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.
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?
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.
…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.
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.