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How Can I Be a Better Flake?

‘Sorry, I don’t think I’m gonna make our wedding — maybe we can try for one day next week?’

Cancelling plans is my Prozac. One minute, I’m pent up with anxiety about performing human activities in a social setting and the next minute, after sending a quick text along the lines of, “So sorry man, I’m not gonna make it,” it’s pure climactic release. Needless to say, I’m a disgusting flake, to the extent that I sometimes I wonder if I agree to plans just so I can relieve myself of them.

I’m not alone in my flakiness, though: In 2017, the New York Times declared that we live in the “golden age of bailing.”

“All across America people are deciding on Monday that it would be really fantastic to go grab a drink with X on Thursday. But then when Thursday actually rolls around they realize it would actually be more fantastic to go home, flop on the bed and watch Carpool Karaoke videos. So they send the bailing text or email: ‘So sorry! I’m gonna have to flake on drinks tonight. Overwhelmed. My grandmother just got bubonic plague.…’” writes David Brooks.

Not to mention the fact that, as noted in this Bustle article, these days flaking is just so damn easy to do: “In the dark ages, before cell phones and texting, people were generally more likely to keep plans because it was harder to cancel, according to Nancy Colier LCSW on Psychology Today.”

To that end, last year, we wrote about how to deal with a chronic flaker — and the varying reasons why someone might be this way in the first place. According to Kris Boksman, a clinical psychologist and clinic director at the Limestone Clinic in Ontario, the list includes a lack of social skills, anxiety and depression, and of course, just being a selfish asshole. “In this case,” writes Boksman, “these kinds of people are more motivated to ‘look out for number one’ than to try to keep everyone in their social circle feeling valued and respected.”

Now, I don’t think I’m a selfish asshole (or at least, I don’t mean to be), and honestly, the last thing I want to do is disrespect my friends. But I also can’t quite shake the urge to ditch at the last minute.

So, how can I be a more socially acceptable flake?

Erika Ettin, a writer at the Seattle Times, suggests that there’s an etiquette to proper flaking, such as calling the person if you’re cancelling the day of, potentially proposing a new date at the time of cancellation and adding an, “I’m sorry” to flake. “I also received a cancellation three hours before a date saying, ‘I need to rain check for tonight. I’m dealing with a work situation that will require my attention.’ That’s fine. It happens. But, I read this as ‘Me me me. I am important, and you are not.’ Just apologize,” writes Ettin.

Still, apologies can only go so far, especially if you’re coming up on your third or fourth flake of the week. That’s why, per Andrea Bonior’s article in Psychology Today, before you decide to flake on a commitment, ask yourself: How integral are you? “You might think your absence won’t matter much, but as any host who’s anxiously watched looked [sic] at the clock in their empty house knows, even one person can make or break a party,” writes Bonier. “Be honest to yourself about whether you are likely to significantly alter the event by not showing up.”

The problem with her methodology is that a big part of being a chronic flake is already having an “I don’t matter” complex, although one admittedly more designed to help assuage your guilt than anything to do with your actual self-esteem levels. The upshot is that the answer to any question of your importance to a given plan is always going to teeter toward “not at all important,” whether that’s true or not.

The most helpful advice comes by way of Allen Wagner, a clinical psychologist in L.A. who tells it the way it is. “Honesty is always a good method,” says Wagner. “Explaining to a friend that you’re feeling a bit down and that you just don’t have the energy to bring to a party is the best and most honest way to cancel last minute.”

But — and Wagner in this case insists that he’s not promoting dishonesty, even though he’s also not not exactly promoting it — you could just make up a “polite lie.” “The only way to not come across like an asshole is to lie, but i don’t want to encourage lying,” says Wagner. “People, however, respond to legit excuses like sickness or something to do with your kids. So it’s tricky.”

Sad to say, the moral of this investigation is that the only way to upgrade your flake game is by becoming a better bullshitter.