This article was originally published on Better After 50.
My Dear Chronically (not Occasionally) Late Friends,
I know this piece may make me sound bitter and angry, but I'm compelled to write it. I need to tell you that I love you a lot, but when you are habitually late to meet me, well... I want to smack you one.
I know that in other cultures, it is OK to be late -- it's accepted. But we are not having lunch in Morocco, and you were born and raised right here in the U.S. And yes, I live in reality; I know that it's perfectly OK to arrive 20 minutes late to a party, and that 5 to 10 minutes just about any time is acceptable. I'm not talking about that kind of acceptable lateness. I'm talking about the kind of lateness where you show up at 12:25 p.m. when we were supposed to meet at noon, where you leave me sitting in the restaurant by myself, reading the text you sent at 12:05 that you are "running a little late." Do you honestly think the text makes it OK?
I know, in theory, that when you are late for me, you are not trying to be selfish, but that's how it comes off. I know, in theory, that you are probably not on a power trip, but that's how it seems. I know, in theory, that you are not good at figuring out how long things will take, that you live on the edge, that your life is a bit chaotic. I don't care.
I know you feel badly. I understand that you apologized. But "sorry, I'm late" whether in person, by text, or by carrier pigeon, just doesn't do much for me, because you can't give me back the time I have wasted waiting for you.
I don't care about the traffic, I don't care that you forgot your watch, I don't care that your mother called, I don't care that you had an errand to run, I don't care that a meeting ran late. And when you show up 25 minutes late to our meeting with an extra hot grande soy latte just for me (btw, thanks for remembering what I like) to atone for your lateness, I know that it wasn't actually for me that you stopped at Starbucks, and it doesn't make it all better. It makes it worse.
I hate when you are late. Here's why:
- I have a life too. When you are habitually late, whether you mean to or not, you're telling me that your time is more valuable than my time. You are telling me you don't respect me. I could have stopped at the CVS to pick up bottle of Excedrin for the headache you caused. I could have gone to the bank so I had some money for lunch. I could have folded the clothes in the dryer, exercised, put on makeup, or stopped at Starbucks myself if I really wanted a soy latte... but I didn't do any of these things, because I cared about being on time for you.
- Your habitual lateness degrades your reputation... and because you are my friend, I care about what people think about you. Your lateness makes you look thoughtless, arrogant, unreliable and impolite (justifiably). I like you enough that I don't want others to judge you harshly, because you are otherwise quite brilliant, creative and awesome. And did I say I love you?
- Your lateness makes me feel like I don't rate. Because I know if you were meeting with someone really important... say, Hillary Clinton or Madonna, you would plan appropriately and be there on time. I know that you rarely miss your train or your plane, so I know you can do it if you want to.
- Your lateness is bad for my health. When you are late, I get tense. My blood pressure rises. I get hot flashes. Sometimes, I worry that you have been in a terrible accident and are in the hospital having lost a limb (now, that would be a valid excuse.) While I am sitting at the table all by myself waiting for you, sweating my brains out, I drink so much iced tea I have to go to the bathroom three times during lunch. I eat all the bread the waitress has placed on the table, and god knows I don't need those extra carbs.
- I know that with a little effort, if you started to really care, you could improve. I don't think lateness is a matter of genetics. I don't think it's a disability that you cannot overcome. Can't you just quit calculating how long it will take to get there based on the one time there was no traffic and you made all the lights? Can't you get over your fear of being the first one there? Can't you get over the dread of having to wait for someone else? Yes, I believe that you can.
Do you have a habitually late friend you'd like to forward this post to? Do you dare? Or... are you a habitually late person who has a rebuttal? I would love to hear from you.