Relatable memes will tell you cancelling on your mates is cool... don't listen to them.
Over the past few years, cancelling plans has become a bit of a trendy meme on social media. “I’m so glad it’s Friday tomorrow and I can finally cancel all my weekend plans at the last minute,” reads one tweet. Another says: “Friend: Wanna hang out tomorrow? Me: Generic excuse. Friend: Did you really just say ‘generic excuse’?” Five thousand retweets, nine thousand likes, hashtag relatable.
At around the same time, ‘self-care’ went from a genuinely useful concept to a marketing buzzword – we were being encouraged to carve out more time for ourselves (good), switch off our phones (probably for the best), buy products and services specially designed to help us relax (wait a second…) – and cancel plans to do this, if needs be. You told your friend you’d meet them for drinks tonight, but you deserve to sit on the couch in your comfies, eat takeaway and watch Netflix! It’s SELF-CARE! And if you Google something like ‘cancelling plans self-care’ you’ll find a million articles that will back you up.
Look, I get it. I value my downtime as much as the next person, and I definitely have cancelled plans for no particular reason other than I didn’t feel up to being ‘on’ that evening. There are some nights when the thought of opening my mouth and speaking to another person, even a person I love dearly, feels like too much (thanks, millennial burnout!). Taking care of your emotional and mental wellbeing is not to be sniffed at – it is reassuring to see people acknowledge that sometimes you just have to take a night o for your mental health. Not to mention that for those with depression or anxiety, the thought of leaving the house can often signal nothing but dread.
But in my mind, tweets like the ‘generic excuse’ one are a completely different beast, and leave me absolutely freezing. That’s not cute behaviour! There’s another word for continuously cancelling plans at the last minute and dodging your friends, and that word is ‘flake’.
The idea of being labelled a flake is enraging, of course. You’re not a flake! You had a bad day at work, you feel a cold coming on, the weather is bad, blah blah blah. The thing about bailing on plans is that you can always find excellent and extremely compelling reasons to do so. But here’s a (maybe harsh) truth: Your comfort isn’t more important than anyone else’s. You know you wouldn’t take the same behaviour from a friend. You’d be calling them a flake. Is this all sounding familiar? That’s okay. The first step is admitting it. Your name is Aisling/Sophie/Katya, and you are a flake.
It might help a little bit to see things from the point of view of the flake-ee. “My friend recently started her own business, so I understood she was going to be pretty busy for a while, but it eventually got to the point where we would never see her at all,” says Jessica, 27, of her flaky friend.
She would never commit to plans in case she might want to bail later. I would constantly ask her to hang out, and she’d text back saying she was too busy, but would never try to reschedule for another time. We went around in circles like this for weeks until I eventually stopped trying to make plans.
Therein lies the rub. You can’t expect those friends you’re plying with ‘generic excuses’ (god, it just gets less funny every time I type it) to wait around forever, gently lobbing invites in your direction until you finally deign to grace them with your presence. And for Jessica, that’s exactly what happened with her flaky pal: She just stopped trying with her. “It was one of those one-sided friendships, so I got to the stage where I was sick of begging for her to see me,” she tells me. “I learned that if someone wants to see you, they’ll make time, so if not, it might be time to move on.”
If you find yourself bailing a lot, maybe you need to reassess how you’re making plans, and be more mindful in it. As ‘self care mentor’ Christy Tending (www.christytending.com) writes: “It is an act of self-care to look at your schedule and see if a new project really belongs there. If there isn’t space, it is destructive for you to shoehorn it in… Later, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and terrible because you have too many things on your plate? It’s past the time for care. At that point, flaking isn’t self-care. It’s triage.”
That may seem like simple advice, but it’s worth considering. I know that I like to have a nice balance of ‘doing stuff’ and ‘doing nothing’ nights during the week, and if the balance ever tips more towards ‘doing stuff’, I feel frazzled as hell. Like I said, I value my downtime! And I’d feel much better if I just respected that, rather than piling on more plans and responsibilities.
So I’m going to consult my schedule (mentally or otherwise) before giving a big ‘yes’ to some drinks, then realising I’m out of the house more nights than I’d like to be on a given week. I’ll say ‘no’ from the get go rather than backing out at the eleventh hour. And whatever I do, I won’t string people along with ‘maybes’ when we both know well that I have no intention whatsoever of showing up.
I’m not one to look at the ‘olden days’ through rose-tinted glasses, and I find the Black Mirror ‘phones are bad, mmkay’ school of thought a bit shallow, most of the time. Smartphones and social media have opened up the world for so many of us, and I’m very grateful for that.
But by the same token, if you made plans with someone in 1997, you probably went through with them. You didn’t have the option to throw them a text at 7.50pm to say you actually can’t make it tonight, and we should absolutely stop seeing that as an option. Make your plans, mindfully, and plan your ‘self- care’ evenings too. Keep those plans. If you’re really not feeling it? You’re an adult, you can excuse yourself and go home. The only good kind of flake is the chocolate – and don’t let the Twitter memes and inspirational quotes on Instagram tell you otherwise.