We have so many guides and tips for dating. We have ideas about exactly what we’re looking for and what we can look past, and we know how to talk about relationship issues with romantic partners. But friends? It’s easy to get seriously frustrated over flaky behavior and have no idea what to do with that frustration. As an adult, it’s easy to not even have a sense of what a truly healthy friendship looks like, or how to fix a friendship when it’s veering into unhealthy territory.
But news flash: You can have good friends who show up for you. You can even attract these good, non-flaky people into your life. You can learn how to tell the good-but-flaky people what you need from your friendship in a kind, non-explosive way. You can start a new chapter, armed with the tools to add warmth and fun and solid friendships to your life.
Sounds dreamy, right? But, um, a little challenging? Don’t worry. We got the scoop from two relationship experts on how to take the flake out of your social life and create the healthy, harmonious friendships you deserve.
To Get Non-Flaky Friends, Be a Non-Flaky Friend
“Show up. Be consistent,” says David Khalili, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a specialty in sex and relationships. “Flakiness activates these anxieties and insecurities around rejection. When someone flakes on you, it can make you feel like you’re not cool enough, not interesting enough, or not a good enough friend. So it’s a two-way road, in that you want the other person to show that you’re worth their time; therefore, you want to show them that they’re worth your time and that you honor that time.”
Develop Personal Boundaries
If you don’t know what you can offer, and what a healthy friendship looks like, it’s hard to create the non-flaky friendships that you want in your life. Identifying personal boundaries will help you suss out what you’re looking for in a friendship and what you can offer.
“Friendship is not sustainable if it’s not mutual,” says Hannah Green, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships. “Personal boundaries are about knowing what you’re available for and what you’re not available for—caring about the other person, but also caring about yourself, your needs, and your capacity. For example, there’s this idea that if I’m a good friend, I’ll always be available for my friends’ crises. There is some of that in healthy friendships, but a lot of us take it too far because we lack boundaries, and we end up burning out or getting resentful.”
Tune in to How You Feel
“Try to check in with yourself about how you feel about that person and about the time that you spend with that person,” says Khalili. He recommends asking yourself a series of questions to help you tune in to the relationship:
- “Does it feel fun and healthy to hang out, or do you feel drained afterward?
- Is the majority of the time being spent talking about the other person?
- Is it always on your friend’s terms when and where you meet?
- Does it feel like it’s a two-way road, where you’re both sharing experiences together and you both have input about what you’re doing or where you’re meeting?”
Instant Intense Intimacy: Pay Attention to This Common Red Flag
“Sometimes, people may want to get close fast, so sometimes, we’ll really overshare as a way of getting there,” says Green. “There’s this idea that if I’m ‘being real,’ I’m gonna come and tell you my whole life story and all my issues and everything I’m dealing with. And it’s not real intimacy, it’s not real sharing, it’s a kind of shortcut.”
That doesn’t mean you have to put the brakes on a friendship the second you encounter that sped-up intimacy. It just means you might want to enter a new friendship with some tools to take it to a healthier place.
“Be aware as you’re entering a new friendship and just kind of slow the pace, and don’t feel like you have to overshare just because another person is,” says Green. “And that if it feels like too much, it’s okay to pull back and adjust your boundaries, even if you get the message from the other person that that’s not okay.”
Learn How To Confront a Flaky Friend
“We have a script for how we handle conflict in a romantic relationship, but we don’t have scripts for conflict in a friend relationship,” says Khalili.
According to Khalili, there are a few easy steps you can take to build a script for talking to a flaky friend:
Step 1: “The thing that I like to recommend to people is that you start by pointing to what happened, saying ‘Hey, I felt _____.’ So you start with a feeling, like ‘I felt disappointed,’ and then you name it, like ‘The last three times we were supposed to hang out, you either didn’t show up or you canceled at the last minute.’ It’s important not to use blamey language or absolutes, like ‘you always forget about me’—instead say ‘I feel disappointed when you don’t show up.’”
Step 2: “You want to acknowledge your role in playing into the situation, if you have a role playing into that. You could say something like ‘I acknowledge that a few months ago, I was flaky myself, or I let this flakiness slide a bunch and didn’t really point it out at first.’”
Step 3: “And then you end it with something constructive like ‘Okay, next time we’ll try to meet somewhere that’s convenient for both of us.’”
But what if the conversation doesn’t work out well? Know that it’s okay, and you’re okay too.
“Look at the underlying fear that’s telling you that you have to hold on or you have to show up for that person in a certain way,” says Green. “We’re told that our value goes up the more we take, or the more we are there for another person. Detach your value from the friendship. You are valuable whether you show up for that person or not, whether that person is disappointed in you or not.”
To Have Healthy Non-Flaky Friendships, Know What a Healthy Friendship Looks Like
“I think friendship looks like any other healthy relationship where it’s mutual,” says Green. “There’s not one person who is listening more than another person. There’s not one person who’s throwing in for dinner more than another person.”
Green recommends embracing a new, updated model for friendship. “It’s not about rescuing. A lot of our early friendships, especially for women, sort of saved our lives in adolescence. When we’re adults and we’re able to take care of ourselves, it’s not about rescuing, but about reflecting, supporting, inspiring, and celebrating. We want to really celebrate a friend’s accomplishments, her strengths, and her creativity. It’s not the old ‘misery loves company’ thing.”
“It’s often like dating,” says Khalili. “You’re looking for someone that brings out the best side of yourself. A shared experience, creating memories together, creating a connection together so it’s not too one-sided, but you’re also not overly aware of a tit-for-tat situation. There’s a shared sense of vulnerability and being able to express difficult thoughts and emotions with each other, but also being able to share really good times and gut laughs.”