Why I Keep Plans in the Age of Flaking

I am “a planner.” I like structure, clarity and making sure the important things are always accomplished. Sexy, right?

In this casual culture, sometimes I feel like enjoying plans makes me the stuffy one. People have laughed about my calendars, my notes, my planning docs, how meticulously detailed it all seems. But to me, making plans is actually a vital element of my survival, a way in which I thrive and refuse to squander time.

Because I have a chronic pain condition — fibromyalgia — that limits my energy and thus social time, planning is stitched into the very fabric of my being. Most people in my life aren’t actively aware of it, but the syndrome comes complete with symptoms like fatigue, widespread pain, digestive issues, urinary issues, anxiety and a host of other ailments that are normal to me but undeniably limiting.

I know those limits, too: the quantities of energy each activity is likely to consume, how every improvised decision may impact all the others, whether something is simply not feasible or worth my time. I spend more time than most of my friends resting and dealing with symptoms, which means I have to be creative with how I manage to see everyone and do everything.

If you were given just 18 hours a day to do everything you wanted and needed to do, instead of 24, would you use your time more wisely? Would you spend those hours more carefully? Are there relationships you’d want to give more energy to, and some less? Do any friendships deplete you? Now what if you were given just 15 hours today to fit it all in? Tomorrow you might have more, or maybe less. But you don’t know. Would you shuffle your to-do list some more? Would priorities change? Would you see relationships in a new light? Are there some friendships that might have to go?

This is how I have always functioned; managing fibromyalgia and wanting to live my life to the fullest has given me immense prioritization skills. I feel strongly that the loving, supportive, like-minded people in my life deserve my limited energy, and I do my best to make sure they get it. This is my ultimate impetus for making firm plans. If I plan ahead to meet you, it’s because I have every intention of giving you my undivided attention and all the energy I can. A drink, coffee or dinner, planned weeks in advance even, gives my heart that ultra-fluttery feeling of true love. Time is a currency, perhaps the most important one we have. For those with limitations, plans are time investments in those we love and the things that matter.

I can detect that my approach is more constrained than others’, and it’s hard to explain how changing the plan can completely throw me off balance or why a last-minute trip isn’t always feasible for me. I’m all for spontaneity, but I also know some adventures will max out my energy reserves. It’s hard to admit, but it’s also me.

Create a little plan with me and my heart will balloon more than the Grinch’s on Christmas.

We all have “planners” in our lives — from the introverted friend who saves up social energy for the most important occasions to the time-pressed friend who has to schedule two weeks out for a happy hour. There are tons of jokes and memes about how everyone loves to cancel plans. It’s not that I don’t get it: Sometimes plans resemble chores; the specificity of scheduling out days or weeks in advance can come off as rigid, stiff, controlling; and what if you don’t feel like it when the time comes?

But even given all that, I’d like to suggest we rethink the way we look at making plans and keeping them.

I have a good friend who is a mom and a business owner — two big constraints on her time. I also admire her ability to juggle her relationships, family, motherhood and work with grace. How does she do it? Plans. I’ve noticed she is one of my most “planned out” friends, perhaps the reason our friendship has been growing and thriving, especially over the last year.

Recently, though, I had a health episode that sent all my usual plans into a tizzy; I had a symptom “flare,” which lasted about a month and a half and kept coming and going with remarkable weirdness. My energy stores? Just about zero. And over that time, I kept canceling plans with this friend without much explanation — a movie screening, a Bachelor finale night, a happy hour, a morning catch-up. When I emerged from my hibernation, she called me out. In my hazy mental state, I had not been aware of how breaking plans had impacted her on an emotional level. I suddenly recognized time as a currency again. I had wasted some of hers, precious and limited as it is. (I have since apologized.)

Some make plans lightly, but I don’t. Plans are mini commitments to be consistent, investments in relationships I want to nurture, time to build history, intimacy and perhaps a lifelong bond. Maybe that sounds extreme — but to the right people, I know that intentionality will be appreciated.

If you have “a planner” like me in your life, please indulge us from time to time. Put something on the calendar a little ways out. Show us you plan on sticking around, remaining part of our growth, milestones, fun times (and rocky ones), and we’ll do the same for you. Create a little plan with me and my heart will balloon more than the Grinch’s on Christmas. I will find ways to elevate the itinerary. I will pencil you into my calendar. I will make sure to bring my best self that day. How’s that for a plan?

Photo via Getty Images.

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  • I’m kind of a planner too! I totally understand that stuff comes up and that nowadays, flaking is just how people behave. To me though, the one thing you really can’t get back is time, and it can be frustrating when people bail last minute or just straight up ghost you. But, glad to know there are other planners out there!!

  • Adrianna

    I love this article. I’m not necessarily a planner (I admire my friends who are) but I am an introvert who manages depression. If I agree to go to happy hour or make plans with a friend, I show up. Not just physically, but mentally. I’m on time and smile through any bad mood I may be in. We’re all busy people, and I don’t have much patience for people who flake or spend the time frowning at their phones.

    • CarmenK

      I am also introverted and depressed, and I wonder how you manage to show up always. Do you think it’s part of your personality? Haven’t you ever been flaky? I’m asking in case you can help me with your views 🙂

      • Adrianna

        I just say no to some invites, particularly if I know I’ll be stuck somewhere (like a booze cruise) I’m 29, so I know how I like to spend my free time.

        Offer alternatives when turning down an invite. “I’m not available this Sunday, (because I kind of hate your friend who is visiting you this weekend) but how about next week?”

        I think last time I flaked was when I realized Les Miserables was a three hour movie. I hate musicals.

        I tell myself I can always leave after I put in a meaningful 60-75 minutes, or whatever amount of time is appropriate to the situation. Dinner with a friend doesn’t have to last three hours.

    • gracesface

      The phone part is actually starting to bother me more and more. One of my closest friends spends time with both myself and my husband and we’ve come to notice how hard it is for her to put the phone down these days! She even messes with her phone during church! Like, c’mon girl!

  • Kate

    There is a big shift in planning that comes with age for most people. When I was in my mid-20s I would easily say yes to 3 parties on a Saturday, knowing I would maybe squeeze in an impromptu dinner and then make it to 2, and no one really cared anyway. However, in my early 30s, making plans 2 nights in a row feels extravagant and that reduction in energy levels makes planning essential. All my friends and acquaintances have undergone similar transitions, particularly as jobs become more serious and people have kids.

    In addition, I live in London, and noticed a bit difference between here and New York. By comparison, we are all planners here, whereas in New York no one knows what they’re doing on Friday night until Friday night. I always thought it was because Londoners seem to travel 40 to do anything whereas New York, or at least the areas my friends lived, was quicker to navigate.

    • Agnes

      Totally agree- I lived in London for 20 years and my diary and those of my friends were often booked up many weeks in advance. Much harder (and ruder) to flake when we’ve all made an effort to get together (Doodle poll anyone?! 😉

      • Kate

        LOVE Doodle!

      • Hannah Ward

        Yes! London, planning and Doodle for the win!

      • Basil

        I have friends who are still dumbfounded by the whole London thing of planning weeks in advance, but IME it’s completely necessary because of job / family commitments. I’m more flexible at the moment (yay mat leave!) but normally balancing out my schedule, my husband’s, childcare and just having enough energy to do something takes planning

  • I am one of those people who loves to plan, but more so I have ‘guaranteed fun’ marked on my calendar than out of a need to be time-efficient. I find I only appreciate a chill night in when it’s in contrast to busier evenings (and probably vice versa), plus my friends get booked up which makes spontaneity tricky!

    However, I still inevitably have days where I secretly hope my friend will cancel, because I was too ambitious when planning out my week and am now depleted energy-wise. I understand when people get the temptation to bail… Yet I will never be the one to do so! If I committed to plans, I will be there for plans. And I usually find myself really glad I did show up.

    • Kate

      I’m exactly the same – I need fun and down time dialled in for the week or two ahead, and don’t appreciate one without the other.

  • Elli rvs

    Thank you for this! This article really spoke to me. I have a chronic pain condition as well and I almost never talk about it, unless I have to. Im too embarrassed.

  • cuffers27

    This is so good and so relevant. I wouldn’t say I am an introvert particularly but when I make plans, I stick to them. It drives me crazy that other people will flake on their commitments because something better comes along (even if it is just ‘self care’ *eye roll*). It just shows a fundamental lack of respect for the other person/people. If you say you’re gonna do something then that’s what you should. (rant over)

  • Tanishka Gupta

    I’ve had to have a difficult conversation with my best friend who also happens to be my flakiest friend. I love her to death but I had to just tell her I felt so much like a second thought when she would cancel plans the day of ’cause “she wasn’t feeling like it”. It didn’t used to bother me so much because I 100% know the feeling of wishing I hadn’t made plans in the first place. But I am also that sort of person who takes plans seriously and I will try to follow through with them 100% of the time unless there are circumstances I cannot control.

    It broke my heart when I was trying to make plans with her for on my birthday and when I first mentioned them, she gave me an enthusiastic “yes!” and then when I tried to actually finalize them, she told me she was actually going to be out of town. When I am trying to make plans, I am trying to receive some level of commitment that will hold up at least a couple of weeks down the line.

    I had to tell her that I’ve given up on making plans with her. And now she’s hurt because I called her out on how she hurt me. Relationships are hard.

    • BK

      It sucks you’ve had to go to the lengths of having a conversation about it with her. I’ve experienced the hurt of flaky friends before too and it makes me want to not catch up with them at all! Hopefully this might be a learning curve for her in how to respect other people’s time.

      • Tanishka Gupta

        Thanks for your kind words! I kind of hated myself for bringing it up because initially I thought I was being too “sensitive” but then I realized it was actually taking a toll on me mentally and emotionally. Like “hey, I can count on her for anything and everything except for showing up when she says she’s going to show up.”

        I hope things will work out too! We realized that our ways of making plans are just different in that she prefers more impromptu hang-out seshs. So she’s currently processing our conversation but I did have to make it clear that for the next little while, the ball is in her court when it comes to making plans.

        P.S: Thanks y’all for reading this. She’s usually the person I would talk to about crap like this (lol, how convenient) but thank you to the MR community for being such super awesome strangers I feel completely comfortable sharing so much (too much?) with!

  • Alie Cathryn

    I am the flaky friend and I’m just now realizing it’s effect on my social life; people don’t make plans with me anymore. Thank you for this perspective. I needed that wake up call.

  • Amelia

    I’m a producer by trade and it echoes in most parts of my personal life as well. I’m definitely the designated “planner” of whatever group I find myself in.

    I love the line about “indulging us from time to time”. I think planners get a bad rap- people think we’re “uptight”, or “type A” (which I don’t consider a bad thing). I get told to “chill out and go with the flow” a lot, but at the end of the day, I’m seeing a lot more of the people I love, and that works for me. Plus- I get to do some cool things that require actual planning!!!!

  • Such wonderful sentiments. I think it’s much better to keep plans and be reliable, particularly these days. I have some minor social anxiety, work from home, and am always around my family and husband, so I never feel the need to really go out and see people as I’m seeing people all the time. But lately I’ve resisted the urge to bail on plans because I always have a great time, and I never regret seeing a friend.

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

  • Kristin

    I don’t know; Im not a serial flaker—I think as the author points out, sometimes you really need to cancel—as she did for a month and a half. Even those of us who don’t have illness have things that take away from our 24 hours—jobs, families, etc which can unexpectedly take more of our energy/time than anticipated and so sometimes plans have to change.

  • Emily Gregor

    YES!!! I relate to this SO MUCH. I am so hurt when plans get cancelled, and I really do plan everything far in advance.

  • I relate to this so much! I have a chronic condition as well so I need to pick and choose my commitments, planing helps keep everything (kinda) balanced including my workouts and my downtime. The older I get, the more I find myself not even making effort with (former) friends who flake all the time. I’d rather book the time with someone who wants to truly connect with me!

  • Anne Dyer

    Ahhh. I adore canceling plans. This article legit helped me see the down side. Thanks for the eye opener.

  • DelphineGarnier82

    I’m not a planner but if someone was constantly cancelling plans, I’d assume they clearly don’t really want to hang out and I’d give up on trying to hang out with them.

  • I have Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) bc of which I can relate SO heavily to this piece. thank you.

  • Hannah Ward

    I’ve never understood the memes that celebrate cancelled plans. If you’re happy about someone cancelling on you, or you’re the one flaking, then maybe you need to make better plans?!

  • I just realized that the people I already spend most of my time with (like coworkers) are the ones most likely to make me stick to our plans with peer pressure! Whereas the friends I rarely see, if I am too tired I sometimes just cancel. Sad because it should be the other way around, I have plenty of occasions to spend time with coworkers…

  • Hannah Louise Crowley

    This was such a compelling read for me. As someone that is immuno-compromised (I have CVID) I plan my lift meticulously to make the most out of my periods of wellness and whatever energy supplies turn up with it.
    I have a few friends who I love dearly but regularly cancel or turn up an hour or two late, which on a weekday dinner when I want to be home in be by 10 cuts into our sacred time.
    I’m also not someone that wants to talk about my condition as I truly believe in the power of positive thinking and regular discussions about my health are no fun for anyone, Yes i’m still tired, Yes i’m struggling, Yes it sucks, buuuuuuuuutttt it could be so much worse.
    I also feel in a world of screens, distractions and 24/7 life, those stolen moments with the people you love become even more sacred than ever and should be regarded by all involved as such.