The other day, I was meant to meet a friend for lunch. She cancelled on the morning of. I had plans to meet another friend for dinner and drinks after my belly-dancing class. He also cancelled. In despair, I invited someone from class for tea. They agreed, and then changed their mind, after I had waited an extra forty-five minutes after class watching them practice their moves in the studio.
I returned home, hungry and angry. Why bother, really? Each of these friends had already cancelled on me two or three times in recent weeks. What was wrong with them? Did they just not want to see me? I wracked my brains for previous interactions, trying to remember if I had offended anybody.
Once I had devoured a sandwich, I could think more clearly (I sincerely believe that you should have a full belly before you make any harsh judgements about yourself or others). It occurred to me that most of these people who had cancelled on me had initiated our plans in the first place, before begging to reschedule. They clearly intended to meet me, but there was a barrier there.
Now, I get that life is busy. I get that people in their twenties and thirties are fighting their way onto an unsteady career ladder, whilst trying to make ends meet with second and third jobs, fulfil family commitments, get enough exercise, eat properly, plan weddings, buy houses (if they can) and maybe even start having kids. It’s a lot, and there is only finite energy to go around.
However, I am also somebody in their twenties. I am also busy. When I hold space for someone in my life, and they walk all over that space, I can’t help but feel upset (even if I tell them it’s no problem). I have a lot going on at home at the moment, and if I have managed to plan something sociable, it’s actually quite a big deal for me. I’m probably really looking forward to seeing and speaking to my friends and having some much needed chill-time. I’m an extravert and people give me energy. When plans get cancelled, I am left deflated and not inspired to do much at all. And it’s really hard to fill space at the last minute, because everyone else’s space is filled up with their own long-term plans that they will eventually cancel.
This does not feel like a sustainable model for friendship. Constantly letting each other down does not build trust. I am no longer motivated to ask to meet up with people, because I have so little faith that it will happen. My circle grows smaller, to my partner, housemates and family. And that’s a whole different dynamic. You don’t make an effort. You sit in your pyjamas and don’t even have to talk. I love that, at home, but I believe that we all sometimes need the buzz of going out, of dressing up, of spending quality time with the old friends we haven’t seen for a while.
So, what’s stopping us having thriving social diaries? Are we lazy? Complacent? Some people certainly say such things of our generation…And I am about to vehemently challenge that by laying out some of the legitimate reasons why millennials are becoming generation flake.
Has anybody else noticed that we’ve stopped talking about workaholism? I remember hearing our parents, the baby boomers, flippantly refer to people who worked long hours or fast-paced jobs as ‘workaholics’. But you don’t hear the term thrown about so much anymore. And it’s not because there are no more workaholics, it’s because everyone is a workaholic.
The competitive job market has made it very hard for young people to stand out at work. Sure, for some jobs you have every right to arrive at nine and leave at five, but this is actually a tricky discipline when you’re watching your colleagues coming in at seven and leaving at nine. You may complete just as much work as they do in eight hours, but that’s not the point. The point is that your boss (or whoever is in charge of your promotion) is seeing your colleagues’ overworked forms slumped at their desks for more hours than yours. I have many friends whose managers put pressure on them to stay late, even if there is no such requirement in their contract. I don’t know any employed person who gets paid overtime, but the majority of my fellow graduates are working more hours than they should.
Even if you are not officially required to work late, there’s a very intense Silicon Valley culture of it in western workplaces, especially in big cities like London. There are endless ‘motivational’ videos and podcasts, targeted towards young, driven people. They scream that if you work hard and long enough, you will make it to the top.
Millennials eat up these messages, and understandably so. There is such a lack of financial hope for us in comparison to the previous generation, and we crave the reassurance that there’s something we can do about it. We are also essentially too poor to turn down work, or risk displeasing our employers. If we need to finish up a project by working overtime, we will. And the lines are very blurred between whether this is driven by our own honest ambition, the pressures of our specific work environment or the crushing realities of widespread capitalism.
So, work takes most of our time, and when it’s not taking up our time, it’s eating up our energy. No wonder we cancel midweek drinks and don’t go anywhere on the weekends. We are saving ourselves for the rat-race. We’ve forgotten that a job is not the same as a career, and a career is not the same as a life. ‘Workism’ is rife, and we are taught to live to work, not work to live.
Millennials are tired (see work). A trip to the pub sounds ideal, but it’s seven o clock and we’ve left the office and we need to be in early tomorrow to finish something up and we’re really too drained to go out and pretend to have fun when our eyelids are already drooping…an evening with Netflix sounds safe and comfortable, so we text our friends and say ‘sorry, but work…’.
Self-care is important, so cancelling an exhausting night out is often a smart decision. We know that we’re not going to get anything remotely healthy for dinner in a pub, alcohol will make us feel lousy and we may need to stretch our aching backs after being at a desk all day. We should probably go to the gym and cook a proper dinner with vegetables. We also need to tidy our flats, call our families, pay some bills, apply for less soul-destroying jobs and get eight hours sleep.
I am lucky if I manage any one of the above in an evening.
My life is so unpredictable at the moment and by the time it gets to a long-awaited social event, I am often no longer able to make it. Last weekend I had booked to meet my friend for a coffee (3pm, Costa, Rugby). But over the course of that Saturday I had to cross London on a bus (the DLR was not going), catch a train from Euston, flog a taxi from Rugby to my house, let the dog out, call my flatmates about a viewing (we’re trying to move), jump in my car and speed off to Coventry to visit my mum in a hospice. Did I check my diary in the midst of all of this? Of course not. I never showed up and was in Coventry till 6pm. And now all I have is guilt for letting my friend down, as well as the painful obligation of rescheduling another catch-up which I won’t be able to make. It’s just senseless. Rather than booking them in two weeks in advance, I would have been much better off just getting through my busy day and then calling them up to see if they wanted to meet. But it’s really hard to do that nowadays. People are always, always busy, and you have to ‘book’ them. You can’t need people, because they can only be there for you with 2-3 weeks’ notice.
We have got to a point where our time is so pressurised that we have begun to sanctify it. Everything is pre-planned and scheduled. We leave no room for spontaneous coffees or impromptu trips. Part of this is the fault of social media, which has re-written the dynamic of how we communicate and catch-up with our friends and loved ones (you can see my recent post for an examination of this). And it’s not all bad – I’m all for making fun plans to look forward to. However, this becomes redundant if we have to cancel them because we’ve overwhelmed ourselves with jam-packed diaries. We need to save some space for each other.
So, are millennials flaky?
I would say we are, extremely flaky. We cram our diaries, we make it to less than half of the things we plan, we’re always late, we forget to turn up and we leave most of our messages on read.
I would also say that it makes complete sense why millennials can’t hold on to social engagements. We are trapped within an over-worked, over-scheduled, over-stimulated culture, and are either manic or exhausted most of the time. I’ve spoken about this before in my post about London life, but I’ll say it again: We don’t know how to slow down, to be bored, or not have plans for the evening.
It makes sense, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. We can clear our diaries and start from the bottom up. We can stop going with the flow and really ask ourselves key questions: What and who matters most to me? Do I need to leave space in my week for more alone time? Am I sacrificing myself for work at the expense of socialising and fun? How can I help others break out of a rut? Can I be more assertive with my loved ones about sticking to prior arrangements? Should I be stricter with myself on timekeeping? Who needs me right now that I might want to leave an evening free for?
It is also worth considering that in-the-moment emotions are not always helpful for dictating how we manage our time. I think most of us are aware of this in a work-context; we sometimes don’t feel very motivated to get work done, but we do it anyway because we know it’s important. And it works the same way for relationships. You may desperately not feel like trekking to the other side of town to show your face at a good friend’s house and make an effort to be charming and diligent and kind. But, chances are, you will feel relaxed and inspired once you have spent the evening with someone you care about, and even if you don’t, you have put a big deposit in your relationship bank account with that person by honouring your commitment to them.
We are all guilty of flakiness, and it is costly for both our personal well-being and our relationships. It is only by building some self-awareness and a little discipline that we can finally start to make time move our way.