I gasped, my throat emitting a sound like when you press your ear to a wall and hear water rushing through pipes. Haauuuh!
It was 1:18PM. I was in my bed and my alarm clock had to be wrong. Had to be. Maybe the AM and PM were mixed up? No, the sun shone through the window blinds. Maybe someone snuck into my bedroom and programmed the time on the clock forward a few hours? That had to be it. That made more sense than how much I had just screwed up.
I almost summersaulted out of my bed.
But why bother rushing? What could I possibly salvage now? I didn’t know but I needed to rush – I needed to make myself panic and suffer a little bit. I deserved it.
I ran to my living room, plugged in my modem, thumped onto my chair, and turned on my laptop. Waited. Waited.
There has to be some good in me being this late. There has to be a reason for letting someone down this bad.
I finally pulled up my email and saw exactly what I predicted.
A few weeks before, my friend had introduced me to another copywriter in the Denver area. We’d scheduled a meeting for coffee at noon. I wrote it down. Heck, the day before, I had even followed up with the person to confirm our meeting. He did. I was proud of how fastidious I was.
That evening, I went to bed, fell asleep and, as was usual for me then, bolted awake around 2AM. Maybe my upstairs neighbor had slammed something on his floor. He was later almost evicted but moved out voluntarily to avoid a court appearance. Maybe a horn honked from Speer Blvd, a major road in Denver, next to my apartment building. Or, more likely, I had woken up because that was simply what my body did for several months, until I took care of that problem.
As I lay awake for a few hours, I planned how to avoid the worst of sleep deprivation.
From experience, losing half a night’s sleep makes me feel as though my body were overstuffed with trash like a neglected garbage can. I adjusted my alarm so I wouldn’t wake up in a couple hours. Then, I simply shut it off, figuring I’d sleep in to around 11AM.
But my brain had different plans.
Being the self-preserving mash of mush that it is, demanding the release of restorative hormones, cleaning up amyloid plaque and, according to Daoist lore, helping the spirit restore itself, my brain chose sleep over keeping my appointment.
I awoke to midday light. Checked my alarm clock. Panicked.
I wasn’t surprised to see an email waiting for me. The guy I was meeting didn’t have my phone number. At 12:13PM, he sent an email, asking if I had arrived.
Ugh. I could picture him ducking into the coffee shop, looking around, ordering a cup for himself, sitting, waiting, checking his phone, waiting some more, checking his phone and sending me an email, waiting… his impatience turning to irritation. Then anger. Maybe some confusion. Finally, after enough time had gone by, he’d march back out and go home, shaking his head, swearing under his breath. Because of me.
I pulled together all my writing talent, composed a sincere apology, and sent.
I offered a do-over, for us to meet anywhere.
He sent a polite reply. He used the phrase “Sounds like one of those days” to describe my misadventure. I left it to him to follow up. He never did. I don’t blame him.
I’ve screwed up appointments before – probably worse than that day – but that’s the most blatant incident that my consciousness allows me to remember.
I get that people can’t be 100% on the ball 100% of the time. I’ve been that guy. If someone flakes on me, I’m understanding, but there’s a limit.
One of my teachers says, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.”
When it comes to other people, I’m kind without caving into patterns that will hurt me.
Roughly four years ago, I was introduced someone named Rick who worked in the marketing field. We met at a co-working space called Galvanize. He looked somewhere between fit and gaunt. His blue eyes bugged wider and wider as we spoke, the whites matching his teeth as he laughed, mouth hanging open. As I got to know him, it was clear his brain bounced around like a superball that somehow ended up in a revving engine cylinder. His neck jerked his emaciated head around, trying to keep up. His gauntness probably came from all his calories getting shuttled to his overactive brain. I’d met sharp people, but this guy was on another level.
We talked about working together and tested the relationship with a project we had discussed.
Mostly, the discussion consisted of me listening to his mind flit from 3rd to 4th gear. Once, during a rare moment when I was about to squeeze a sentence into our conversation, he cut me off mid-sentence to point out a cumulonimbus cloud.
I emailed him. He didn’t reply for a bit too long and, when he did reply, dumped a left-field brainstorm into my inbox that I unfurled and talked him out of. Before the project even finished, I had to end it between us.
Before that, I introduced Rick to a friend of mine named Rex. Rick also started a project with Rex. A few months later, I asked Rex how it was going with Rick.
“He failed me.”
Turns out, Rick The Superball had bounced on him.
A couple of years later, Rick emailed me a lunch invitation. I responded that it sounded great and suggested some days. He didn’t reply. He’d proven his pattern enough for me. Since then, he’s emailed me twice and I haven’t responded. I’ll never spend time with Rick again.
Rick is incurable. But I have another friend, Jim, who had a habit of cancelling the day before we’d meet up. Around 2011, I walked west on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall to where we were meeting for dinner. I got a funny feeling in my gut, checked my phone, and listened to a message Jim had left, cancelling. Another time, I drove to his house for an appointment and he wasn’t there. No message.
Just his son answering the door and explaining that Jim wasn’t there.
In 2012, Jim and I were set to have dinner and, the day before, he left me a message. “I’ve got these bushes in my backyard that are out of control and – ha ha – I’ve got to clean them up…” or some crap like that.
I dialed his number and got voicemail. Adrenaline shot through me and my lungs stayed inflated like pressurized balloons as I slowly spoke. “Jim, I got your message. You are wasting my time and not honoring your commitment. It’s the night before we were going to meet and I carved out the time. I love you and I’m saying this with love… but you need to honor your commitments.”
He apologized in a voicemail, and never cancelled the day before, ever again.
It took me a few years, and almost half a dozen flakes, before I learned to stand up for myself – and recognize my neediness.
Ten years ago, I had almost zero friends. My career was in the pits, and I was scared of going broke forever. When one of my friends actually showed up, it was like a numbing salve on the pain of my fear. I needed that salve, which was why I tolerated Jim cancelling, which made it easy for him to cancel. But more than needing that salve, I needed it to get ripped away. I needed Jim to cancel one too many times for the dam of my neediness to break and for me to stop tolerating someone disregarding my time and commitment.
Today, I look for patterns. If someone’s life is too hectic for them to regularly meet, that’s fine. We can share our lives in different ways. But if someone can’t be honest, if they’re incurable, they’re out.
Take stock of your friends, co-workers, associates in business, or anyone else you meet with.
Who flakes on you?
What kind of power do they hold over you? There must be something, otherwise you wouldn’t tolerate their flaking. Perhaps their power comes from you valuing your time and commitment so much less than theirs – you’re desperate for their company and they’re more neutral of yours. If so, you know it’s a you problem. If they’re like Rick, you need to decide what kind of boundaries to build to honor your space – like meeting them only at your place on a day where you’re relaxing at home no matter what.
What if you are the flake?
Again, a you problem. Work on honoring other people’s time and commitment before they build boundaries around you. And remember to set your alarm.