It’s not easy being flaked on, but most likely if you’re living in San Francisco it’s happened to you once or twice before. It seems to be an epidemic in this lovely city of ours and I’m not exactly sure why. A couple months ago a friend of mine flaked on me (not for the first time). She got caught up with work and didn’t seem to be apologetic about it, especially considering I’d opted out of other plans on my Saturday night to make sure I could meet up with her. I was bitching about it in the bathroom at the Make-Out Room one night to one of my non-flaky friends and the girl behind us in line chimed in. She’d been experiencing the “San Francisco Yes” too – this knee-jerk reaction of committing to something, and then suddenly, at the last minute – or for those who are more courteous, the day before – coming up with a not-so-legitimate excuse to get out of it. Soon, the girl in the stall joined in with her story of betrayal. “My best friend fucking slept through my birthday party,” she told us. The whole bathroom was in an uproar and it really got me thinking: are too many of us plagued by FOMO (fear of missing out)? Are our friendships somehow becoming less meaningful? Does work automatically overrule play? Are we just too busy and tired to commit?
I wanted to point fingers. I wanted to hate my friend and never talk to her again, but lately, as much as it irks me to say it, I’ve been realizing that I do it too. I used to make plans without thinking twice about it, say yes and mean it, and take on any social opportunity if it meant I could have a drink, see a cool band, or check out a new restaurant with people. In the olden days of my early 20s, my friends were the focal point of my life. We talked on the phone daily, we knew we’d be hanging out with each other every weekend without question – some of us even lived together and were automatically woven into each other’s lives.
College seems to give us a warped sense of reality, though, as the years following graduation shift our priorities around. I’m 28 now and trying to complete and publish my first novel, stay fit, land my dream job while juggling other interim jobs, keep my apartment clean, be a good daughter and girlfriend, do yoga, and meditate so I don’t have a nervous breakdown while doing everything I’ve just listed. Sometimes I’m just fucking exhausted. Sometimes I say I want to meet up with people for drinks or that I’ll come do karaoke with friends, but I just want to stay home and do absolutely nothing.
Recently I found the San Francisco Yes crawling up my throat when I agreed to meet for dinner on a Thursday night with a friend I hadn’t seen in months. We’d been dancing around setting plans for a while, and I was excited and impressed that we’d managed to make a date since we’d been so noncommittal to each other before. It had been a rough week for me; too many papers to grade and pages to edit, family conflicts to handle and arguments with my boyfriend who I’d just moved in with. When Thursday morning rolled around, the thought of not finishing the work that needed to get done was too overwhelming to face. Plus, the guilt of spending money I didn’t have on an expensive meal suddenly surfaced. I shot my friend a text and told her I couldn’t make it, that I had too much going on and that I was sorry, but I hoped she could understand. It’s not that I don’t value her friendship, or that I somehow value it less because I’m older and have more responsibilities, but sometimes life just gets in the way of good intentions. Despite all of this I still felt like a hypocrite.
I realize scenarios like that one could happen anywhere; they have little to do with San Francisco. But what does go along with living here is the notion that when you choose to do something social, you want it to be the best thing you could possibly do, and in a city as vibrant and happening as San Francisco, it can be hard to make that decision. I’m guilty of FOMO myself. My friend will text and ask if I want to go to a literary event that night. I’ll respond I think I can come, only because I’m not sure what my other friends are doing and maybe something better will pop up. Maybe there will be a gallery opening with free beer, or a band I really love will make an impromptu performance at a café, or this housewarming I’ve been invited to will be cooler than I thought it would be, and I’ll text back my friend hours later: I don’t think I can make it, have fun! The word “think” saves me from being a total asshole. I never said yes and I never said no, but I allowed myself the gift of limbo.
There are limits to flakiness, though, and before it spirals out of control, I’m realizing that I need to draw the line somewhere, for myself and my friends. Being commitment-phobic isn’t ideal social etiquette, but it’s worse when we say we’ll do something and then flake for no apparent reason. If we think there’s a possibility of bailing on someone, we should at least have the decency to not make promises around it. We shouldn’t let our friends depend on us and then leave them hanging the night of with no plans. That’s just a fucked-up move. I wasn’t upset with my buddy who stood me up because she couldn’t come, but because I was left scrambling to figure out my Saturday night at the last minute.
Just because there’s an air of casualness around commitment here, it doesn’t mean there aren’t moments in our lives that require a hard yes or no. There’s a difference between hanging out with a friend you haven’t seen in a while for drinks and getting an invitation to a bigger life event. Weddings, baby showers, graduations from medical school or clown school, it makes no difference – these are all moments that require a certain degree of respect.
My boyfriend and I recently got engaged and we had a party to celebrate the news with our closest friends. We decided to be all fancy and cater the event at our house and specifically asked people to let us know in advance if they could make it since we needed a head count for food purposes. This wasn’t an invitation to have coffee with us, it was a pivotal moment in our lives. Responses like “I’ll stop by” or “I’ll try to make it” weren’t appropriate, nor was failing to come up with an excuse once they’d flaked. At least have the decency to acknowledge you’re being a flake, or just say no in the first place; it’s more offensive to pretend that the invite and event didn’t happen.
My point here isn’t to blame anyone or to argue that flakiness will eventually leave us friendless and hated by all. We’re all flaky sometimes, and whether it’s FOMO or feeling overwhelmed by obligations or a long workweek, it’s OK. But I think we all value our relationships, and if we want to create a stronger community and have a little more integrity in our lives, it’s time to take some responsibility. Let’s become a little more aware of the power of saying “yes” – and even more important, when we say we’ll be somewhere, we could all try a little harder to actually make sure it happens, myself included.