Illustration of two people at a campsite, one sitting on a blanket playing a mandolin, the other behind them in a hammock, in an article about friends flaking on plans.
Flaking on friends lets them down and proves you don't value your time with them. (Illustration by Baz Pugmire, Michigan State University)

Stop Flaking on Plans and Prioritize Quality Time With Your Friends

Constantly canceling plans will not only hurt your relationships. It will also affect your physical and mental health.

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Illustration of two people at a campsite, one sitting on a blanket playing a mandolin, the other behind them in a hammock, in an article about friends flaking on plans.

Constantly canceling plans will not only hurt your relationships. It will also affect your physical and mental health.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone inside indefinitely, several viral tweets have surfaced, expressing something along the lines of “I’ll never cancel on plans again after lockdown is over.” The sentiment seems to be an acknowledgment of a cultural flaking habit, back when it was possible to take having plans with friends for granted.  However, we should honor plans with our friends long after it is mostly safe to go out again.

In my experience, college students are notoriously flaky. I’ve felt the sting and frustration of being canceled on, and I like to think of myself as a person who keeps her word and will do my best to keep plans if I’ve agreed to them beforehand.

Still, during my first few semesters of college, it was clear that most people didn’t view planned social engagements as agreements they should keep. With iMessage and Facebook Messenger, it was too easy to bail on plans 20 minutes before they were meant to take place.

As a freshman who wasn’t outgoing and craved new friendships, it stung. Relatable memes reveal that it’s nothing to take personal; millennials and Gen Zers just like canceling plans. But if you’re someone that habitually flakes on others, here’s an intervention that will hopefully encourage you to prioritize quality time with friends, even when it’s tempting to bail out.

According to Urban Dictionary, one of the most common definitions of “flaking” is “to bail out of something at the last minute.” Almost everyone can relate to the disappointment and annoyance of anticipating plans at the end of the week, only for your friend to bail out with a dubious excuse.

Despite being busy, there are several reasons why young adults could benefit from more discipline when it comes to resisting the temptation to flake.

1. Keeping Plans Is Empathetic

As this blog post iterates, bailing out on plans at the last minute has become a “relatable” meme that’s blown up on Twitter and Instagram. Flaking is written about as a funny or quirky personality trait, rather than a hurtful habit of ditching your friends. But the “I love canceling plans” trend misses that bailing on others is often selfish.

Keeping plans is about more than scheduling a fun time with other people and then arbitrarily deciding whether or not that fun is still important to you when the day arrives. Being a good friend, and just showing others basic politeness, means making an honest effort to show up when you say you will.

This might mean making small sacrifices so that you can honor the other person’s time and effort to spend time with you. For example, you might have to shuffle around your homework plans so you’re not breaking a promise to attend a hiking trip that was scheduled earlier in the month.

Making others feel appreciated and valued should make us feel happy and good inside, especially when it’s easy. Keeping an invite with someone else and making sure you show up is about as easy as it gets. You already said yes, after all.

On the contrary, bailing out is at best disappointing for the other person, and at worst, it’s hurtful. Sometimes a legitimate emergency comes up or you feel too sick to keep your word, but outside of those circumstances, flaking on someone suggests that the plans they’ve made with you aren’t important.

It can hurt to be flaked on, and if it happens multiple times, it can make the other person feel that you don’t value their company or time, eroding the friendship.

It’s a small act, but keeping plans shows you care and that you are enthusiastic about spending time with the other person. If you need a reason to stop yourself from canceling those plans in order to stay in and watch Netflix, imagine that the other person is looking forward to seeing you, and assume they’d be disappointed by your last-minute change of heart.

2. Keeping Plans Leads to Higher Quality Friendships

Deep friendships thrive on trust, and being notorious for canceling plans erodes trust. It’s difficult to feel secure in a relationship when it seems as if the other person prefers to back out of plans when the time comes. You’ll be able to build more secure relationships with others if they can count on you to show up when you say you will.

Making time in your schedule to get to know a new friend better or connect with your closest buddies reinforces bonds, and it gives everyone time to share in-depth lives with each other. Further, making plans to do an activity together will likely create lasting memories for both of you, which leads to closer friendships with more substance.

Though your relationships with long-lasting friends probably feel natural and easy, spending quality time together may require extra effort. It means coordinating schedules and maybe pushing through the inertia of a cozy Netflix binge to get ready for an evening giving the people that are important to you your undivided attention.

Ignoring the temptation to flake is usually worth it in the end — you keep your friend’s trust intact, spend quality time socializing and don’t have to deal with the guilt of bailing on someone last minute, which often ruins the initial relief of flaking anyway.

3. Honoring Social Engagements Instills Discipline

What if we treated casual social engagements, like grabbing a weekend lunch with a friend, with the same commitment we did a scheduled meeting with a professor or an interview? It would force us to be more mindful about what we agree to, and be more organized when it comes to managing our schedules.

Our brains prefer instant gratification over delayed gratification. Often our fear of missing out, or FOMO, will make us agree to plans in the moment, but when the day actually arrives, we feel burnt out and instead prioritize a few unexpected hours of downtime.

Breaking the habit of backing out of plans at the last minute requires anticipating how you might feel the day of those plans by reviewing what other work, academic and social commitments are already taking up time in your schedule.

Rather than leaving social connection as an afterthought or something to be improvised, making and sticking to plans in advance will lead to more quality interactions with others. It will curb the pre-plan panic of finding yourself burnt out before it’s time to meet up with friends downtown.

If you practice mindfulness when making social commitments, instead of canceling when you’ve already said yes, you will achieve a better work/life balance.

4. Quality Time With Friends Makes You Healthier and Happier

Though everyone needs “me time” every now and then (or several times a week, depending on your personality type), social health is extremely important to a person’s overall well-being, and resisting the temptation to flake on others can yield a multitude of physical and emotional health benefits.

Being social leads to more positive emotions, which in turn boosts the body’s immune system and reduces the physical signs of stress. A robust social life can also lower stress levels, improve mood and even increase cardiovascular health.

While it may feel good in the moment, being a habitual flake can lead to the negative consequences of social isolation, which makes us less healthy and sadder. If you can’t be counted on to keep plans, others may stop reaching out to you, which can cause loneliness.

Most of the time, flaking on plans simply isn’t worth it.

Honoring plans with other people builds more intimate relationships, leads to better psychological health and respects the time of others. Next time you’re thinking of flaking out, instead consider keeping your plans as a form of care for others and for yourself.

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