Sunday, May 28

You be the judge: should my friend stop disappearing without telling us? | friendship

The prosecution: Rob

Fred bails out of plans or leaves without a goodbye – and now we can’t even tell if he’s read a message

My mate Fred has never been the best communicator but he’s got worse recently. Our friends call him Flaky Fred. Whenever we make plans, he will say, “Yes, count me in,” as he’s a bit of a people pleaser. But later he will dance on us. There’s only a 50% chance Fred will see through any plan he has committed to.

On a night out, he often does the Irish goodbye – leaving without telling anyone. I say: “Just tell us you’re going so we know not to wait.” We’ll look for him at the end of a night and then realize he’s already gone. Now no one worries about him because we know he just tends to end up at home with a takeaway. A couple of times he has gone home with a girl he’s dating but, in general, he disappears like a ghost.

To make things worse, Fred has now turned off the read receipts on his WhatsApp, and it’s driving us mad. We all communicate on WhatsApp but Fred rarely replies, even if it’s a birthday, a special occasion or an emergency. And now that he’s turned off read receipts, we can’t see if he has even read our messages.

Before, we could at least rip into him if we saw the blue ticks and knew he’d read a message. Now he’ll say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see it,” and we can’t prove otherwise.

Recently we went on a camping trip, four of us boys, and ended up in a little pub, chatting to some locals and getting pretty smashed. It was fun but when it was time to leave, we realized Fred was gone. The campsite was some way away, so we were worried.

We spent about 20 minutes debating whether to leave or wait around in case Fred had just popped to the loo. We texted him but, of course, never got a reply. We searched the pub and even asked around, then decided to go. When we got back to the campsite, there he was tucked up in his tent from him.

Why didn’t he just message to say he wanted to head home? Fred has been like this for years. He says he will try to get better at communication but he never does. I don’t think he will ever change but he’s one of my best mates, so what can I do?

The defence: Fred

Disappearing is quicker than saying goodbyes all round. And I hate being always on my phone

My mates call me flaky but I don’t think that’s right. It’s just that I’m just a poor texter.

Flaky implies that I always cancel plans, but that’s not quite true. If I want to go to a party or join in with a plan, I will try my best to let people know in advance. Sometimes, however, I do just agree to things in the moment and then realize later that I can’t stick to it.

Rob calls me a people pleaser. I guess that’s partially true, but I think it’s just that I overcommit. We have known each other since university and now we are in our 30s. Rob complains that I have been a liability on a night out since forever, but I don’t think I’m that bad.

Turning off my WhatsApp read receipts was very freeing. My mates took it personally but I did it so I could spend less time on my phone. I’m generally not great at replying to messages anyway, but now I feel less pressure to respond.

Turning off read receipts falls into the same philosophy as pulling an Irish goodbye on a night out: it saves time. If you go around looking for everyone to say bye to, you’ll be there all night. I prefer to leave when I want.

People complain, but if you tell people you’re leaving, it sometimes sets off a chain reaction and you have to wait around to share taxis. I’m actually being altruistic by disappearing first. It helps all of us.

The time we went camping and I ducked off home was an exception, but I was drunk – we all were. It’s not like I sat there scheming about how to pull a disappearing act.

It’s different with my girlfriend – I don’t do it with her – but with the guys I just think: we are all adults, we can all get ourselves home. It’s fine. The next day at the camping trip, Rob was like: “We were worried. Why didn’t you message us back?” But I generally check my phone less than other people.

I can try and be a bit more aware of other people when we go out as a group but I don’t have any plans to turn my read receipts back on.

The jury of Guardian readers

Should Fred be a better communicator?

I don’t think Fred should have to turn his read receipts back on, so I can’t find him guilty of that. But he is n’t considering the impact his behavior has on others. Replying to messages or saying you are leaving takes no time at all. He says he is better with his girlfriend, so he could also be better with friends – but he chooses not to.
Olivia, 42

Not guilty. The key expression here is “people pleaser”. This pattern develops for many reasons, but won’t change just because we feel bad about it. Fred is setting boundaries, though not very well, admittedly. Maybe letting him know that this is OK, while being honest about the effect it has on you, might be more effective than putting pressure on him.
Geoff, 70

Fred is not guilty. Read receipts allow his friends from him to monitor him, which is controlling. But he should let them know when he’s leaving a night out as it wastes their time. It’s also not safe.
Eleanor, 31

Fred doesn’t have to socialize if he doesn’t feel like it. But he could be more considerate, and text one of the group to let them know he’s OK. As for Rob and the rest of the crew? Stop bullying Fred. Grow up and be true friends.
Caroline, 61

Let’s be more like Fred and embrace our pre-Gen Z ways. Trust in chaos. Rip up the plan. Flip the finger to target. We’ll lose phone numbers scribbled on matchboxes and wander into the night, free. Time to live a little, Rob.
Daisy, 33

You be the judge

So now you can be the judge. In our online poll below, tell us: should Fred say goodbye before disappearing and reinstate his WhatsApp receipts from him?

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Last week’s result

We asked whether Nazneen should stop filling the flat with freebies, as it annoys her housemate Becky.

96% of you said yes – Nazneen is guilty

4% of you said no – Nazneen is innocent

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