Scenario: You make plans to meet a friend for drinks Friday night at 8. At 5pm you text them, “Still on for tonight?”
What are the possible responses, and how do you know if they’re flaky?
The True Confirmation
Flake rating: 0 (Not Flaky)
Reaffirms your plans (and means it). Shows up for drinks. Totally great and not flaky.
The Fake Confirmation
Flake rating: 1 (Deceptively Flaky)
Texts you back at 5 saying you’re definitely still on for drinks, then follows up an hour or two later (or worst-case, just before 8) with some kind of reversal message. Something came up, they can’t make it, or they just don’t feel like going out any more. The message probably contains some kind of self-deprecating statement like, “I know, I suck” or “I’m literally the worst!”
The Chronic “Maybe” Case
Flake rating: 2 (Maybe Flaky)
Catchphrase: “I’m not sure I can make it, but I’ll try!” It’s the friend who can neither confirm nor deny if she’ll be able to follow through with your plans…ever. Are they really unsure, or is “maybe” just their nice way of saying no? This one probably depends on the person. If they have an unpredictable job or a busy family life, the “maybe” may be for real. If not, they may just be stringing you along, which definitely makes them flaky.
The “Sorry, something came up!”
Flake rating: 3 (Flaky)
Vague and unoriginal, but at least this person thought you were important enough to not leave hanging. There’s about a 75% chance this is a total lie and they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a more specific excuse to ditch you. Or maybe they did actually have something come up last minute that’s more important than your plans together. Either way, definitely flaky.
The Zero-response No-show
Flake rating: 4 (Frustratingly Flaky)
Unacceptable. End friendship. You don’t need this kind of person in your life.
I’m kidding, but really, unless a true emergency happened to prevent this person from contacting you, there’s no excuse to both not respond and not show up as planned – not with all the ways we have to get in touch with someone.
But the same tools making it easier to contact our friends have contributed to an influx of those friends flaking out on us. Technology makes flaking easier than ever before; you can cancel plans via text or Facebook faster and easier than you could ever cancel face-to-face. Technology makes flaking more convenient (for the flaker) and less socially awkward.
“Nothing lets us so seamlessly shed our commitments quite like a text.” – Kata Hakala, Mic.com
Still, just because we can ditch plans more conveniently doesn’t mean we should. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a flaky text, you know how frustrating it can be. (Especially if you’re in touch with the kind of flaker who tells you they can’t make it for drinks only after you’re already waiting at the bar.)
I think part of the flaking issue stems from an unacknowledged disagreement among friends about Acceptable Flaking Protocol (AFP). Facebook invites are a great example of the disconnect in people’s idea of AFP. Does joining a Facebook event have the same value as a verbal commitment to attend an event? If you join a Facebook event and then can’t actually make it, are you obliged to change your online response to a no? If you don’t change your response and you don’t go, are you flaking? And are all these rules different depending on the event itself (size, location, host)?
Then there’s the whole issue of the flaking time frame. How long before an event or commitment should you give notice that you can’t make it? Does AFP suggest 24 hours, an hour, 5 minutes? Again, does it depend where you’re going and who you’re with?
The question isn’t why we’re flaking – we all know why.
The question is how technology will change our communication patterns, and how we’ll have to create new social rules to deal with the changes.
For now, I’m left waiting for a universally recognized AFP.