I recently made plans to meet a good friend for dinner. We picked our favorite Italian place in Brooklyn and both swore we’d be there at 8.
At 8:05, as I arrived at the restaurant, my pal sent a text saying she was running late and was just leaving her office—half an hour away. She wrote again at 8:30, explaining that she had been delayed by her boss and was walking out the door “for real this time.”
Over the next hour, I received more texts: She was having trouble hailing a cab; she found a cab; the cab was stuck in traffic. She then stopped at a hardware store to buy bungee cords for her new bike rack.
At 9:47, my friend entered the restaurant, apologizing profusely but looking strikingly unstressed. Good thing I adore her.
Remember when we would make plans to meet someone and then actually show up on time? If you were more than a few minutes late, the other person would have visions of you lying on a gurney with a toe tag.
How do you cope with someone who makes you crazy by always being late? Share your feelings: Tell your friend how much their behavior hurts. And if that doesn’t work, here are some tips:
- Explain what you mean by ‘on time.’ It means ‘when the event starts,’ not ‘while it is still going on.’
- Lie about the time. Gene Barnes, 61, a retired government budget analyst from Dunn Loring, Va., hides the correct times of concerts and dinner reservations from his wife, subtracting 40 minutes.
- Change the clocks. Lisa McNary, 50, a business professor from Raleigh, N.C., set the clocks in her home ahead by 12 minutes when one particularly tardy relative visited. ‘The technique worked like a charm,’ she says.
- Pick up your chronically late pal at his or her house.
- Show your displeasure. Penelope Malone, 56 , a retired legal-department manager from Atlanta, starts her dinner parties on time—and serves stragglers cold food.
- Make a deal. If your companion is late, he’s buying.
- Bring something to read. Or an iPod.
- Cut the person some slack. You’re supposed to love them, flaws and all.
Now, thanks to cellphones, BlackBerrys and other gadgets, too many of us have become blasé about being late. We have so many ways to relay a message that we’re going to be tardy that we no longer feel guilty about it.
And lateness is contagious. Once one person is tardy, others feel they can be late as well. It becomes beneficial to be the last one in a group to show up, because your wait will be the shortest.
“Cellphones let you off the hook,” says Kelly Casciotta, a 34-year-old pastoral counselor from Orange, Calif. She says she has been habitually tardy for years—late to everything from concerts to friends’ weddings—and once showed up an hour and a half late for a date. Her husband says she has “T.E.D.”—Time Estimation Disorder.
She says she feels little remorse. “If I am heading to a meeting and am running behind, I feel I am being responsible if I text five minutes before the meeting is supposed to start to say I am going to be 10 minutes late,” she says.
Don’t believe that tardiness is out of control? Ask around. Diana Miller, 65, a financial adviser from San Diego, says she broke up with a good friend who was habitually late. Melissa Gottlieb, 24, a Manhattan publicist, once asked a policeman to drive her to class in college because she was running behind. (He did it.)
Full disclosure: Last week I showed up 20 minutes late to pick up a friend for dinner. (He took it well, even though he was waiting outside in a tropical storm.) I’ve missed a flight because I arrived at the airport after the deadline to check baggage. And I was once more than an hour late to meet my bungee-cord buying friend.
It’s hard to believe I grew up with a father who is a Navy veteran fond of quoting a Marine friend of his: “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”
Of course, people were tardy—even chronically so—long before smartphones. How else would Lewis Carroll have come up with the White Rabbit?
Some people were raised in cultures where tardiness is tolerated. Others learned poor time-management skills from their parents.
Far too many of us, though, try to cram too much into the day, leaving no time to get from place to place. And a few people use their tardiness to display power or control. (Think about the people who routinely show up late to meetings at your office. I bet they’re not the peons, right?)
Here’s the problem: Being late—especially over and over—can leave the other person feeling disrespected.
And yet, delays happen. The car refuses to start, the baby throws up on your tie, a co-worker stops by your desk to chat just as you’re packing it in for the day.
It’s the varying nature of these unexpected delays that actually makes it so hard for people to be on time, says Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and author of “The Upside of Irrationality.” Because what goes wrong is different each time, people fail to plan for the delays. “They never take the average into account,” he says.
It works like this: If every day as you left work to go pick up your kids, your printer broke and took half an hour to fix, you’d soon start planning that time into your commute. But it isn’t always the printer that goes wrong. Sometimes it’s an unexpected email; other times it’s your boss. And because the cause of the delay is different each time, it feels unexpected.
Dr. Ariely has found that people are more likely to show up on time if they have made a deal with themselves to do so. In an experiment conducted last year, he asked 2,500 Americans this question: If you knew you had a colonoscopy scheduled for a particular day, would you be willing to put aside $500 that you would forfeit if you didn’t show up for the procedure on time? Sixty percent of the participants said they were willing to risk money. “They make this pre-commitment to ensure their own behavior,” Dr. Ariely says.
Dannie Raines, 52, a property manager in Pasadena, Calif., knows all too well how chronic lateness can harm relationships. Allowed to walk to school alone when she was in kindergarten, she was suspended on the first day of school for being half a day late; she spent the morning picking flowers and kicking the heads off mushrooms. (That didn’t go over well with her folks.) She was stripped of her student-council president title in junior high because of too many tardiness violations. (Ditto.) And she was an hour late for her own wedding. “My husband came very close to saying, ‘I don’t,’ ” she says.
Over the years, Ms. Raines has tried to overcome her tardiness habit through therapy, self-hypnosis and by setting the clocks in her house ahead. But recently she had a bigger wake-up call.
When she arrived 30 minutes late to meet one of her best friends to play racquetball, her friend started crying and told her: “Your constant lateness makes me feel that you disrespect me.”
Ms. Raines says she tried to explain to her friend that she shouldn’t take her behavior personally. And she admitted she was the one with the problem. “But it damaged our friendship,” Ms. Raines says.
“There were many conversations with remorse and promises,” recalls the friend, Alison Lewis, 52, a licensed social worker from La Canada, Calif. In the end, though, she says, “I didn’t feel cared for.”
Elizabeth Bernstein, Wall Street Journal
Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703859204575526471179963214.html