Carolyn Hax: A friend with depression keeps no-showing their plans

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If I refuse to make plans with him, he gets depressed and says, “I’m such a failure even my friends won’t get together with me.” But if I make plans with him I’m affecting my busy schedule only to be stood up most of the time.

Can you think of a gentle, healthy way I can decline to make plans with him?

Friend: Wait — do I still have the option of helping you make better plans with him?

It’s possible to build in (and around) the chance of a no-show when you make the plans. For example, you don’t meet at a neutral location. Instead you go pick him up at his place. Maybe even discuss whether your having a key would be appropriate in case of inability to get out of bed.

Or, you can plan something you would do anyway and invite him to join you. Let’s say you already plan to see a movie or take a long walk — now tell him you’re doing it, and he can either join you by X o’clock or not. Or you go out for a drink or coffee and you bring a book with you, so you either spend a blissful hour by yourself reading, or enjoy a successful outing with your friend.

I could go on, but I’ll leave you to figure out how to reconcile his fragility and instability with your busyness and frustration. Short answer, if there’s any way you can stay connected to him, then please do. Allie Brosh’s “Hyperbole and a Half” is a brilliant resource for understanding why.

Re: Friend: If he is too depressed to get out of bed, believe him. He isn’t doing this to screw you over. My friend with depression has canceled more plans than I can count. I learned not to take it personally and assume plans might get canceled. If she canceled and then uncanceled, I stuck with the canceled, not to teach her anything but for my own mental health. I needed not to keep making and remaking plans. She in turn does not take that personally.

The other thing was, as CH suggests, to be okay with canceled plans because I had alternatives. The other other thing was not to drop everything at a moment’s notice. “Yes, let’s go for a walk, but I’m doing X and Y right now, so I’ll be able to walk in an hour.” For your friend, it might be enough to know he will be able to see you/somebody in an hour, so he can hang on that long.

Or not, but the main thing is that you plan for this. This is how he’s going to be for the foreseeable future, so find a way to relax into it as much as you can.

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