On Being a Social Flake, As Told By One

Learning to say, “I just don’t feel like it.”

I am not good at going out with friends, and never have been. I’ve put varying degrees of effort into trying to force myself out with friends or coworkers after work or on weekends, only to feel an overwhelming sense of dread and misery in the hours leading up to the event in question.

Despite this, I continue to commit myself to engagements in hope that if I make myself go to these things, it will become easier and easier and in time I’ll change into a less “antisocial” person. Maybe I’ll even come to enjoy going out with friends.

I recently realized how flawed this way of thinking is, especially when you are a social flake, like myself.

A social flake is someone who commits to activities, hangouts, parties, what have you, and then never shows up. A social flake can seem like a real asshole.

As a social flake, when I do make it out to an event, probably 95% of the time I will, as the young folks say, ghost. The traditional name for this action is the “Irish Exit.” This is where you make an appearance at an event, only to disappear later on without telling anyone you’re leaving.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with an Irish Exit and here is why:

  • We are all adults here, right? So why do I have to check in with someone before leaving an event I attended for recreation?
  • It’s still a free country, despite everything.
  • If you tell someone you’re leaving their party and you only recently arrived, they’re going to think you hate their party, when really it’s not that you hate their party, but the entire concept of a party in a definitive sense. Better to just avoid that conversation altogether!
  • I actually showed up, didn’t I? Doesn’t that deserve some recognition?

As a social flake, I have been ghosting events since elementary school, and while it’s a great method for getting out of social gatherings with minimal (if not, some) offense, I’d much rather just not go at all. Up until recently, I thought something must be wrong with me because of this.

I am an introvert. It seems to be all the rage to declare yourself an introvert these days, and whenever I meet fake introverts I think of a sketch from Portlandia where a hot girl keeps calling herself a nerd. Then, a real nerd appears on screen with a PSA: if you’re not a nerd, don’t call yourself one. This is how I feel about introversion. I’m not identifying as an introvert to be elusive or different. I want to want to go out with friends, and feel energized from group conversations. I don’t want to identify as a homebody or hermit, nor do I want to read Bartleby the Scrivener and think, wow this really relates!

But the truth remains: every social gathering is a huge mental undertaking for me, a significant requirement of energy. Between listening, responding appropriately, smiling, and laughing at people’s jokes, after a social gathering I feel as if I need 24 to 48 hours to recuperate from the mental and emotional toll of it all.

To say the least, this has affected some of my relationships.

“We don’t invite you to things because we feel like you don’t like going,” is what former coworkers explained to me several years ago when I was not invited to one of their housewarming parties.

“I would have invited you, but you’re not outgoing enough,” is what my next door neighbor friend told me in 6th grade, as she raved on about a super cool church event she attended.

Within the first several weeks of starting my current job, my supervisor invited me to a happy hour after work. I told her I’d see her there, and then didn’t go. I dreaded seeing her at work the next day — what if she asked me why I wasn’t there? What would I say? Maybe I should say my dog was throwing up when I got home. Or maybe that is too obviously a lie… maybe I should say I was so tired I fell asleep.

Just recently I committed to get-togethers I ended up flaking out on. The first was an invitation to a birthday party. On the party’s Facebook event page feed, I went as far as to post, “I can’t wait!”

A friend, rightfully skeptical if I would show or not, asked me, “Are you going to come for real?” to which I responded, “I’ll be there for sure!”

And then I did not go.

Another recent instance was an after work movie. I made the mistake of telling a coworker I’d gotten a ticket to the same movie she’d also purchased a ticket to. “I’ll see you there,” she said to me. “Yes, you will!” I responded.

I did not go to that movie.

After the fact I was racked with guilt and afraid to face those I’d flaked out on. My mind raced thinking up excuses as to why I bailed at the last moment, without a text to let them know I wouldn’t be there. My anxiety typically skyrockets through the roof after I flake out — yet I do it repeatedly, chronically.

After you establish yourself as a social flake, people don’t ask where you were because they assume you didn’t want to be there, which in my case is the absolute truth of the matter. I never thought to question why all my life, I’ve felt the need to cover this truth up.

Bottom line, it doesn’t bring me joy to make, anticipate and live out social plans. It just doesn’t. I value time alone so, so much more.

I can’t change that I am a homebody and an introvert. No amount of forcing myself to go out will change that I’d rather be at home.

However, what I can change is how I come across to friends and coworkers in ways that prepare them for my social tendencies.

It’s not up to me to change myself to meet the needs of others. The bottom line is they can choose to accept me along with my quirks, or not. When I realized this, I felt free of always having to have an excuse on the tip of my tongue .

What do I try to make a habit of, these days?

I’ve started becoming more aware of when I blindly commit to engagements at work. Instead of saying things like, “I’ll see you there,” or “I am also going to that event too,” I say things like, “I might go to that event depending on how I feel later on” or “Maybe I’ll see you there, if I go.” This might seem like an asshole, noncommittal way to phrase something, but it’s less of an asshole move than saying you’ll for sure be there and then not making an appearance whatsoever.

I’m also learning how to be more open about who I really am. I’ve learned that if I can be honest about what I don’t enjoy and don’t excel at (i.e. parties), then people are more understanding. The vulnerable side of a social flake can be quite compelling.

People often make excuses when they don’t show up for engagements. I’ve done it — we all have.

“I was just so tired after work…”

“My dog hadn’t gone out all day so I decided to stay home and walk him.”

“I got a terrible headache and decided to just sleep it off.”

In all honesty, people can see right through those excuses for what they are: cover-ups for just plain, old not wanting to go. I’m not going to use these excuses any longer.

Telling someone straight up, “I do not want to go to the mixer after work because in general I dislike networking and don’t find it fun or entertaining,” is direct and honest. Plus, some might even find a candid explanation humorous. Now rather than being the social flake, you’re the brutally honest, funny person.

If that seems a bit harsh, then I don’t see anything wrong with simply saying, “I just don’t feel like it.” It’s taken years for me to realize I don’t owe an elaboration on that statement to anyone! It’s amazing how this truth can open up a portal of honesty from all sides- when you’re honest, so are those around you.

While I plan to still try to make events here and there, I’m not beating myself up over missing things any longer. It’s OK to not want to do something that is considered societal obligation.

Lily lives & works in Austin, TX. She holds a degree in film, which she’s hardly utilized since graduating. She is often mistaken for a Scandinavian person.

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