How We Have Become a Generation of Flakes

Commitment Aversion has become a big issue.

Indra Sofian
Jan 21, 2016 · 8 min read

Imagine this. You and your friend are planning to go to the movies. Both of you have been planning to go out multiple times, but it has never worked out. But now, you’re planning it two weeks in advance. The date is set, and it’s just a matter of waiting until then. You message your friend every now and then to make sure the movie theater night is still happening. Two weeks turn to one week, one week turns to three days, and then finally the day of movie arrives. You message your friend, and no one replies. You message your friend again, later, in the afternoon, but nothing again. Then, at night. Then, the next day, after the movie night has passed. Finally, you give up and just go on conversing with your friend as you normally would, never finding out the reason why your friend didn’t come and never asking again, because you know that friend won’t give you a conclusive answer.

Because you know that your friend is a flake.

What is a flake, you might ask?

Reputable source Urban Dictionary provides this definition: An unreliable person, or someone who agrees to do something, but never follows through.

Why would you ever want to be associated with someone like that? Well, you may be surprised to learn that most of your friends or contemporaries have the same issue. You may even have the problem. We’ve all been guilty of it. For the sake of this piece, let’s call that problem Commitment Aversion.

Here is what I mean by that. The majority of our generation, the millennials, has become afflicted with Commitment Aversion. That is, no one wants to commit to anything anymore because we are afraid of what we might miss out on if we do…but we also want to seem like we are committing. It is why we say we are going to make plans but we never follow through. It is why we make verbal agreements on the group chat that we are so excited about whatever it is we’re going to do but then we ignore our texts when everyone else is wondering why the plans fell through. It is why our favorite answers to questions about our availability now are “Maybe”, “I’ll see”, “I might”, “I don’t know”, “It depends”, “I’ll let you know later”. And then we have our excuses when we can’t commit, such as “I forgot”, “I didn’t know where it was”, “Something unexpected came up”, “I had to help someone do something”, “I didn’t feel well”, “I had another commitment.” Or we’ll just smile and make an incredibly vague statement, not explicitly stating our reason and deflecting all serious questions, so that no one will know that we’re flakes.

It is maddening to think about, isn’t it?

How did this happen? Well, it started when we were all a lot younger. Back when our parents told us that we could be anything and do anything we wanted to do. We believed it, and we put action to words. Except, the truth is that we can’t possibly do everything we want to do. There will always have to be compensations and sacrifices, simply because there isn’t enough time in the day for us to accomplish all of what we want to accomplish. In the past, our parents might have just picked a couple of things that they could do, like picking a job at a company and sticking with it for the duration of their career. But, no, that is absolutely not what we want to do; we want to have it all…or at least feel like we have it all. It’s one of the main reasons why we love having options. We don’t want to do just one or two things because we will miss out on all the other things that we could have done.

Enter the concept of opportunity cost. It is the idea that anything we choose to do is at the expense of another. Every time we commit to going to the gym to workout with friends, joining a club, meeting someone at a restaurant, or what-have-you, we miss out on everything else we didn’t choose.

So, instead of actually picking a hobby, a job, or a partner, we are instead encouraged to just try everything. Just going to the first meeting for a club. Hanging out with that group sometimes, but not all the time. Picking up that hobby on the side and doing it on your own time. Dropping by at a party, but leaving towards the end, but not right at the end. Inherently, that’s not a bad concept at all. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying a bunch of different things. But combine that with the fact that we’ve been taught to want to do it all, the concept of opportunity cost, and our obsession with image and how others perceive us, then the end result is Commitment Aversion. Is there any wonder that we have become too afraid to put ourselves out in the open? What happens if we do? We’ll be the first one in the group chat to say we’re available, we’ll send the first text, or we’ll raise our hand in class when the professor asks a question, and all we will get back is silence. The silent majority, nervously waiting for someone to make the first move, looking at each other but not overtly looking because that would be too much.

There will inevitably be people who disagree with this theory. You’ll say “I don’t have Commitment Aversion; I’m just really busy all the time!”, “I can’t help it; I have a really chaotic schedule.”, or “I am not a flake. I’m the always the first one in my group to volunteer!” Well, that is true. There will always be exceptions. Except, everyone will say that they are the exception. Such is the nature of the beast.

Think about how everything around us has become commitment-aversive. There are three things that stand out in particular.

Social Media. One of the biggest perpetrators and facilitators of our lack of commitment. An article comes along that really resonates with you? Give it a “Like” or a “Favorite”. Someone asks you to share an event that they’re trying to get people to sign up for? Won’t do that, but you’ll give it a “Like”. You might even go to the event page and say that you’re going to show support, but not actually go. Now, of course, Facebook has included an “Interested” option, which is just perfect for people who don’t want to outright state their aversion to commitment, allowing them to put the least amount of effort for the maximum amount of gain. Then, on the flip side, you have anonymous social media apps like Yik Yak, which, while incredibly entertaining and sometimes useful, further promote Commitment Aversion. For some, it’s like a dream come true: a place where you are virtually free to express your thoughts and opinions without the usual fear of judgment and commitment. Or think of Snapchat, where whatever you put out there is basically erased after a maximum of 10 seconds or, in the case of Stories, 24 hours. There’s no end to them.

Relationships. Or, really, the lack thereof. The rise of apps like Tinder and, well actually, mainly Tinder, have tapped into one of our biggest commitment fears of them all. It’s part of a larger hookup culture that has been trending for over a decade. On the app, all you have to do is make an account, match with some people, make some small talk, connect, and boom! You hook up, and then you move on. There are virtually no strings attached, and you more or less don’t ever have to deal with the problems of a usual relationship. It’s very common now to hear things like “Oh, I’m not looking for anything serious”, or “I’m not ready for a commitment yet.” And why should we be? Technology has made it ridiculously easy for us to avoid each other. Forget the times of spending time with a person, getting to know them, trying to see if that person is someone you could spend a very long time with. Forget the times you had to think very hard about sending that first risky text, sticking your foot out there and hoping so hard that it won’t get stepped on, because now you have a sea of choices. And you don’t have to spend one iota of effort on any of them.

Language. There are so many places we could start, but let’s just think about the word “Like”. It is a pretty common phrase, and has a couple of different meanings. It could mean “to have the same characteristics or qualities as another”, or “to have affection for.” The most commonly used version nowadays is “in the manner of, in the same way or degree as.” It also happens to be a great filler word, thrown into a sentence to add a degree of uncertainty or unsureness. Conversations nowadays: “I don’t, like, know”, “He was, like, annoying”, “Like, what was that”. It essentially allows people to suggest that they may not know completely what they’re talking about and removes their commitment to their own words.

The list goes on, and on, and on. It’s sad, but true.

The real victim in all of this is society itself. How can we live in a society where everyone is afraid to stick to what they believe in and no one wants to commit to anything? When did it become acceptable for us to be unable to hold others accountable for their actions or words? This isn’t a good thing. It diminishes us. It keeps us from enjoying life the way we should be living. Don’t just flit in and out of different commitments, not really joining but not really trying either. Spend time on things that you love, stay true to your words, and don’t be afraid of being the one to stick your foot out, and you will find that life will have become much more fulfilling and meaningful.

The next time your friends try to have a get-together, don’t just agree and then back out later; hangout with them. Don’t just give a “Like” to a campaign to end homelessness in Detroit; donate a dollar. Say you’re going to an event, and then do it. Be honest with other people and don’t worry so much about what people will think of you. Honestly, they will be impressed with your ability to commit to something and stick with it.

Life didn’t just begin on accident. Life begins when people work with each other openly and trust each other to do the things we say we are going to do. Every day, people greet each other and hide behind masks of excuses and fear to avoid showing others what they are truly like because they are afraid. Be open with your intentions towards others. Let us strive to make the world better, not worse.

Last of all, don’t be a flake.

-Indra

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Indra Sofian

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Co-Founder of @soraschools. @GeorgiaTech '18. Talk to me about education reform, startups, diversity. Prev @startupexchange @contrarycapital @trueventures

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