I’ve seen a few articles floating around about how Snake People are bad friends/people/relationship havers because they RSVP ‘maybe’ too much and they blow off plans by saying they’re too busy. Essentially, many of the posts about new social norms suggest that Snake People don’t prioritize their relationships and often telegraph that they don’t care about friends and family by saying they’re busy, by saying ‘maybe’ (and waiting to see if other plans come up), or by forgetting about plans.
I understand this frustration. I’m often the one in my group of friends that’s wrangling everyone together and it’s no fun at all. But I also understand that I am not the #1 priority of everyone that I know and care about. It’s incredibly self absorbed to assume that other people should always make time for you or that they will always know ahead of time whether they’ll be healthy, have energy, or not be dealing with a crisis.
No one likes flaking on another person. I am guilty of often flaking, and I feel awful every time I do it. So why do I continue to do it? Because I know that I am in full control of how I spend my time, and that I get to balance my needs and priorities against the needs and priorities of the people around me.
No matter how close we are, there is no point at which you have a right to my time and energy. That may sound harsh, and in practice there are repercussions to cutting someone off in that way, but every time another person chooses to spend their time with you, they are giving you something because they want to, not because they have to. There is no “you didn’t spend time with me” police that will come and discipline them or drag them to your side when they haven’t spent enough time with you. Everyone’s time is their own to use as they decide.
When someone else tells you that they’re busy it does in fact mean that they have prioritized something else over you. And that’s ok. We’re fine with this if it’s work or some kind of other Serious Obligation, but for some reason self care never rates high enough to be considered a priority. There are things in people’s lives that need to happen, like sleeping and eating and earning a paycheck and fulfilling the art/exercise/hobby needs and sometimes just being alone. Of course friends are in the mix, but simply because hanging out involves another person does not give it Ultimate Power over scheduling. Making plans with another person adds a fair amount of weight to following through on those plans, and the gift that your friends gives you when they ask to see you adds weigh to their request. But it’s never a guarantee.
I understand how frustrating it is to get a clear blow off when someone says maybe or changes plans at the last minute. But instead of blaming awful, selfish Snake People, I’m far more inclined to blame a culture that makes open conversation about mental health and well-being taboo.
Imagine this: you make plans to go see a movie with your friend and they text you day of and say they’re sick and can’t make it. Is your first instinct that they’re a flakey awful person, or that they’re sick and should take care of themselves? Most likely the second, although there are well documented instances of people being shit to individuals with chronic physical illnesses as well as mental ones.
But if you change that scenario to texting the day of to tell your friend that you’re having a small attack of the jerkbrains, or you just don’t feel up to leaving the house, you’ll get thinkpieces about the selfishness of Snake People. Even worse if you say that you’re not feeling up to it and then go do something that you are feeling up to, like being with a close family member, or spending a low key hour or two with a partner. Or if you aren’t sure whether you’ll have the energy and answer with a “maybe,” only to later decide you can’t quite make it happen.
Today I responded to an offer to hang out with “I’m kinda sick today but I’d like to make it. I’ll do my best, but I might be asleep.” Most people understand that this is me openly letting someone else know that I have a higher priority in my life, but that if possible I’ll put them up there. Most people aren’t offended, because we know that health and safety should be people’s top priorities (and for the people who don’t get that, fie on thee I say!).
I do have some friends who understand openness around mental health well enough that I can let them know I’m having a rough day and I might try to make it to see them, but I might need to stay home. And that is my right. My friends also have the right to get annoyed or stop trusting my plans if I do this repeatedly and flippantly. What’s important is that we can talk openly about what we want out of our relationship and our lives. What’s important is that each of us has the right to set their own set of priorities.
I think that most non snake people would be surprised to find how highly many people my age prioritize relationships and friends, and how often we do make time or drop everything to see our people. But our friends also show respect and care for us by understanding that they are not the only things in our lives. And the more open we can be about why we need to prioritize something else (such as because of mental health or chronic illness), and the more people are willing to negotiate, the better relationships will be.
*My Google Chrome extension that changes the word m illenials to Snake People apparently works in post, which is why this post refers repeatedly to Snake People. I see it as an improvement.