For most of us, there is very little above friends and the relationships we have with them on our list of priorities. We’re a passionate generation, with loyalty and integrity critical characteristics for most of us. And yet when it comes to actually seeing our friends IRL, we are hopeless. Cancelling and being cancelled is just power for the course. So what the hell happened?? Can someone tell me when we all became so goddamn flakey?
Without meaning to be dramatic (lol, you know I’m joking, my flare for the drama is almost entirely deliberate), I find myself dreading having to organise almost anything with any group of my friends anymore, for the very real worry that none of them will show up.
And that’s not just because my anxiety sends my self-esteem into whatever the opposite of overdrive is, or because I think that they all secretly hate me. It’s not even because they’re bad people or bad friends.
I hate organising things with people because people are flakey.
I’m flakey too. We are all flakey, and we make up a very flakey generation.
Every Tuesday my local pub puts on a quiz; greedy for the £120 cash-prize and free bottle of prosecco, assuming we were as smart as we thought we were, a few of us rallied together to forge a team.
There could be no more than six per group and so, working on the logic that at least two people would bail (it’s a Tuesday, we’re in London and, as I’ve mentioned once or twice already in this post, we’re generation-flake), we invited eight people.
Sure enough, two people flaked (well, they were sick, but for the sake of this particular argument, it’s the same thing).
Then another two pulled out; one was tired after a haircut and didn’t want to haul ass two miles across London (twenty miles in rest of the world speak) and another had been roped into a after-work-squash game (no, I don’t know what sort of fuckery this is either, but it’s such a fabulously ridiculous excuse that it couldn’t be anything but totally true).
What was, at one point, set to be a team so big we’d be fined £4 for too many members, (high stakes at this quiz of mine I’m telling you), was now so small we didn’t stand a chance at even the second place prize of the (revolting, but it’s free so we still really wanted it) house white.
Once upon a time this scenario, I’m sure, would have upset me. I’d have felt let down, compelled, probably, to confront the n0-shows and demand to know what they had found to do that was so much more fun than me. Maybe we’d have had a fight. I’d probably have had a little cry.
On Tuesday, I didn’t care. Not because I wasn’t upset not to be seeing my friends (and missing out on the free wine that four brains were unable to win in the way that eight brains would have done) but because I have come to appreciate that friendship in 2018 is not like friendships in 2008 and even less like friendships in 1998 and absolutely unrecognisable from the friendships of 1978 that my parents bang on about all.the.time.
People are flakey now in ways we have never been before and for the most part, as a generation, we seem to be fairly accommodating of that.
But before I get into all of this, I do feel compelled to make the following statement: a friend that doesn’t show up to the pub because they forgot or are busy or at work or double booked or aren’t feeling well but who sent you a message to tell you that they’re so sorry, they love you but do they mind if you sit this one out??? is different, for the most part, to having a toxic friend.
A friend not showing up to the pub is not necessarily indicative of a toxic friendship. I’ve written about toxic friendships before and there is a difference between toxic friends and flakey friends.
And I think I know that because whilst at times I am flakey, I know (read: hope to god) that I’m not toxic.
We are busy and the invention of the internet, whilst working miracles for so many friendships, is often as detrimental as it is practical. We haven’t stopped caring about friends, on the contrary, we probably care more about them than we ever have before, but our relationships have changed, the dynamics are different and in so many ways being a good friend has never been harder.
I’ve talked before about the pressure of intense female friendship, how we’re a generation exposed to countless love stories between friends (Dolly Alderton’s new book Everything I Know About Love being a prime example of that) and how difficult it can be when the friends in your life don’t live up to the expectations society has told you they should meet.
The lines are therefore blurred, not just between flakey friends and toxic friends but the very idea of what it means to be a friend in the first place.
Thanks to social media we are omniscient in our friends lives, there is hardly anything we don’t see (that they don’t want us to at any rate) and this is perhaps, probably, I think, the biggest factor in what is fast becoming an epidemic of flakiness.
In the olden days, not just the 70s but as recently as ten years ago, if we wanted to see our friends, hear about their lives, be involved, we had to IRL see them. We just don’t need to do that anymore and as we all become so available to one another, in so many other ways, we become disposable.
That’s not to say that our relationships, in real life, are changing, but the dynamics of friendship itself are being massively altered. Since we now have access to everyone, all the time, if one person cancels, finding a replacement is not the crisis it once was – one that saw us frantically ringing the home phone numbers of everyone we knew, hoping against hope that as few a parents answered the phone as possible.
If someone cancels on your plans to go to a concert, thanks to various social media channels (even dating apps) you’re likely to find a replacement within the hour.
That’s not ideal, obviously, and if someone cancelled plans to go to a concert with me on the same day without a note from a doctor I’d be inclined to walk round their house and whack them over the head with an amplifier, but you get the point.
The pressure has been taken off us a bit, in that sense, and I think it’s causing us to sleep on the job a bit.
One thing I will say for my parents generation is that they were persistent, consistent and far more likely to maintain a friendship than we are today and that’s because they had to be about a million times more tenacious.
A relationship could not be maintained simply by sporadically liking Instagram pictures and wishing people a happy birthday by writing publicly on an imaginary wall. Real life effort had to be made and since replacements were hard to come by if someone canceled last minute, when plans were made, they were stuck to. Tired, cold, busy at work? Feeble excuses. You make a plan, you stick to it.
I have often had people cancel on me because they are ‘too tired’, an excuse that people of my parents generation would not only not have dared to try, but would absolutely not have accepted.
In the history of terrible excuses, tiredness would have been up there with “sorry I can’t come, I’m washing my hair that night” – for a generation raised by parents who fought in the war this is the biggest load of shit on offer. For generation-self-care (that’s us by the way) – both these excuses are not just believed, but encouraged.
As much as I hate to talk shit about my own people, I’m unable to deny the our new found obsession with looking out for number one (fantastic when done right) is more than a little bit capable of making us a little bit selfish.
Where we used to get FOMO we now get JOMO (fear of missing out is now joy of missing out – keep up!). Baths are basically considered medicinal, our own company is something we are supposed to treasure above the company of anyone else, our time is, whether we’ll admit it or not, far more important to us than that of other peoples.
God we sound like tossers don’t we?
Ultimately, of course, there is a difference between self care and selfishness and there is a difference between flaking on friends and being a flakey friend.
Missing quiz night is fine. Cancelling dinner cause you’ve got loads on at work, no problem. Missing one party for another, skipping a reunion for a work event, tube strikes, no money, no time. Sometimes life gets in the way and we can’t be as true to our calendars as we’d like. We’re forgiven for that.
Being the friend that never shows up, never answers the phone, always cancels, and gives no excuse for any of it? Well that’s toxic and that’s different.
The pattern that we’ve fallen into trying to juggle our work lives and home lives, our relationships with our self-care, mental health with feelings of FOMO – that’s what we ought to be keeping an eye on, because I’m not sure we’re handling it that well.
We allow each other to cancel on our plans on the proviso that at some point, we’ll return the favour. We’re forgiving of each other’s busy schedules and respect our peers for taking ownership of their own time. We’re also in the unique position of being voyeurs to each other’s lives anyway, thanks to social media, so we don’t even feel that guilty.
I guess we just have to be careful now, that flaking on our friends doesn’t turn us into the flakey friend.
That wherever possible we try not to let life get in the way of the things that really matter.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… it’s my friend’s birthday this evening and whilst I am not just exhausted but in desperate need of a hair wash, I ought to go and put my gladrags on…