There is a good chance that if you know me then I’ve probably flaked out on plans with you. It might be that I just wouldn’t even make plans with you at all, or that I half-made plans but didn’t follow through, or that I made plans but canceled (with or without obvious reason) or in a few really rare cases that I just didn’t answer the phone or show up when we had actual plans. I used to feel terrible about this but I’m just going to clear the air … it’s happened before, it’s probably going to happen again and it has to do with my own personal needs for self-care not anything I feel about you.
It’s gotten better over time in the sense that I know myself better and am therefore able to tell people in advance that I probably can’t commit to a specific time and place with solid certainty. And I’m able to better pace myself with plans so that I don’t overdo it and therefore don’t have to cancel so much on what I do commit to. Knowing myself better, I can plan better, and the result is that I flake out less than I used to. But it still happens.
It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It doesn’t mean I don’t value your time. It doesn’t mean I don’t want your company. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with our relationship. It doesn’t mean that I thought something else was more important.
All it means is that for some reason I was unable to make and keep a plan for a specific day. This has to do with being someone who struggles with chronic, recurring, debilitating depression. Certainly in the midst of depressive periods, I simply can’t force myself to leave my house even when I want to. But it’s not just this. It’s that in order to properly take care of myself so that I don’t fall into depression, I have to be tuned into my own needs at all times. Those needs include sleep and solitude and time for creativity and downtime and rejuvenation-after-being-out time. And it makes it really hard to see too many people too often but if I’m going to be well when I do see people then it’s what I need to do.
So when I say that I flake out, what I usually mean is that I either won’t make a set plan with you even if you’re someone I really like. If I make a plan, I try to be clear that it’s a loose plan, an open-ended plan, a plan that I intend to keep but we should check in with each other that day or the day before to make sure that we both still feel like we want to keep that plan. Occasionally it means that I’ll make a plan but I’ll cancel the day before or the day of; sometimes I’ll give a specific explanation and sometimes I’ll just say that it’s what I need to do. There have been times, even recently, when I completely forgot a plan I made … I put it on the calendar but then didn’t look at the calendar. This is rare, and when it happens, I feel terrible and I apologize and I attempt to make it up because I think it’s rude and disrespectful of the other person and their time. I feel a lot better about being clear up front that my plans are loose than I do about canceling same day or not showing up.
I want you to know that I flake out on people all of the time. I do it to people I love, to people I like, to people I’m curious about and to people I really do want to meet. I do it because I overbooked, because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, because I am too cranky, because my body aches so bad that the idea of getting myself down the stairs and out of the house is overwhelming … or because one or more of those things happened the day before and now I’m behind on my work and need to meet a deadline. I flake because it’s rainy or because I feel a little sick or because I actually just emotionally need to stay on my couch and watch TV and not talk to anyone.
I’m significantly more likely to keep plans if you are willing to come to my house or at least to my neighborhood. My ability to stick to plans decreases proportionately if you live a bus ride away, more than one bus ride away, or in a different Bay Area city. I probably won’t make a plan with you if you live elsewhere in the world unless I definitely know I’m planning a vacation, in which case I’ll likely keep the plan although I’ve been known to cancel a vacation. The likelihood that I’ll keep a plan goes up if you’re my sibling, you’re a close friend visiting from out of town who planned with me in advance, the plan is for the later afternoon or early evening, or you happen to have four legs and fur. The likelihood goes down if the plan is for really late at night, you’re a professional I’ve made an appointment with and I can just pay a cancellation fee if I can’t make it … or if you’re someone who guilts/ shames me about not keeping plans.
I used to think that all of this made me a bad friend. And I’m sure some people might think so … think it’s selfish or irresponsible or childish or whatever. I’ve come to learn that the people I want to be friends with are people that I genuinely want to be around and who are absolutely understanding when I cancel anyway. I extend the same courtesy to them – I never expect anyone to keep their loose plans with me and I’m totally okay with cancellations as needed. I love spontaneous get-togethers when we both just randomly happen to be in the mood.
And I’m actually a really good friend. If you’re my family or a close friend and you’re in a true emotional emergency, I’ll bend over backwards to make sure that you’re okay. I’ll show up anywhere, anytime, even if it means getting on a plane or giving you money to get on a plane to me. I’ll answer the phone even though I hate phone calls. I’ll check on you, I’ll have food or flowers delivered to you, I’ll stay up late or get up early, I’ll give you a place to stay. Even when you’re not in an emotional crisis, I will generally remember your birthday, invite you to my annual gingerbread party, send you the occasional checking in text message, create something handmade for you, leave encouraging comments on your social media and show up for the really, really important life events if when they start late at night in a different city in the Bay Area. And when I’m with you, I’m really with you … I’m present, I’m listening, I’m tuned in, I’m curious.
At the end of every day, I do a post on social media summing up my day. Sometimes I worry that the people I’ve flaked out on will think, “she’s so busy with these other things, why couldn’t she do something with me”. Maybe no on is thinking this at all but I want to explain in case they are … these posts are a way for me to celebrate what I managed to get done and enjoy during the day even on the days when it felt like not much got done. Sometimes I did something really fun. Usually I enjoyed really small pleasures. The posts can come across as deceiving. For example, a post that describes my day as “sunny walk, puppy time, great talk with bro, mint juleps, circus” might mean that I stayed on my couch doing virtually nothing until 4pm when I dragged myself into the shower then went and picked up a neighborhood pup, walking around the park in the sun while talking on the phone, after which I forced myself to keep plans I didn’t feel like keeping to go to the circus with my beaux where I enjoyed a mint julep. True that I enjoyed all of those things. Also true that I stayed on the couch until 4pm watching TV and ignoring the world. I celebrate those things, however small, as much as possible because I need to know that I can do something even when I stayed on the couch until 4. So it can seem like I’m doing more than I’m doing but it’s not intentionally deceptive.
Most of the things I do are done with my beaux. He gets the best of me, and he gets the most of me, because that’s what happens with primary partners. He also gets the whiniest, grumpiest, sleepiest, snappyish parts of me although I try to give myself enough space during each day to minimize that aspect when I’m with him. I like to be my best me with others when possible. And to be my best me, I need to be able to avoid plans and cancel plans and see you spontaneously and leave parties early and say “no thanks” to invitations without offending you.