable and can be important for personal development - but that is just silly. But with our diaries choc-full of drinks, dinners, cinema trips, tennis lessons, volunteering, dates etc we eventually burn-out and that is when the ‘Tired Flaker’ comes into play. This is usually someone who has taken on too much and is so exhausted from their constant parade of engagements that they just need a break. They will be honest in their flakiness, they will give you fair warning, apologize profusely and rearrange (maybe more than once).
The Legitimate Flake
You can tell a legitimate flaker by the totally unexpected nature of the flake. Usually reliable in their organisation, they themselves will be just as surprised as you are by the flaking. It will rarely happen but when it does, be down to illness, work or a family commitment.
The Scatty Flake
You should never bother to make plans with the scatty flake. They rarely know if they are coming or going. They will probably have double booked you, turn up on the wrong day and if they do arrive, they will be late. They have no concept of time, or the importance of other peoples. If you do make plans with the scatty flake - make them at your own home so when they do cancel, it doesn’t matter.
The Distance Related Flake
Do you have friends who do their best to avoid travelling any distance out of their way? Who you always find yourself moving mountains to go an visit and yet there is no way they would ever return the favour? Those that fall into this category usually have a desperate phobia of leaving Zones 1&2. If you make plans with them outside their comfort zone(s) they will devise chronic lies to avoid travelling any distance. Best to meet them in Sloane Square.
The Lying Flake
This is the worst and most devious type of Flaker. They are the ones who will always wait until the last minute to flake. They text just a couple of minutes before you arrive for a drink to say they aren’t coming, or ruin a seating plan by cancelling at the last possible second before a dinner party. They will have a repertoire of excuses: ‘I had Zumba with my Granny’ or ‘I had to take my dog to the masseuse.’ You always know they are lying, either because they got a better offer, or they just can’t be bothered, but either way it is no way to behave. When making plans with The Liar - ensure it’s in groups of more than two, so they can’t totally ruin your plans.
Flaking is a vicious circle. In the worst possible way, I find myself feeling less and less bad about about flaking on my flaky friends. Which, I imagine leads them to flaking on me. And so round and round it goes, chipping away at friendships until there is nothing left except for a resentful mess.
Worse still is that flaking is now affecting bodies like the NHS - with missed appointments costing the health service nearly 1bn a year! It’s one thing to flake on drinks with Araminta at The Sloaney Pony on a Friday, but to flake on a GP that you have presumably booked an appointment with because you had some medical concerns - is in my (hypochondriacal) mind, totally obscene.
I was speaking to someone very wise about the flaking epidemic last week and he said that what we really need to do is:
Plan less and show up more.
And I am in total agreement.
Illustration Olivia Dueser
Words Emily Bray
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