It was the third time in a row that she had cancelled our date for drinks. The first time she’d forgotten. The second time she remembered a previous engagement and the third time she claimed she’d got the dates mixed up. The next day I got the text she always sends: ‘Sorry darling, I’m such a flake!’
I used to have friends. Now I have flakes — people who are always screwing up arrangements to meet. Flake has become the catch-all explanation and excuse for the bad manners or bad behaviour of friends and loved ones.
Cosmo Landesman and Freya Wood discuss the modern affliction of flakiness:
We all know about ladies who lunch. But what about the ones who forget you were even having lunch? This kind of woman — let’s call her the flake fatale — will feign remorse and say: ‘I’m such a flake! Can we do it next week? Please?’ Or when she fails to turn up to a party where you had planned to meet —because she got pissed at another party — she will say with pride: ‘How flakey was that!’
I know a girl who forgot to tell her boyfriend that he’d been dumped and their Valentine dinner cancelled. The poor guy waited at the restaurant for nearly two hours. I asked her how could she be so cruel? ‘I’m not cruel,’ she protested, ‘just a bit flakey.’
Men can be flakey too, but they tend to reserve the tag for other men. As in ‘that guy is such a flake!’ It’s too fluffy a term for blokes. So a man will confess to being a ‘screw-up’, an ‘idiot’ or, in rare moments of honesty, ‘a total shit’ — but never a flake.
We live in an age when we make dates to see our friends — then we don’t see our friends. We cancel. Once. Twice. Three times. Even four. This was once considered rude; now it’s the norm. A firm date for dinner is just the first step in a series of broken arrangements. When I complain, younger friends tell me to ‘chill’, because every-body does it. Lately, when I make a date to see a friend, I ask: ‘Would you care to cancel now — or wait till the day we’re meant to meet?’
No one wants to consider this as rude; it’s just flakey. Your archetypal flake fatale is in her late twenties and works in the media or the arts — anywhere where being ‘flakey’ is considered rather cute and doesn’t get you fired for being incompetent. Just try playing the flake card if you’re a barrister or doctor.
The flake fatale is adored and indulged by her friends. She is often charming and incorrigible in equal measures. Her messy, disorganised life makes you feel better about your own. But the downside is that her chaotic life often spills into yours — and you get 3 a.m. phone calls asking for advice or help out of tricky situations. ‘Darling, I’m pissed with two naked men in the back of an Uber. I don’t know where I am, who they are and how I will get home — what shall I do?’
When you call her for advice, she can never talk and help you because she’s always in a ‘mad rush’ for a meeting — one that was booked for the previous week — or facing a deadline that was days ago.
Flakes should not be confused with snowflakes. The latter is a popular term for someone who is oversensitive about their politically correct opinions and beliefs; a flake is someone who is totally insensitive about you. Of course she will say sorry and apologise, but the flake fatale doesn’t really think she’s done anything wrong. They never suffer from guilt — just hangovers.
You can see the appeal of confessing to being a flake. It’s way of saying to your friends, No, I’m not a self-absorbed, inconsiderate, thoughtless narcissist — I just happen to be a bit scatterbrained and totally disorganised. Playing the flake card appears to be an admission of guilt, but actually it’s a bit of a boast. It suggests that you’re endearingly eccentric and delightfully ditzy, unlike all those efficient nine-to-five office drones.
The term flake, with its connotations of something insignificant or sweet like the Cadbury’s chocolate bar, diminishes the misdemeanour and demands instant forgiveness. How can you possibly take offence or get cross with me, asks the flake fatale: I mean no real harm. I’m just a bit flakey.
Being a flake means you never have to take responsibility for your actions. You can get away with just about anything if you claim to be flakey — ‘Oops, sorry I shagged your boyfriend. I’m such a flake!’
I just wish my flakey friends would be honest with me — and themselves — and, instead of confessing to be flakes, would admit to being totally thoughtless.