Six days, three reschedules, and two time-sensitive text messages that went unanswered for 14 hours. That’s what it took recently for a friend to pick up a couch he’d already agreed to buy from me. This behavior got the entire Career Contessa office talking, and our Editorial Director Kit Warchol was so enraged that she has deemed this the “culture of flakes.”

78%. That’s the percentage of millennials who say they’ve been “ghosted” at least once during their swinging single days. And 2. There are two women I know personally who accepted job offers only to have their potential employer disappear on them entirely.

I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the rise of flakiness in our culture first-hand. Having spent four-plus years on the online dating circuit, I’ve heard all the last-minute excuses (my favorite: a sprained wrist). And I can count on one hand the friends I have that make plans more than 24 hours in advance.

Then there’s professional flakiness. Every time I schedule an interview with someone for an article, I email them the day before so they remember we have an appointment on the books. Yes, even if they already have a calendar invite. I do this because I have a 100% track record that if I don’t, they won’t.

featured image via the everygirl

photo via luisa brimble

Everyone flakes, but do we have to flake so freaking hard?

Look, I’m not just pointing fingers here. I’ve canceled plans hours—or less—before I was due to arrive, convincing myself that I was better than most because I gave honest excuses. With strangers from Tinder, I’d go with, “Hey, I’m sorry to do this last minute, but I’m exhausted and honestly, I just don’t have it in me to meet a stranger for drinks.” With friends it’s often worse: “Oh I totally forgot! Ugh, so burnt out. Raincheck?”

I am an anti-flake flaky hypocrite. Guilty. As. Charged.

Still, there are places I draw the line. If a friend needs a hand moving into a new apartment, my inward response might be groannnnnn, but I’m like “Sure, I’ll get in the car and head over.” Same goes for dinner with a distant family member or all those bar mitzvahs and baby showers. So here I am with a pretty decent (ghost-free) track record wondering why it is that 78-freaking-percent of us have found ourselves sitting at a bar or restaurant waiting for someone who will never show up. All this begs the question: Who are these unapologetic, (seemingly?) unfeeling people on the other side?

photo via kelly oshiro

Lack of Conscientiousness x Procrastination = Big Problem

In 2007, Psychology Today suggested that flakiness is caused by two personality traits: a lack of conscientiousness and a tendency to procrastinate.

Conscientiousness, which the article describes as “equal parts industriousness, impulse control, organization, interpersonal responsibility, and conventionality” mostly boils down to 1) recognizing how your actions affect others and 2) making decisions based on those greater concerns, not your direct and immediate personal desires. Picture this: it’s your friend’s birthday and you said you’d go. When you wake up that morning, you don’t feel like going. But you go because you “have to.” How conscientious of you.

Then there’s procrastination. When the article was published a decade ago, Joseph Ferarris, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, argued that a whopping 20% of people qualify as chronic procrastinators (is it just me, or does that number seem to have gone up since 2007?). According to Ferraris:

“You can call them free spirits if you like, but these people are really irresponsible! They think that if they don’t do it, someone else will. Procrastinators would always rather be known for a lack of effort than a lack of ability.”

As I read and researched, I kept coming back to that last sentence. The idea that nothing could be worse than the world realizing you lack ability.

photo via o mundo de jess

…or maybe it’s a — groan — millennial problem.

Our fear of failing—particularly for those of us who qualify as millennials—might explain what’s causing us to duck and cover instead of taking responsibility for our actions. Or maybe it’s our fear of confrontation. Actually, it’s probably both.

Study after study shows that many millennials experienced a sheltered upbringing (awards for participation, parents who tell us we’re geniuses no matter what we do…). That means that failing in someone else’s eyes—whether that’s embarrassing yourself at a party after one too many vodka-Red Bulls or dealing with the painful confrontation of ending a relationship—is unfamiliar and terrifying. So we skip out because we think it’s better than opting in only to fail or disappoint.

There’s one last possible culprit: our culture of instant gratification. We do things that make us feel good as we do them. AdWeek made a video to suggest that the worst problem of all is the iPhone, which has directly contributed to this flake culture. We flake, raincheck, ghost, wuss out, skip, sluff (that’s a term from my teenage years in Utah, FYI), and generally avoid following through on anything unless it’s right there, risk-free, immediately in front of us.

photo via rip & tan

Let’s end it.

You can’t do much to change the flakes in your life, but given that this is a rampant problem for all of us, you can make an attempt to lead by example. Bustle suggests there are five ways to make yourself less flaky including not overbooking yourself and only booking plans that you’re truly invested in.

But sometimes there are just those events that you have to go to even if you don’t want to. And those things you need to do, too. Like telling that dude that you don’t want to see him anymore. And what I say is this: tough luck.

Do it because you’d want someone to do the same for you. Because if no one showed up at your birthday party, you’d squishy-red-faced cry. Because if that guy never called you again, you’d feel confused, embarrassed, and ultimately, gross.

Do it because if you don’t, you’ll wake up tomorrow feeling like a jerk. Because it forces you to work on weak spots in your character (take it from the social anxiety diagnosee who can now speak in front of crowds without wanting to throw up).

Do it because the truth is, dealing with hard stuff means growing—and man oh man, we could all stand to do some growing up.

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Comments (7)
  1. 1
    Jennifer Rose Smith November 30, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Lauren — thanks for boldly taking on this topic. Fascinating stuff. I’ve found that different people speak different languages when it comes to social commitment. For one person, “Let’s hang out this weekend – I’ll text you,” means literally that. And for another, it just means “I’m trying to end this conversation in a way that shows I like you.” I think the key to navigating it all is becoming fluent in these different languages, and getting better at identifying them.

  2. 2
    Amy November 30, 2017 at 8:21 am

    Do you ever watch Seinfeld? Those people ghost on each other all the time! It’s literally the main plotline of multiple episodes. I think the difference was that, in the 90’s, people didn’t have cell phones so there was just an unspoken rule that if someone didn’t show up, they couldn’t make it for some reason and you’d never know why. As a millennial, it seems like unimaginable freedom to think no one could contact you once you left your house. Maybe we’re just reacting to the pressure of being available 24/7?

  3. 3
    Cynthia November 30, 2017 at 11:06 am

    I appreciate the topic and hope it resonates with those that need a jab. I am old enough to have known the world pre and post cell phone and I do feel it is part of the problem. I used to be able to schedule a meeting or lunch with someone weeks in advance and with no further communication, meet on time and at the planned venue because we both wrote it in our planners and knew the other would be there waiting. Now it seems I can’t attend anything without a text from someone…running late, missed the ferry, looking for parking, etc. Because texting makes it so easy to make excuses, many folks don’t try as hard to be prompt, conscientious, courteous, and reliable. And these are folks of all ages, not just the younger ones.

  4. 4
    Elizabeth November 30, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    This resonates deeply with me as I was just ghosted by a potential employer this past month, after three successful interviews with different members of the company. I have experienced this kind of behavior before from millennial “start ups,” but from a company that’s been around longer than I’ve been alive… admittedly I was taken aback. Socially, however, flaking has definitely become the norm. Among friends, whenever someone asks, “Where’s Jane? She said she was coming,” I answer, “No, she millennialed out of this one.” 🙂

  5. 5
    Jeanne December 1, 2017 at 12:18 am

    Excellent article and comments. Thank you so much for such an extensive write up. I can’t really add too much to it except that I think the trend shows a distinct lack of empathy. Studies show that chronic flakers excuse their behavior based on their own intentions and do not consider the effect on those they flake on. I can’t see it getting much better as they won’t know to teach their own children consideration. .

  6. 6
    Brandy December 1, 2017 at 12:42 am

    I like the article but I don’t think it’s a millennial only problem and not being a millennial I find it mildly amusing and slightly annoying that millennial articles always seem to exclude everyone else. My point being is I’m 40 and I have also been ghosted by employers and friends, several times. We live in a culture of text messaging and a message of I’m so busy. Along the way we have lost that connection, community and responsibility for our actions. I’ve watched it slowly happen with the invention of cellphones and the internet. I’m hoping that by reading articles like this, people might wake up and realize that being flaky isn’t a great quality to have.

  7. 7
    Eva December 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    “There are two women I know personally who accepted job offers only to have their potential employer disappear on them entirely.” Wow! I had no idea this was happening, how unprofessional.

    I agree with a lot of the comments on here and I’ve discussed this a lot with my partner. Personally, I think a lot of problems come from social media. We feel like we’ve been in touch with our friends because we’ve checked on their Instagram posts, so we feel like we know what’s happening in their lives when we really don’t. In a lot of ways, Facebook has taken over our meet ups and communities, and lulled us into thinking we’re being a lot more social than we are. We’re also perpetually exhausted by seeing everyone’s travel photos, opinions, etc, so at the same time we’re overloaded by other people’s lives. With all these things, I feel like it’s easier than ever to flake: our quotas are full of stimuli, our brains are full of news/work/financial worries, and we think we’re a lot closer to our friends than we really are. Hopefully as people figure out some of these habits, we can move away from them!