A couple of weeks ago I published a post about being flaky. Did you read it?
It seems like it really got the wheels spinning for some of you, because I got so much interesting feedback about it!
The gist of the post (which you can read in full over here) is that in very many situations, it's totally okay to put your own needs first, even if it might inconvenience someone else. It's okay to back out of something you said you wanted if you end up not wanting it later.
It's worth noting that there are some situations where flaking out or changing your mind isn't advisable or morally okay. If you're parenting, for instance, or caring for sick people, it's not okay to "flake out" on those duties unless you've made sure someone trustworthy is fulfilling them in your stead. This post also isn’t intended to make excuses for you to back out of social justice commitments if you’re in a position of privilege in the work.
But here's the thing--in order for this being flaky thing to work, there has to be clear and direct communication. Being flaky without communicating just makes you a lazy coward, and that is not who you are.
Saying clearly and directly to someone, "I know I said I would do xyz thing with you, but now I can't," is actually a very hardworking and brave thing to do. It frees you from doing things you aren't up for, and it frees your friend from having to deal with your reluctant, resentful self.
A reader sent me an anecdote in response to this post that made me happy. Dear reader had plans with a friend to see a movie later; together they ran into a third friend and invited him along. He gleefully thanked them for the invitation and said, "If I don't come, it's because I didn't want to."
Everyone laughed at his honesty. How refreshing to know that if someone is with you, it's because they want to be there! And if they're not around, you don't have to take it personally. This is the kind of freedom that true boundaries create.
However, knowing that you can back out isn't an excuse to make commitments you know you can't keep. The clarity and directness you need to tell a friend you need to change your mind is also needed to tell yourself what you're really up for.
By becoming more skillful at knowing what you need, what you want, and what you have to offer, the number of times you'll have to be flaky will drastically decrease. Win-win.
None of this is to say that we can just be careless in the way we treat those around us. Being generally predictable is a cornerstone of healthy relationships. Relationships that have some degree of stability are much more able to weather the moments of unpredictability.
And it's also not to say that being flaky doesn't have consequences. If the people you're in relationships with feel consistently neglected or disregarded by you, they may not want to be in relationship with you for very long.
This same skillfullness also helps you to see clearly when the level of someone else's commitment is workable for you. If someone else wants to spend a ton of time with you, but you don't feel the same way, being able to see the mismatch of your needs and then communicate clearly and directly about it (are you seeing the theme here?) is crucial behavior for not being a lazy coward.
And being able to see when that's a dealbreaker for you is so liberating. It may be painful, yes, to come to terms with the fact that a friend or lover simply can't reciprocate in the ways you wish they could, or vice versa. But when you're able to see what does and doesn't work for you, it's that much simpler to walk away.