You Might Not Have Heard Of A "Mirage Friend," But You Probably Have One In Your Life

by Caroline Burke

Everyone has that one friend who bails on literally everything. From music festivals, to weekend trips, to a coffee date, they're totally unreliable, and yet you keep giving them opportunities in the hope that they'll eventually follow through. You might not know what a "mirage friend" is, but I'm willing to bet you have one in your life, and if you do, you're probably pretty tired of their sh*t.

The notion of a mirage friend is nothing new, even if the term — which appears to have been coined first by Cosmopolitan — is. For as long as humans have been able to make plans, there have been people who constantly break them, with no apparent reason, and usually with super short notice. According to Dr. Katherine Hawley, a professor of philosophy at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, these friends tend to take advantage of people close to them. She told Cosmopolitan,

[Mirage 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.

It seems like social media has only exacerbated the mirage friend epidemic: It's never been easier to make plans and break them at the click of a button, as The New York Times points out. Plus, when you think about it, there have never been more plans for someone to break, with millennials preferring to invest in things like travel and road trips rather than a home, according to CNBC.

Your mirage friend may be flaky and annoying at times, but the truth is they're not all that unusual. In fact, there's even some psychological science behind why people make and break plans. Spoiler: It has nothing to do with how much they like you. (Phew.)

The science of flakiness usually has way more to do with social anxiety and mental health, and way less to do with the overall strength of a friendship.

Oftentimes, the people who make plans and bail on them last-minute are more concerned about the stresses that come with social interaction, even if it's with someone they already know they love to spend time with. This internal conflict is a "classic social anxiety struggle," according to Kira Asatryan, a relationship coach and author of the book Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships. She explained this concept in an article for Psychology Today,

For the socially anxious, introverted, or highly-sensitive person, these two desires [of wanting to be social, and wanting to be comfortable] are rarely fulfilled in the same place at the same time.

And thus, the "mirage friend" is born.

According to Asatryan, this friend likely wants to hang out with you, but as it gets closer to go-time, they start to second-guess whether they really want to put themselves in a potentially stressful social situation.

Of course, not all flaky friends are introverted, or even nervous about social interaction. Some people who bail on plans all the time may simply be a bit aloof. Brent Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, told Psychology Today that your flaky friend may just be lacking in conscientiousness, meaning they're not always aware of how their behavior comes off to others. Plus, he said, they're probably a bit impulsive in their actions.

Roberts explained that it's these traits of "scatterbrains" — which is basically his way of referring to a mirage or flaky friend — that can actually make the person more fun to be around: They're "prone to spontaneity," he said, and doesn't every friend group need at least one spontaneous person in the bunch?

As annoyed as you may be by that one mirage friend in your squad, maybe it's best to see their behavior as spontaneous and fun, instead of flaky and unreliable.

Plus, for what it's worth, Roberts said people usually become a little bit less flaky as they get older:

The way our society is structured is a path toward responsibility. Bad things happen to you if you don't increase your conscientiousness level.

Your mirage friend might bail on you for any number of reasons. If you care about salvaging the friendship, it's worth talking about your feelings to him or her, as they might not even realize they've been upsetting you. Communication is key, guys, especially if you don't want to show up to karaoke night alone (again).