Sunday, December 4

How do I cope with a friend who is consistently flaky? | friendship


I desperately need help with a very dear friend of mine, who is always late and hard to pin down.

We’ve been friends for more than 20 years. She is kind and funny. In some ways she is the friend with whom I feel I can be most myself. We don’t live far from each other, but trying to meet up is hell.

She is vague and flaky with making plans. She is perpetually late. Every time we suggest a time to meet, she asks to meet later, then she still turns up late, with no apology.

She sometimes messages me and suggests things, but rarely makes the arrangements. I’m starting to praise the vague texts and waiting for her to reply or show up. I feel the frustration and resentment in me growing.

I wonder if she just doesn’t care about meeting up as much as I do and if I should just take the hint. But when we do meet, we have a great time.

She has a number of chronic health conditions, and has suffered from depression. I try to be accommodating – traveling to her, for example – and understanding if she isn’t feeling well.

I don’t feel I can say, “This has been really annoying me for years. Can you make more effort? I don’t know how to raise this without being rude.

I understand the fatigue you feel. When one person in the friendship is so much more proactive it can make you wonder if it’s just your energy that keeps the friendship going, and what would happen if you stopped.

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But what I’ve learned is some people are just crap at arrangements and fear rejection, so don’t suggest things (this is more common than you may think).

I asked psychoanalytic psychotherapist Paul Rohleder why someone may be consistently late. “It could be about not wanting to be there [for whatever reason], that something is being avoided, or it could be an underlying anxiety and being late is about shortening the time. It could be a passive-aggressive act, or that the person being late doesn’t think they’re worthy of the other person’s time.”

There’s a tendency to think that the person being late is the one in control, but actually I think people who are more secure and confident aren’t generally late, because they value their own time, and thus other people’s. Your friend has an added layer of health issues, so we wondered how much that impacted.

“What I’m really interested in,” said Dr Rohleder, “is why you can’t talk to her about it. You should be able to confront someone in a good friendship, but if something else is going on, addressing the lateness could be opening a Pandora’s box. Has something happened in your friendship that’s difficult to talk about?”

Talking to her and asking her point of view – so it’s not a damnation of her but an inquiry – might give you really useful intel. How differently would you feel if you found out, for example, that she was trying the best she could?

Until you feel able to do that, here are some practical ideas: why not just ring her for a chat instead of making an appointment to chat? Be more decisive and say, “Shall I come round on Thursday? Let me know by Tuesday, night.” And if you’ve arranged to meet somewhere, say something like, “I’ll wait X minutes for you, but then I’ll have to go” or something like that, so you feel less buffeted about by her.

Friendships are rarely symmetrical, with one person often being better at one thing than another. You say she is the person you can be most yourself with: that’s worth a discussion.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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