“My friends are flakes. We make plans, and they cancel at the last minute. I don’t know why it seems like I attract flaky people. Should I keep my unreliable friends or try to find new ones?”
As this reader wrote, being friends with someone unreliable and flaky can be challenging. It’s hard not to take it personally if they keep canceling plans, especially if you’re already struggling with low self-esteem or feel inferior to others.
You may be asking if it’s worth it to stay friends with someone so unreliable. You may love spending time together and find that they’re thoughtful, kind, interesting, and funny when you meet up. But not knowing if you can count on them showing up on time when you make plans is a significant hurdle in a friendship.
We want to feel that our friends value and respect us. That means showing up on time when we made plans. Here’s how you can deal with having flaky friends.
Here’s what to do when your friends are unreliable:
Understand what type of flaky your friend is.
How often does your friend cancel plans? Do they apologize, or do they take your time for granted? Do they try to make it up to you in other ways?
Examine how they talk about other people when you’re around. Do they treat you differently when you’re alone compared to when you’re around other people? If you feel like your friend may be keeping you on the back burner, consider talking to them directly. It’s a tough conversation to have, but the alternative of always wondering if you’re a priority to your friend can be much tougher.
Some people aren’t so good at gauging how they will feel in advance.
They may be convinced they will be up for a party next Friday night—but when the time comes, they find themselves tired from the week. All of a sudden, the event they thought sounded awesome feels like a huge chore.
Or maybe they underestimate how long it will take them to do things. They think they can meet a friend for an hour or two and make it to meet you right after. They don’t take into account that things can change.
If this sounds like your friend, don’t make any out-of-the-ordinary plans too far in advance. Confirm your mutual interest and agree to check up again closer to the event.
If you know your friend is someone who keeps rescheduling, make sure to confirm with them before emotionally committing to an event.
Let’s say your friend says, “Let’s have lunch on Thursday.”
You may think your only option is to say yes or no. Instead, you can say something like, “Let’s confirm the day before or on the same day.”
If you’ve already made plans with your flaky friend and someone else asks you to do something, you can ask your friend, “Are we still on for tomorrow? I’m trying to plan my day.” Be direct. Tell them that you’re clearing your time for them and expect them to do the same.
Having a specific day and time you get together can help your friend remember it. If they know that you’re having lunch together every Wednesday at noon, they can schedule the rest of their events around it. This tip works for people who struggle to organize and manage their time.
If you know your friend is someone who overschedules themselves, ask them if they have other plans for the day when you’re trying to schedule a time to meet up. Consider meeting up at their house or close to their school or work.
If your friend is always late, try setting an earlier time than what is actually needed. You can also pick them up if it’s an option for you. That way, their mismanagement of time or traffic won’t get in the way of your plans.
Keep in mind that you should only do this if it works out for you and your friendship feels balanced. If your friendship feels one-sided, you shouldn’t have to work hard to make it easier for others. However, if you know that your friend cares about you and is there for you when you need it, it can be worth it to make an extra effort when they’re struggling with things like depression or time management.
If there’s an event you really want to go to, make sure not to put all your eggs in the flaky-friend basket. Ask other people to attend so that you can still go with other people if your flaky friend cancels.
Consider your plans with this friend as written in pencil, rather than ink, i.e., subject to change. Adjusting your expectations can help you become less disappointed if and when your friend reschedules. Try not to invite them to events where their absence will be felt. For example, if you’re meeting a bunch of friends at a restaurant, it’s not a big deal if one shows up late or cancels at the last minute.
You don’t have to ditch your flaky friends altogether, but make sure they’re not your entire social circle, either. Work on expanding your social life. Have other friends to do things with so that if your flaky friend cancels, you won’t be left in the dark.
We have several guides on making friends if you don’t know where to begin.
It can be hard to know if you should confront a flaky friend and what you should say to them.
You don’t want to upset them, but you want to feel respected, too. You may be afraid of losing the friendship if you bring it up. But if their flakiness is annoying you, they deserve to know. And you deserve to feel heard and respected.
It’s particularly important to talk to your friend about it if you’re considering ending the friendship over this issue. Your friend may not be aware of their flakiness or assume that you have a similar “we’ll see” approach to plans. If you care about your friend, give them the chance to work on this issue.
You can say something like:
“I like spending time with you, and it seems like we have a different approach to making plans. I need to have more certainty regarding the plans we make. How can we solve this?”
Be open to what your friend says. Try not to attack or blame them. Don’t say things like, “You’re always so unreliable. I can’t trust you.”
Instead, try to look at it as an issue you can solve together. Your friend may have ideas on how to improve things.
Have this conversation one-on-one in a private place. Don’t bring up other friends as examples, even if they feel the same. Speak about your feelings and let other people speak for theirs.
If there is no improvement after implementing these tips, consider how you feel about the friendship.
Reliability and respect are crucial in a relationship. Ask yourself if your friend is a true friend. What do they bring into your life? Difficulties will always come up in relationships, but your friend should be willing to talk these problems over with you. If they aren’t ready to admit and work on issues, the relationship isn’t balanced. Do they show other signs of being a toxic friend?
If there are more difficulties than good times, and they seem unwilling to work on it, the best thing to do may be to cut your losses. Sooner or later, you will find people who respect you and your time.
Some people try to do too much. They may make plans with several people at once and assume that some plans will follow through. Or they don’t account for things like meetings running longer than expected, missing a bus, or traffic.
Some people struggle to manage their time even if they don’t overcommit. They struggle to estimate how long it will take them to get ready, so they’re always late. They don’t write down plans because they think they’ll remember, but then they forget.
Social anxiety can cause some people to flake out on events. Walking in late may be terrifying to them, so they will just turn around and go home. They may want to meet up but get too stressed at the last minute.
Often, people with depression isolate themselves at home. They may make plans when they’re in a good mood, but when the depression creeps up again, they can’t see themselves going out of the house. They don’t want their friends to see them in a bad mood, and they don’t want to be a “burden.”
Some people have a “go with the flow” attitude and don’t like to commit to plans, while others need more clarity and structure. Your friend may have a different understanding of your plans. They may assume that your plans are less strict than you understand them to be.
Some people agree to events even if they aren’t excited about them. They think, “I’ll go to this unless I find something better to do.” If they find something they consider more interesting, they cancel their “back-up” plans.
It can be extremely hurtful when people you consider friends ditch you for something they think is cooler or when a friend cancels plans for someone else.
It’s not easy to spot the signs your friend is ditching you for other people since they won’t always be honest about the reasons they’re canceling plans. They may say that they’re too tired to go out but meet up with other people.
If someone is constantly rescheduling with you and not bothering to make it up to you, it’s a sign they don’t value your time as much as theirs. You clear your schedule for them, but they don’t do the same for you.
You may feel like you attract flaky people if you are not good at communication, setting boundaries, and recognizing signs of unhealthy behavior. As you get better at asserting your needs, you will start to surround yourself with healthier people.
Sometimes it’s worth keeping flaky friends if they are good friends in other ways and trying their best. In these cases, you can work together to find a solution. But if they don’t respect you and your time, it may be best to find other friends.
Confronting a flaky friend can be difficult, but it’s worth it when the alternative is to continue to feel disrespected or to end the friendship without allowing them to change their behavior. Tell your friend how you feel. You may be surprised by their response.
You can tell your friend, “When you reschedule at the last minute, I feel hurt. I need to know that you respect our plans. Please tell me if you can’t commit so that I can plan my time.”