I remember exactly where I was when I got my most recent voicemail: in my room, completely unbusied. I glanced down at the name that appeared on my vibrating phone and very deliberately brought my finger to that button which only a completely calloused heart can allow you to press: ignore call.

The voice message was only two sentences. “Your phone only rang like twice,” it said, “Why are you avoiding me, Adam?”

The question surprised me, not because it was accusatory, but because it seemed to me that the answer was obvious given the world that we inhabit. Yes, I had been rude in blowing someone off, but the confrontation somehow seemed like the true breach of decorum.

My initial response was to adopt the heavy accent of a Southern woman chastising a visitor who didn’t say grace at the dinner table and think to myself, That’s not the way we do things around here. Because surely this person already knew the answer to the question. Surely they were already aware of the code. They must know that outside of lecture halls and seminar rooms, Yale teaches us all one core tenet of social wisdom: if you ignore your problem, it will go away.  

Like the unique squat every hitter takes when he enters the batter’s box and readies himself for a pitch, every college student has their own signature way of blowing off their friends. While some master a single tactic, others are Renaissance men, dabbling in and perhaps excelling at a variety of methods. In general, though, your typical flake falls into one of three categories.

Straight Up Ignorers

Your garden variety college flake is likely to fall into this first category because it requires very little acumen but is generally effective. All that is required to employ this method is to play dead–meet any texts or calls with radio silence.  The inherent risk, of course, is that an in-person confrontation will definitely be awkward. In my opinion, the FOF (Friend of Flake) should leverage such a gift of fate and intensify the standoff as much as possible by shouting something about how excited they are to see that their friend has risen from the grave like a modern Lazarus.

With the advent of iMessage and Facebook message, there exists a subcategory of the straight up ignorer: people that turn their “read receipt” functionality on. They don’t answer your message but have their settings such that you can see they read it, putting a nice wrinkle into the old-school method. You’ve got to hand it to these people because they are just power tripping. They know that no words they could author would have the same impact as you seeing the tiny “Read 4:07 pm” beneath your message through your tear-soaked eyes for the twentieth time in the middle of the night.

On the other end of the spectrum from the brass-balled read-receipt people are those who are too noncommittal to even properly execute the ignoring method. They ignore your message but then offer you a conciliatory “sorry didn’t see this!” after some time. Is there a more transparent lie than claiming to have not reacted to the stimulus of a digital square that lights up in the palm of your hand?  “But the message was delayed!” they’ll cry, or “I didn’t get it at all actually!”  No, it wasn’t. Yes, you did. I sent a text message, not my family’s generations-old carrier pigeon with a handwritten note tied to its gimpy leg.

Interference Runners

If the ignorers are simple protozoa of the college flakes, then this second category constitutes a more complex, multicellular organism, a bit further down the evolutionary tree. This is where the artistry begins. Unlike those in the first category, these people play the game.

The most conventional members of this group will exhibit a generally prompt response to inform you that they are, in fact, busy–sorry! Their explanation may be in the form of a single conflict or a laundry list of other priorities. Did you know that your friend goes to Yale College? Not only are they taking the maximum number of allowable credits at this prestigious university, but they are also a member of several of its clubs and co-curricular activities. They are captain of its football team. They are its president. And you could not even begin to fathom what they have done, what they have sacrificed, for their community. And yes, they do a capella.

A variation upon this tactic is what I like to call the “turnaround jumper.” This constitutes a hard no to your request followed by an unappealing or plainly unrealistic counteroffer. This person cannot have lunch with you but maybe you’d like to watch them put their clothes in the dryer later? They can’t go out tonight but would you want to come see them IN FIVE MINUTES FOR FIVE MINUTES before they head to class? In just a few weeks, their father will be in town, and what do you say you go get precautionary colonoscopies done, just the three of you?


“I’d love to come to brunch but my grandfather actually just passed away. Not sure if I’ve told you, but I was orphaned at a young age and so he took me in before my third birthday. And so all of my memories from when I was a boy center around this man, my Pop-Pop, who basically raised me. I’m Mexican on my mother’s side and his dying wish was that his ashes be mixed into the soil of the village where he grew up, so I am driving down to Tijuana now with his urn in the passenger seat. Let’s hang out soon though!”

Surely these people are going straight to hell. Not only is a lie of this magnitude wholly excessive given that the task at hand is saying no to a brunch invite, it is also such an extraordinary risk. As awkward as it may be to see someone who is playing dead in person, imagine seeing your friend walking on Chapel Street when they are supposed to be burying their close relative across the border.

Let’s get one thing straight: the monsters are not monsters because they lie. All of the above tactics involve dishonesty. And it’s not just the flakes. The pattern is predictable and comforting: flake offers lame excuse, FOF feigns acceptance of that excuse, and the world keeps on spinning. It’s okay that you don’t want to hang out with your friend, and it’s okay that they don’t believe that your phone died or that you’re busy. It is monstrous to interrupt the mutual goodwill of this exchange, but there is something that would be worse than even this final category: honesty.

In lieu of the aforementioned tactics, any one of us could opt for a simple, “no,” along with the truth that we don’t want to spend time with someone. But I, for one, cannot imagine anything more devastating than having someone say no to my well-intentioned invitation simply because they don’t enjoy my presence. Please have the decency to at least pretend I don’t exist or concoct a recently deceased Pop-Pop whose grave needs digging.

Considering the alternative helps us realize that the blowoff is not an exercise in heartlessness but in compassion. We jump through hoops to flake on our friends in artful, novel ways in order to spare their feelings. Next time your friend’s phone goes to voicemail after one ring and you channel lawyer-Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men readying yourself to scream, “I want the truth!” think about whether that truth really is something we can handle. At the tone, hang up.

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