My sophomore year in college, a girl from my hometown, Carey, moved to campus. She was a friend from high school, and immediately suggested meeting up and hanging out. I enthusiastically agreed, in part because she was very pretty and we were already friends.
In the course of that year we planned (well, I planned) to meet well over twenty times. We literally met once that year, during lunch in the dining hall, where we both would have been anyway. The other times she flaked, usually notifying me at the very last minute, if at all. I experienced a lot of frustration that year.
What is Flaking?
There is an epidemic of “flakes” in 2017, mainly because meeting people is so easy (just swipe right), as is making plans. Flaking is cancelling with someone at the last minute, usually with a lame excuse, but it also includes a pattern of making promises of getting together, and then breaking them. Both count as flaking. Flaking is ultimately a lack of respect for your feelings and time, and shows irresponsibility. This article mainly relates to acquaintances and dates, but could apply to people you’ve known for a while.
All of my clients have experienced flaking. They’ve matched on Tinder, texted back and forth, planned a date, only for the person to flake. One client got this message, as he was sitting outside their meeting location: “my friends said they didn’t want a stranger out with us, so we won’t be coming.” Another was told that his date was “too nervous” and that her mom’s resume needed updated…on a Saturday night, as he was on the hour drive to see her.
Finally, one messaged a girl to meet, she seemed excited, and then when he mentioned figuring out a time and place, she went blank, even after multiple contacts. And, just because I have used female examples, let’s not forget that men flake too.
Legitimate cancellation (such as because of an emergency or panic attack) within a reasonable time frame isn’t flaking, although as I stated, even this can be flaking if it becomes a pattern. These are rare instances though: most flakes simply over-promise, have other things to do, are poor planners, have other people and events they prioritize over you, and maybe just aren’t into you and aren’t assertive enough to tell you.
This “definitive guide” for dealing with flakes is pretty short for a definitive guide, because there is no sense in complicating a non-complicated subject. This guide also applies to any situation where you are being treated badly in any social context, and it includes breadcrumbing and scrapbooking situations.
First, I want to start with two guiding principles that must be followed when dealing with flakes and anybody who wastes your time…
You Are The Prize
That’s right. People should be chasing after you, and not vice-versa. When you view yourself as the prize, you will become less needy, more detached, and be able to put the bad behavior of others in its proper context.
Start realizing that your time and attention are valuable. And, the more valuable you view yourself, the more valuable others will view you, and their respect will follow.
Detachment is acting in the best way you know how, without worrying about the outcome. It allows you to make good decisions, in line with your values, regardless of the situation you are in.
A lot of people find it hard to do the right thing related to someone they are attracted to, because they are blinded by the person’s beauty, or the fear that another person won’t come along. So, they tolerate bad behavior they normally wouldn’t.
In order to deal with flakes you have to be detached. You have to understand (or at least act like you understand) that there are many more dates and friends out there, and you don’t have to put up with disrespectful, flaky behavior from anybody.
Step One: Stop Engaging
The natural response many people have with flakes is to try to reason with the person, call them out, or complain. I suggest doing none of these. I’ve never seen flakes successfully convinced to reconsider their decision like this. If they’re cancelling at the last minute, or not responding to your messages, they aren’t on their way to meet you, I promise.
So the answer is to briefly communicate as necessary (like to clarify their lack of response), and then stop engaging them, at least for a while. Remember, you are the prize, so you’re not going to enable a flake. This isn’t meant as a punishment, but rather a way to assertively set respectful boundaries, and focus your time and energy on other things besides the aggravating flake.
Plus, study after study shows that humans consider scarcity as a sign of value. Neediness and availability are taken as signs of low value. So, by freezing contact, you’re potentially increasing your value by signalling your unavailability.
So, if you’re sitting in the coffee shop and she’s late, and she texts “sorry something came up and I can’t come” you can freeze contact by responding once with something very brief, like “OK” and then stopping contact, or by simply not responding at all. If you’re feeling particularly funny, you can send an image like the one below:
But that’s it. The point of stopping contact is to show you don’t care. Any long screed about being stood up, or begging him or her to come out defeats the point of proving you don’t care, and you’ll just look like every other needy person the flake has dealt with.
The flake may become very confused. Why? You may be the first person who has stood up to her, and hasn’t begged for attention. And that’s good. But don’t respond for a while. Make her double or triple text you. Wait a few hours or days. There is no set time for you to disengage a flake. Most won’t even try to engage you anyway, because their intention is to move on from you.
If you feel like the flake is sorry, and seems to be working to show you respect (for example, by promising to meet soon, etc), you can unfreeze contact.
If you are dealing with someone you know well, like an old friend with many positive qualities, give them the benefit of the doubt and re-engage sooner. However, if you’re dealing with a near stranger, like a Tinder match, I would make sure you know they share your values before you give too much of your energy to them through increased contact. This brings us to…
Step Two: Optioning
There are plenty of people out there who won’t flake on you, even if they seem hard to find. And, you need to focus on those people.
Optioning is a baseball term for sending someone to the minor leagues with the option of calling them back up when needed.
While it may seem a little crass, view your social contacts (including people you may date or consider romantic partners) this way. You have your starters (quality people), ones on the bench (good, but not the best), and those in the minor leagues (ones who don’t share all of your values, but are still worth knowing). Once a someone flakes on you, that indicates they need to be “sent to the minors.”
That’s not to say you won’t ever contact him or her again, or that you won’t hang out or text occasionally. You’re just giving someone else priority, someone who hopefully respects you and shares your values. If the flake apologizes and starts acting differently, he can eventually go back to a “starter” position.
If you don’t have quality options in your life, then it is time to find them. In fact, the reason you may lack quality people is because you have shown yourself as needy and a doormat in the past.
So, if a girl flakes on you, message another. Maybe the flake was closer to your ideal woman (or man) than this other one, but that doesn’t matter. No matter how pretty or handsome a flake is, a pattern of flaking means the flake isn’t your ideal woman or man. So, contact another. And maybe another. Get my point?
You may think this is harsh or strict, but it really isn’t. It’s being assertive, valuing yourself, and prioritizing good people, people who respect you and who share your values. Every flake I’ve ever known has alienated countless people, and while everyone wasted time complaining about them, nobody ever did anything to end the behavior.
And, this guide will keep you sane when dealing with that annoying and frustrating last minute cancellation.
So, there it is. Dealing with flakes involves putting them in the proper perspective. I wish I would have known all of these things in college with Carey. In the process of prioritizing Carey, I neglected other good people while I spent time trying to meet Carey. And, I focused mental resources on her that I could have placed elsewhere. Eventually I just quit trying to meet up, and not only did I survive, but she wasn’t too bothered either: I haven’t heard from her in 15 years.