3 Flakes/Ghosters Told Me Why They Do What They Do
In the age of technology, texting as a main form of communication, and online dating, it’s no surprise that millennials are notorious for ditching plans, cancelling on people or even freezing people out of their lives with little to know communication about it. And San Francisco is particularly known for its “flake culture.” It’s been that way since I arrived here in 2011, and remains the same to this day. I remember in college, I used to ask people “Am I just a big loser or is everyone here extremely flaky?” I always got the same response: “It’s not just you. Everyone is feeling it.” I always wanted to the bottom of why people in this town treated each other this way, and over years of both my experiences and the experiences of others, I think I’ve figured out many reasons why.
How we as a city have created this culture
First of all, San Franciscans have busy lifestyles and logistical challenges to get around. San Franciscans for the most part have time-consuming tedious jobs with companies they’re very committed to.. Many of them even take on second jobs or side hustles in order to keep up with the ridiculous rent and other expenses of living here. They are also many times really committed their fitness and/or creative endeavors. And because of the horrible traffic and unreliable public transportation here, the Bay Area can be tough to get around, making it feel like pulling teeth to get people from opposite sides of the bridge or even city, to meet up with each other. And like any city with a lot of events and fun activities going on every single night, San Franciscans become notorious for RSVP-ing to a lot of events they find interesting, but are not actually committed to attending. With crazy city lifestyles, it can be hard to manage the expectations of your energy throughout the week ahead of time, which could result in last minute cancellations.
Secondly, we are living in a technology-ladened bubble with an extremely fast-paced culture. New businesses, apps, money-making methods and workplace cultures are getting created every month. Living in a fast-paced environment not only keeps you on your toes, but also in many ways causes you to expect everything to come to you immediately and satisfyingly. I think when we use dating apps or reach out to friends, we are so busy thinking about how to optimize our time, energy and enjoyment, that we forget to forge real deep relationships. We are so used to everything coming to us quickly and the way we want it, by the touch of a button. When you subconsciously treat relationships like that, you can become unsatisfied quickly by any interaction. Examples of this behavior include sending an emoji of an eggplant to a woman and getting upset when she doesn’t want to come to your apartment, or telling your friend that the only time you’ll make available for them to catch up is next Thursday at 4, and getting frustrated when they tell you they’re not available at that exact time. When people are used to getting what they want when they want it, they hate the idea of slowing down and nurturing something.
And finally, the people here are as flaky as they are because we let them be. Yes at times it’s logistics and lifestyle that makes it hard for people to commit to plans, but at the end of the day, if you’re someone who has cancelled 100 plans in your life and are still getting away with it, you’re going to keep doing it. I’ve actually had people ditch plans with me and respond with “Hey, it’s San Francisco. Plans don’t always pan out,” when I got upset with them. The more we excuse people from their commitments with no consequences, the more the habit will become accepted and spread.
How individuals spread this culture
In my 7.5 years of living here, I have thought a lot about this subject. While I definitely have had to cancel plans or not show up to events from time to time due to lack of energy or a busy schedule, I have personally never ditched plans with someone last minute just because I felt like it. And I have never ghosted someone to get them to go away (I’ve definitely told guys that I wasn’t interested in them and stopped responding to future bombardments of texts, but I wouldn’t call that ghosting.) Not to say that I’m some angel who does everything right in the world of social interaction. My flaws are just in different departments. But I just never understood what was going through someone’s head when they decide to just stop talking to someone without communicating why, or dip out on plans when someone was counting on them to be somewhere.
But throughout the years, three people have told me what goes through their minds when they do what they do. Two friends of friends who were notorious for cancelling plans, and one guy I dated who ghosted me a long time ago. Each of them gave an incredibly earnest reasons for their actions, and I’d like to share them, to give everyone out there a little bit more understanding as to what might be going on in someone’s mind when they constantly flake on plans with you or ghost you.
Her Time is More Important Than Yours
At least in her tiny mind. One friend of a friend I knew was known for her amazing Instagram photos, vast social media presence and networking abilities through her job. I truly admired her ability to always leave a room with five new LinkedIn connections and seven new Facebook friends. At a young age, this girl was an absolute master at small talk, kissing up and growing her following.
She was also a master at being a major bitch when she didn’t have her fake smile plastered onto her face. And since I wasn’t someone she felt she needed to impress, she never wore the mask when interacting directly with me. I liked it that way though, because I really got get a good glimpse of what was behind that show she put on most of the day.
At one point, she and I were left alone for about half an hour. And in that time, I saw her pick up the phone and promise two different people she’d see them later that night.
“Oh,” I said “You have two things you need to be at later on?”
She looked at me with a glare and rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to both. I just haven’t decided which one I feel like attending.”
“Oh…so you’re going to have to ditch one of those people you were on the phone with?”
“Whoever it is will get over it,” she said, getting back onto Instagram.
I knew she was done with the conversation, but decided to just say what I was thinking: “Why are you doing this to them? Why are you knowingly making one person schedule their night around you, when you don’t have any plans on showing up?”
Her eyes went back into her head for a moment. She then darted her face at me so swiftly that her hair flew upward. “Because if the first person I choose ditches me, I don’t want to be stuck all alone tonight.”
I sat back with a grin on my face. You know what comment had to follow: “So it’s so important that you don’t get ditched tonight, that you’re willing to volunteer someone else to possibly get ditched tonight.” The tension in the room was so thick, you couldn’t cut it with a cheese knife.
“They won’t mind,” she said picking up her phone again and burying her face.
It was amazing how someone could have such a keen understanding of how much it hurts to getting the short end of the stick when it came to San Francisco flake culture, that they had to make plans around it. But could also then play the exact same game with someone else. What made her time so much more important than her friend’s time? The answer is, if her time was wasted, she would have to deal with it. And if the friend’s time is wasted, that would become their problem to overcome. She was shifting the emotional blow and logistical frustration of getting ditched on a Friday night onto another person. And her excuse to herself as to why it was ok was that they would get over it at some point.
I think it’s important to remember that as much as some people find flake culture to be a huge disappointment and frustration, others use it to their benefit, as they can make promises that make them look good (as if they’re interested in a certain subject or in nurturing a friendship/relationship) while dodging the bullet of shame or embarrassment if they don’t hold themselves to it.
How you can use this info to your benefit:
I’m glad that I had this conversation with her, because it taught me a lot about how to deal with this brand of person. I’m not saying that if you know someone who tends to act like this, you have to cut them out of your life completely. But I don’t think it’s wise to rely on them, especially for anything serious or timely. Don’t be the one to order the tickets for an event you plan to attend with them. Have them make all reservations, and just Venmo them your half. And when making plans with this type of flake, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan of something you’d like to do on your own, in case they don’t show up. Plan to workout, organize your room, watch a TV show, or work on a hobby if they do ditch you. That way you won’t feel so much like your night is completely ruined. Worry about taking care of yourself that night, because this type of person is probably only concerned with themselves. Also, feel free to tell the person no the next time they want to make plans or say something along the lines of “Sure, but only if you’re very sure you can make it, because the last three times you flaked on me.” Holding these types of people accountable and communicating your frustrations will either cause someone who’s not doing it on purpose to realize that they’re affecting your time, or will make someone like Subject 1 squirm in their seat, because they’ll realize they can’t get away with this kind of behavior forever. No matter what a narcissistic person like her thinks, your time is important and should be respected.
she WOULD RATHER RETREAT INTO HER ROUTINE
Another friend of a friend and I were left alone to talk at some point, and started complaining about how frustrating online dating was.
The night before, I had plans to meet with a cute guy I’d been talking to on Tinder. At the bar, after he didn’t show up or respond to my texts for 15 minutes, I went home. The next day, I got some really lame excuses over the phone as to why he couldn’t make it and why he wasn’t able to even let me know he couldn’t make it. He asked me out for the next evening, but I was done having my time wasted, so I told him no thank you and stopped contacting him all together.
I told Subject 2 that story and asked “What possesses someone to make up a ridiculous just to get out of a date? Especially when he was just going to ask me out the next day. I’m guessing he made plans with another girl.”
“Or,” she said, “Maybe he was just being antisocial.”
“What?” I asked. “What do you mean by that?”
“When I have a date scheduled and the day arrives and I’m not in the mood to be around outsiders, I ditch them and just hangout at home with my roommates,” she said.
“Oh so you’re comfortable with your roommates?” I asked
“They’ve all been my best friends for years,” she said. “I ditch plans to hangout with them all the time. They are like my family, and I’d rather be around them than anyone. Why would I go spend time with a guy I met on Tinder who might be a total disappointment, when I could be with the people who I love the most?”
“I get that,” I said. “But then why make plans with the guy in the first place?”
“Because every once in a while, I end up feeling like I want to be social, and I need a reason to get out there and do it. And when I do want to go out with someone, I do, it’s fine, and I don’t feel anxious,” she said.
I could appreciate that to an extent. “Sure,” I said. “You definitely shouldn’t force yourself to spend time with people that you’re not interested in. And it’s good to invest energy and time in the most important relationships. But you’re sort of wasting that person’s time making plans with them, when the probability of spending time with them depends on your mood the night of.”
“Then,” she said, “if I keep ditching them, that person has every right to stop reaching out to me. I don’t care.”
Now like I said before, I don’t completely disagree with this person’s line of thinking. She loves her friends who are basically her family. And she has decided that she wants to dedicate her time and energy to nurturing those relationships, instead of forming and half-assing new more superficial friendships and acquaintanceships. I think that’s a perfectly fine way of living your life and managing your expectations. It can also save you a lot of unnecessary drama and negativity.
The part I don’t agree with her on, is the fact that she felt the need to reach out to so many men on Tinder and so many people on Facebook to say she’d like to spend time with them, only to retreat to her comfort zone whenever she pleased, at their expense. But her answer to the question of what her plan is if people find out her tactics is different than Subject 1. Subject 1’s response was that she plans on convincing them to forgive her in the future. Subject 2’s response was that she is willing to burn every bridge due to her flakiness, because the only relationships she cares about are the ones she has with her close group of friends. And at that point, I think she’s still like Subject 1, in that she is willing to unnecessarily waste people’s time and energy on her, for her own convenience.
How you can use this info to your benefit:
Again, if you know someone in your life who is never good at following through with plans, whether it be that they will ditch anyone and anything for work, their families, their partner or their friends, you don’t have to cut all ties with them and demonize them for it. That is just how life works sometimes. When you are really committed to someone or a group of people, you make them your entire life, and build a comfort zone in spending time with them. The more we mature, the more predictability appeals to us. I know that now that I have a partner who I go home to every night, with whom I have a routine, I feel less inclined to say yes to plans because I like to know exactly how my week will pan out, and I will know how many of the weekly goals I set with that person I can accomplish. But that want to keep my schedule streamline and focused on my goals with my partner doesn’t give me the right to waste people’s time making plans that I will most likely not feel like attending. If you are dealing with someone who acts like this, I suggest communicating with them that you realize what their priorities are, and telling them to reach out to you on a day when they’re free. Make short-term plans for the day-of with people who love to keep their schedules and social lives streamlined. And if they reach out to you on a day when it’s not convenient for you, don’t force your schedule around it. You are respecting their right to be antisocial, so you deserve for them to respect your busy schedule as well. Do it when you and them both organically have the time and emotional energy to see each other. And if that day never seems to come, assess for yourself why that might be.
He Didn’t Want To Be The Bad Guy
I will admit that in my dating experience, I was ghosted by someone I really cared for and thought I knew well. This ghoster is Subject 3. And I got to find out from the horse’s mouth exactly why he did what he did. Most people never get to find out exactly why something like this happens, so I want to share with you what I learned from the experience, how it made me a stronger person and what it made me realize about how I should expect to be treated by others.
Many years ago, I met a guy who fit the bill of everything my immature college self thought I wanted in a man. I was completely infatuated with him and really thought I had found love. We spent quite a lot of time together, had a lot of fun and shared a lot about ourselves with each other. Then one day, from what seemed like out of nowhere, he showed up to one of our dates acting extremely cold and distant. Then after the date, he stopped speaking to me completely.
I was beyond heartbroken, trying to figure out why this had happened: What I had done that made him lose interest? And what made him feel that that was the way to go about dumping me?
After a few years of wondering why, I ended up on another date with him. And during the date, he apologized for the way he had treated me. He volunteered the explanation that he broke up with me because he met another woman, could tell that it was going to get serious between them, and needed to cut ties with me so that they could start their relationship. That was completely fair. We weren’t an official couple at the time, so there wasn’t anything shady about seeing someone else while dating me and deciding to be with her. But then I asked him about the part that was completely unfair to me:
“Why did you feel the need to ghost me the way you did?”
He squirmed in his seat, turning red and staring at the candle on the bistro table. He could not for the life of him make eye contact with me. “I don’t know. I was stupid and younger.”
“Yes, so was I,” I said. “But I think it’s more than that. What was running through your ‘immature’ mind when you decided to not tell me it was over? The reason why was none of my business, but the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore was. Why couldn’t you communicate with me?”
After much thinking and sweating, he finally exhaled deeply and said “I didn’t want to be the bad guy.”
“What?” I said. “How does that make sense?”
“It doesn’t,” he said. “I didn’t tell you it was over because I felt that if I did, I would be the big bad mean guy who broke a girl’s heart because I met someone else. And I didn’t want that on my conscience.”
“So you’re saying that it wasn’t on your conscience at all that you ended up being the big bad mean guy who confused a girl for weeks because you couldn’t be honest with her?”
“No,” he said, “I did feel bad anyway.”
Things clearly didn’t work out ever between me and that guy - and thank God, because now I’m with the most honest man I could have ever asked to meet. But it was really satisfying to know part of why he decided to hurt me in that fashion. Sure, there could have been other reasons he didn’t tell me, but I do believe the reason he gave.
The most incredible part of it all was that he did feel like a jerk anyway after that happened. While not all other people who ghost others feel sympathy or pity for the people they do it to, it was incredible to know that the person who did it so that they wouldn’t look like the bad guy, still felt like the bad guy at the end of the day.
He and I didn’t go to school together or work together. We didn’t share any mutual friends. There was no audience of people watching to see how our relationship would pan out. We didn’t have a Facebook status to undo or anyone we’d have to explain the breakup to. The only audience this break up had was him and me. And he was so worried about feeling like the bad guy, that he treated me the way he did. And that resulted in me believing he was a bad guy, and him feeling like one as well. So who did his actions help him save face from? The text message gods?
The truth was, this person was just being selfish and cowardly. And good for him that he felt enough sympathy that he was able to apologize to me and admit he was wrong to treat me that way. But the truth is, many people who use this tactic in their relationships will never feel remorseful about it. They are so worried about saving face to outsiders and convincing themselves that they’re a good person and that their actions shouldn’t have any consequences with others, that they will live their whole lives making excuses for themselves and moving on to using the next person until the day they die.
How you can use this info to your benefit:
Some people make mistakes when they’re young, immature or going through a lot in their lives. We’re all human. And like I said, if we were talking about communication flaws in other departments, I’d have to admit that I was very guilty of several of them. We don’t have to throw out the baby with the bath water if someone tries to excuse their actions by playing down how impactful they are. The best advice I have for dealing with those people is to be realistic in your expectations of them. Don’t rely on them for a lot, don’t make enormous plans with them, don’t plan into the future with them and in general keep them at arm’s length. Let them come back around when they’re in a better place and proceed with caution, setting boundaries with them of how you expect to be treated. And do not allow them to cross the line with you over and over again, because that’s just giving them permission to keep doing what they’re doing.
And when it comes to the completely narcissistic people who always feel the need to excuse their behavior by downplaying it or making excuses, I’d say you need to stay far away from them in general from now on. People who have no remorse for how they treat people and have tactics they like to use each and every time to manipulate others are only going to cause you trouble in the future. I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I advise you to respect your time and energy, by only spending time with other people who respect it just as much.
From this relationship, I learned that life is way too short to be juggling the emotional issues of someone who couldn’t care less about mine. And in the end, that mindset lead me to someone who strives every day to make me feel happy, fulfilled and loved. And as a result, I am more than happy to put the emotional energy into making sure the person I’m with feels the same.
We owe it to ourselves to be honest as to why someone may be flaking on us or ghosting us: We are not a huge priority to them. If we were, they would be doing everything in their power to spend time with us and show us that they’re interested. And if people are not interested in you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not worth being around, that they are jerks or both. But if someone has the nerve to waste other people’s time and knowably hurt someone else’s feelings, they’re not worth anyone’s time.
It’s up to you - based on how well or in what context you know the person, what your relationship means to the both of you, and what may be going on in their life - to decide if this person needs understanding and/or space, or if they’re just a straight up inconsiderate jerk who needs the chop. I hope that these stories make you feel more empowered to make those decisions of what kind of people you’d like in your life.