"Yaaaaaaas, I can't wait to see you!!!!!! It's been too long!" your friend says in response to your text the day you're supposed to hang. Sure, they've flaked and given vague last-minute excuses the last two times you had set plans, but you're both adults with busy lives. In fact, they're probably way more swamped than you. And anyway, you'll have all the more things to catch up on now!
Except...they just cancelled again.
"I'm so sorry, I'm the worst! :( I totally spaced on my friend's birthday tonight. Next week tho! I'm totally open!"
This, right here, is a mirage friend. They make seemingly concrete plans, genuinely act like they're thrilled to see you and then, out of nowhere (and usually with very short notice), tell you whoops, they can't make it. The concept of seeing them IRL is an illusion, and you keep falling for it. So why do you still hold onto them?
They Think Being BFFs Gives Them A Flaky-Free Pass
It's more than just being forgetful — mirage friends can be taking advantage of your relationship, too. Dr. Katherine Hawley, Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, Scotland explains that these types of friends "sometimes feel free to treat close friends and family worse than not-so-close friends — [they] rely on close friends to forgive [them], to understand, to move on without feeling resentful." A best friend who you've known since childhood might feel much more lax about ditching you unexpectedly and that history together can make you feel much more conflicted about dropping them altogether. It especially stings when they don't even bother crafting a semi-believable excuse and just hit you with a "Sorry girl, too tired from work. Rain check!"
It's why lesser mirage friends (AKA, people you're not that close to and rarely see due to mutually rescheduled plans) are so much easier to forgive. "[Everyone knows] people who are totally unreliable, but so much fun that it's worth sticking with them," says Hawley. "That can be healthy, so long as you have other, more reliable friends too, and you're not missing out on too many opportunities to do other fun things when that friend cancels."
You're Not Sure If You Can Trust Them With Anything
If upholding plans they made with you a week ago is an impossible task for them, it can seem unfathomable that they could fulfill the bigger roles of being a friend, like being there when you actually need them. "This kind of flakiness means that either the friend isn't really focusing on your needs, or else that they want to be reliable, but are just incapable of getting themselves together," says Dr. Hawley.
Hawley says there's an exception to be made if the unreliability is more recent or could be indicative of your friend going through their own tough time (in which case, forgiving them and reaching out to better support them is a good call). But if their unreliability has been going on forever and there's no good reason for it, it can make you feel deeply unsupported.
"Constantly being let down makes us feel disrespected, even unloved, and that is tough to experience from a best friend," warns Dr. Hawley. "We need to feel that we are somebody's priority, not their afterthought."
They Make You Feel Like The Lamest Person On Earth
There are a million memes about ditching plans because you just got home and changed into sweatpants — who hasn't been there? But a mirage friend doesn't just cancel for the sake of a Netflix night-in — they cancel to replace your plans with something cooler. Seeing your mirage friend's robust social life on Instagram makes you feel like you just don't make the cut when it comes to plans they commit to.
"If everyone else wants to hang out with her, it's very tempting to think there's something special going on," says Hawley. Figuring out exactly why they keep asking to hang out instead of just fading away is exhausting, but you also want to crack the code: are they always flaking because better plans came along?
The thing is, if that's the truth, they are absolutely not a friend, and having to worry that you're not cool enough to prioritize is the most colossal waste of time imaginable. If this happens enough to consistently make you upset, and you've done nothing about it, you have to ask yourself why.
"Sometimes people put up with being treated badly by flaky friends because their own self-esteem is low, and they don't realize that they deserve better than this," says Dr. Hawley. "You need to think about whether you're putting up with this because you want to, or because you feel you have to."
They Won't Change Their Mirage-y Ways
If you really, really like this friend and know that they're a mirage friend to everyone equally, it's absolutely worth calling them out on it. "If it's just thoughtlessness, it can be more effective to raise this next time you're making plans, rather than getting mad when she lets you down," says Dr. Hawley. It can be anything from asking for advanced notice if they cancel or suggesting weekend lunch plans if their evening plans always seemed derailed by last-minute office work.
Sometimes they'll say sorry after realizing how often they do this and hit you up more often going forward. Other times, they'll apologize, promise to change, and continue flaking anyway, because firing off endless "I'm sorry!" texts is easier for them than actually being your friend. At least then, you'll have your answer as to whether you should keep them in your life. There are plenty of imaginary plans you can spend time coordinating with your mirage friends. Think of all the solid plans you could have with your real ones.
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