Friendship in San Francisco Can Be Tough, Or Maybe Not

We’ve been talking all week about how rough the dating scene is around here. Yesterday, reader afroblanco explained why it’s not just dating that’s tough, but friendships too:

Yes, without a doubt, this is a city full of flakes. People do NOT follow through on plans. This is most painful when it comes to dating, so I think we notice it more in that situation. But actually, I’ve noticed this exact same tendency for friends and hanging out. You make plans with somebody, and (as somebody upthread said) you have like a 50% chance they’ll follow through. WHERE DO PEOPLE GET THE IDEA THAT THIS IS REMOTELY ACCEPTABLE!?

Later, reader SRK retorted:

And all this shit about San Francisco being full of “flakes” that, as well, is complete shit. We hang out with our friends when WE WANT to hangout, we’re not constantly looking for some new thing or new acquaintances. This is a lifestyle city, enjoy it or leave. It’s not a fucking rat race and we’re okay with that. Hopefully, you’ll get there too someday.

Who’s right? I know I’ve been flaked on, and I know I’ve done some flaking (sorry, you guys!!), but is it really because we’re San Franciscans? Is it an epidemic? Or are we okay?

65 thoughts on “Friendship in San Francisco Can Be Tough, Or Maybe Not”

  1. My friends in SF are some of the most reliable friends I have ever met, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the city. It just depends on you and your friends. I will say that flaky people do tend to attract flaky friends, but that’s not always accurate either.

  2. Usually when I flake, it’s because I’m too stoned. And usually when my friends flake, I don’t take it personally because I just assume they’re too stoned.

  3. I grew up in SF and cannot agree more with this post. Transplants from NY, LA, or just regular ol’ natives… something about SF makes people flake. It’s probably all the street food they see on the way to meet up with you to get coffee.

    It’s a constant problem and I’m totally over it.

  4. Moving here from the midwest, my impression was that the local culture is much flakier. There, if you were going to a movie with pals and somebody didn’t show or call, it was a sign that something bad happened, that it was time to worry. Here, that’s not the case.

    My girlfriend’s take is that here it’s easier to make acquaintances, and that acquaintances are more friendly, more intimate, but harder to become real friends.

    Both ways seem to work fine to me, but the transition sure is jarring.

  5. Did you know that Friendship Street in SF is a one way street. Not kidding. It is between Fillmore and Webster and runs one way from McCallister to Fulton. Keep that in mind.

    My friends are pretty much bad ass. If they say they are going to be somewhere they are. NYC was the same. Pick your friends well and you will be fine. Blase trolls need not apply.

  6. i swear the only people who has a problem with this is midwest transplants. people don’t flake here any more than people flake in other cities. City life just offers a lot of activities, and at the end of a crazy day/week, people get tired. it sucks you’re a victim of prioritization, but suck it up.

    1. No, that isn’t true. People are a lot worse about it here than in NYC. Maybe it’s a language difference. In NYC and the Midwest, “Let’s do X next Thursday” means “Let’s do X next Thursday.” In SF, it merely means “Doing X next Thursday with you sounds like it would be fun, but that doesn’t in any way mean we will be doing X next Thursday.”

      It’s annoying, and it makes me like SF less.

      By the way, “Victim of prioritization?” “Suck it up?” Really? I bet your friends must love you.

      1. you know what? they do. and we flake on each other all the time, with a smile and an apology. Cuz we’re adults and understand people have shit to do.

        If you hate it when friends flake on you, then don’t make friends with those type of people. or suck it up and deal with it. it’s not rocket science.

      2. @liddybird:

        Last night, I had a dream, in which a woman said to me, as I walked past her on Market Street, “Sir, I think you’re bothering me.”

        And I said, as I passed, “I think you’re an idiot.”

        No kidding.

      3. You know, I’m really tired of people trotting out rocket science as this universal comparator for difficulty. There are many facets to the field of rocket science, and while some may be quite difficult, others are quite comprehensible to the layman. Furthermore, rocket scientists often have to deal with a high degree of variability in their work, from minute aerodynamic difficulties to the oxidization rates of many volatile compounds. We’re talking about the primal forces of nature here, liddybird, some of which can be quite flaky indeed. So unless you are prepared to enter a discussion about the finer points of rocket science, I recommend you stick to subjects that you are obviously quite knowledgeable about, such as 90s catch phrases and flaking out on your friends.

  7. I don’t really grasp the supposed contrast between the two viewpoints. More accurately, I don’t really understand what the hell SRK is expressing.

    If I am deciphering his/her rant correctly, it would appear that somehow – magically – keeping obligations with friends (or expecting friends to keep their obligations) is synonomous with being in a rat race. I don’t get it.

    If anything, I would posit that it’s more “rat race” to flake out of social engagements, having prioritized work over play.

    The best I can gather is that he/she is trying to portray that being non-flaky somehow makes one uptight and type-A — that expecting people to honor their plans is only for overly ambitious neurotics. Still doesn’t really make much sense.

    In the end, it seems like a way of making an excuse for laziness and self-absorption by claiming that one would only criticize such behavior if one had a giant stick up one’s ass.

  8. I’m not sure it’s San Francisco specific but yup flakes abound. Here’s my theory, (note: huge generalizations will be made): Our grandparents grew up during the Great Depression thus rearing their children (our parents) to value hard work, decorum, conservatism. As a result we have the buttoned up, squeaky clean 50’s and then the revolt of the free lovin 60’s. Unsure of how to raise us, our parents padded our cribs, fed us on formula of “you can be whatever you want to be” “everyone should go to college” “be an astronaut, honey” “be a ballerina” and it’s left us, as a generation, completely floundering. We can’t make decisions period. About career paths. “Let’s all be designers!” or what the fuck to eat. We’re all looking for the bigger, better, EASIER, next thing. This includes again jobs, lovers, friends, weekend plans. We like to keep all options open, hoping that someday our shot at “space” or “prima ballerina” will fall effortlessly in our lap.

    Interesting article:

    1. “Our grandparents grew up during the Great Depression”?!

      You lose me from the first. My grand-parents did not grow up during the great depression. Who are you talking to? Your tiny little in-group? Try again, and think about a wider circle.

      1. @Brillo:

        Yup. Much smaller than my boomer generation. You think you’re the only group struggling through this world?

        You’re only starting to compete against the boomer widows and widowers… ! Eh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh…

      2. Nobody wins an argument on a blog by proudly proclaiming membership in the boomer generation.

        I mean, nobody wins an argument on a blog, period, but the point is, baby boomers are the worst and everyone knows it.

  9. Ok, I admit that I sometimes don’t go to things I’ve told people I’d go to. I often triple book. Heck, I’ve quintuple booked several times.

    However, when I’m caught in a tight situation, I always favor small get togethers where my absence would have a larger effect.

    Flaking on a date? Only in emergencies, if I’ve had a rotten day at work and I’d be no fun to be around or… if I’ve cooled on the person.

    So maybe that makes me a flake, but in a city of flakes, maybe one should have contingency plans.

    1. yeaaaaah. i often don’t follow through on plans made more than a week in advance – and neither do my friends.
      i don’t get sad about it though, because i’ll just see them later.

      I’ve never flaked on a date or date-like situation.

      but of course you can flake on your friends. that’s why they call them friends.

  10. Bring a flake is not a San Francisco thing; it’s a California thing. By and large, anyway. It’s the way we are, proudly. “Let’s grab drinks” or “Let’s do dinner” can simply mean “It’s nice seeing you. Take care.” One shouldn’t take it personally. To do so would be self-centered and inept.

    You want curt directness? Go to New York. You want creepy passive-aggressive relationships? Head to the Midwest. You want casual fun, accurate generalizations, and a great tan? Stay west of the 5.

    I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

    1. Hmmmm. You may have a point. Maybe I do miss the curt directness of NYC. I haven’t been here a full year yet; still not quite sure if it’s going to stick. The jury’s still out, I’m afraid….

      1. It does, from what I hear, take some getting used to, the lifestyle in CA. And, from what little I’ve observed, transplants tend to stick with like-minded transplants due CA ilk’s gentle breeziness.

        Canceling on plans without notification, however, sucks no matter where one comes from.

    2. “You want creepy passive-aggressive relationships? Head to the Midwest. ”

      As someone who’s lived all over the country, I would posit this as a breezy inaccurate CA generalization.

      I mean, yeah, sure, you can find that stuff there, but it’s certainly not contained to flyover country.

      1. Californians are insecure about their California-ness. That’s why they have to constantly disparage the Midwest.

    3. I’m a Northern California native, descended from Northern California natives and yeah, SF is flaky and transient and I don’t like it. After living here in SF for 13 years, I have to say that long term friends are nearly impossible to keep.

  11. This is not a San Francisco thing. It is a California thing. People are just more relaxed in their relationships that most plans tend to be considered tentative and not set in stone. If something falls through, a California native will just shrug and make other plans. However, people who come to California from other states have different social cultures and feel that this is rude. tough.

  12. I read this blog and I think that the first person makes a valid point, while I think that the second person sounds like a stupid, selfish jerk. San Francisco may be a lifestyle city but that doesn’t excuse rude behavior. In my opinion, being a perpetual flake is annoying and arrogant. Making excuse for your laziness and/or passive aggressiveness makes you an even worse person. True story. If anyone like respondent number two was my friend, he/she would not be for long. If anyone like respondent number two was my employee he/she would be fired. If anyone like respondent number two was my coworker, I would hate working with him/her because he/she would be the person who would never do his/her job – thus making life unbearable for everyone in the work place. The lack of concern or care for someone that you choose to be a part of your life is despicable. I think that someone should tell number two that if he/she is a selfish, lazy, passive aggressive jerk, that thats ok, that he/she should BE a selfish, lazy, passive aggressive jerk. But own it. Don’t attribute it to the city of San Francisco making you this way. San Francisco is the fourth most expensive city in the United states to live in. Lots of people work really hard to make it in the city and to make the city what it is. Don’t blame San Francisco. Blame it on yourself. You suck. And maybe your parents suck or sucked. But ultimately, its you, respondent number two, who sucks! Furthermore the term rat race is used when describing an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit. Is the rat race you speak of making and keeping solid friendships? Because that is how you have used it. Perhaps a better use of the term would be respondent number one describing trying to be friends with people like you. And if you make plans, keep them or cancel them in a timely fashion. Every etiquette book or authority will tell you so – not that you would know that as your response is indication enough that you’ve never picked up an etiquette book. And finally, stop writing in the royal we – another sign of passive aggressiveness – take some ownership in your opinion. It’s not you and all your friends sitting around your computer and talking about a revolution. It’s you and you’re probably alone because you flaked out on one too many friends…

    1. You are a wonderful case in point. Most people here do not take offense to a friend who does not commit to an engagement. Most are more relaxed than this. It is only rude because you consider it to be rude. Yet I would never be offended if a friend “flaked” on me, because I am secure enough in my self and my friendships that I know my friends aren’t being inconsiderate of my feelings. Rather, they, just as I know that there are multiple things a person can do in one night, and it comes down to what you feel like doing. They make multiple plans, and I make multiple plans. Thus, when things don’t come together for one thing, I simply go and do the other. And why would I show up to a friend’s engagement if I didn’t feel like going? Then I am lying to their face by showing up, because I am giving them a false sense of security. So where you think it is selfish and irresponsible not to show up to a friend’s engagement, you forget that it would be more insincere to show up when your heart is in a different place.

      Also you seem to conflate our relaxed culture with an anti-work ethos. That is not the case. Just because we don’t commit in our social engagements and don’t take offense to friends who don’t commit, that does not mean we don’t work hard. We may not show up to work on time and in a suit and tie, but our work product is better for it, because we feel more comfortable in our work environment to get done the work we need to do.

      Relax dude.

  13. my most reliable friends are the ones I’ve grown up with here in the Bay Area, why, because they are my long-time friends. That cute hipster girl you met at Ritual and have seen at the last three Debasers, she’s not that into you, and no, she’s not your friend.

  14. The fact the that word “flake” is regularly in the lexicon out here proves the point. I hear it all the time. It certainly is not a conversation topic back home in Boston. Call it a “lifestyle”. Spout your smug patronizing “You’ll get it one day” advice, but it is what it is. Inconsiderate and self absorbed behavior. I just don’t waste my time with people like that anymore. There are indeed lots of folks out here who don’t do it! :)

  15. Usually when I flake it’s because it’s too cold or windy and I don’t want to freeze while I wait an hour for Muni.

  16. After talking with others who are from various parts of the country (and world, for that matter), I often hear them say that it seems customary for people to not follow through on plans (i.e. flakiness). I often hear that the culture on the East Coast isn’t like this. People make plans, commit, and follow through. If they don’t want to hang out, they say so from the beginning. I think the culture here is more passive and people are more timid to say what they feel as opposed to other parts of the country. People will reluctantly say, “Yeah, let’s hang out tomorrow night” even though deep down they don’t want to. I think we can just be more up front and not mislead or manipulate situations by not saying how we really feel. That’s my piece. :-)

  17. Very few of the people I know in SF actually grew up in SF. Seems to be a city of transplants, which would suggest that everyone’s expectations might be a bit different.

  18. I have harbored this sentiment myself and heard others complain about it. I wonder if it has less to do with geography so much as with technology. I remember when no one (or not everyone) had cell phones and such quick and easy access to restaurant reviews/reservations and things to do and see. In those days, you had to make plans well in advance and you HAD to show up. You couldn’t call 15 minutes before you were supposed to meet up and cancel, or only decide on where you wanted to go an hour before. As this “just in time” info access has become more ubiquitous, I think our behavior has changed accordingly. We now know that we can cancel at the last minute, or decide to not attend something once someone has picked out a place to meet up and it’s too far away or we don’t like the choice. Now that more, if not all, of us have been involved in this behavior to some extent, it’s become tacitly tolerated if not totally accepted.

    The perception that SF suffers from this more than most might just be because this city has absorbed technology at a faster and greater rate.

    Just a thought.

    1. totally agree on the technology point. in my experience, people in SF put technology first, friends second. what’s happening on their phone is more important than the plans they made… if something new comes up on the phone it can change the direction of the night completely. having plans is more important than showing up. multiply that by everyone and you’ve got a completely unreliable state of affairs.

      dates are exceptions to this rule because dates are the shortest route to sex for most people, so they’ll put the energy in to keep the date if they want sex with the person.

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