How to tell if someone is a ‘mirage friend’ — and what to do if you have one

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  • Life gets busy, and we all have to cancel plans sometimes.
  • But it seems some people flake on you more than they should.
  • If it’s out of the blue, it could be an indication that they’re going through a tough time.
  • If it’s a regular habit, they could be a “mirage friend.”

Chances are you have that one friend who is always cancelling on you. It doesn’t matter how far in advance you make plans with them, something will always come up.

They’ll always be incredibly apologetic – but not necessarily sorry enough to give you more than a few hours notice.

Katherine Hawley, a professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews told Cosmopolitan these people are called “mirage friends,” and it’s not a healthy type of relationship to hang on to.

Hawley said mirage friends tend to treat their old friends worse than those they aren’t so close to. This is because they believe they can depend on you not to give up on them.

For example, if you’ve known somebody since you were toddlers, you’ll be less likely to cut them out of your life just because they flaked on your plans a few times. It’s this foundation of friendship that mirage friends depend on, while they go out and socially climb their way up other ladders instead of spending time with you.

“[Everyone knows] people who are totally unreliable, but so much fun that it’s worth sticking with them,” Hawley told Cosmopolitan. “That can be healthy, so long as you have other, more reliable friends too, and you’re not missing out on too many opportunities to do other fun things when that friend cancels.”

In life, it is guaranteed that you won’t be able to make every plan you set. In friendships, we listen and understand when someone just can’t make it to something. But there’s a difference between cancellations being an occasional annoyance, and someone who constantly comes up with excuses and makes you feel like they’d rather be doing something else.

“Constantly being let down makes us feel disrespected, even unloved, and that is tough to experience from a best friend,” Hawley said. “We need to feel that we are somebody’s priority, not their afterthought.”

Having a mirage friend doesn’t necessarily mean you should cut them out. Hawley recommends you try talking to them first. Rather than get angry, she says you should communicate your disappointment over always being a back-up option. If this person is really your friend, they’ll be happy to work around their busy schedule to make time for you.

If nothing changes and they fall straight back into their old ways, it might be worth spending your energy on people who actually want your company. At least you know you tried.