How to fix a chronically late spouse?
January 17, 2009 9:38 AM   Subscribe

My loved one is always late. How can I make an intervention that is not *too* threatening/insulting/maddening to fix this?

My wife never gets anywhere on time. It's never her fault either. "I lost track of the time." is the usual explanation. Friends have humorously hinted to me about her tardiness..."I always tell her 30 minutes ahead of time, cuz you know how she is..." Even her mother has had a fight with her about it, to which she responded, "You have no ideas how busy I am." Years ago we had a talk about this and she was very defensive. This was when we lived in a big city with public transportation and you never knew when the next bus or subway would arrive. I asked her how she got places on time. She responded by saying she was not going to leave *early* because she didn't want to be the one waiting there for everyone else to show up. I told her I thought that was wrong and she said that I was too *anal* about things.

So I've established she sensitive about it.

Now that she's going back into the workforce after more than a decade, I think this might work against her. There are other AskMeFi threads about *why* people are late..I don't care about that even though it is interesting to read about. I just want to know how I should approach a chronically late individual without hurting her feelings [too much].
posted by teg4rvn to Human Relations (50 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Let her suffer the consequences for her lateness. If she's late meeting you, then you're entitled to express disappointment or upset. If she's late to other appointments, it's really none of your concern. Let the offended party handle it.
posted by desjardins at 9:46 AM on January 17, 2009 [6 favorites]


My gf has this problem as well. (I am chronically punctual, so it causes some problems.) We've found that if we say we're going to leave in 15 minutes, it absolutely DOES NOT work. However, saying that we're going to leave at 6:45 is much more effective. The concept of time is not there for her when it involves math. But when it involves numbers on the clock, it goes a bit better.

Still working on getting her to figure out how long things will take her, so I can't help with that.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:48 AM on January 17, 2009


Can't be done. My wife just doesn't seem to have much of a sense of time. She can't really estimate in her head how long a given task will take, and as a result she is always late. Also what desjardins said.
posted by fixedgear at 9:52 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've had this issue in the distant past, and here's how I dealt with it. I made a deal with my girlfriend. We agreed that if she was late, I'd wait up to 15 minutes. If she was later than that, whatever we had planned was canceled, and I left. Of course, there were exceptions for unforeseeable lateness, where she could call ahead, but if it was just her tardiness, that was the rule.

It's a bit cut and dry, but the 15 minute window takes the difficulty she has in arriving on time into consideration. It worked quite well, and I only had to cancel a couple times.

Also, it's worth mentioning that being constantly tardy is disrespectful to people who arrive on time.
posted by dbarefoot at 9:57 AM on January 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, you can't fix this. And believe me, neither of you will enjoy it if you try.

If she's late meeting you somewhere, you're entitled to complain (not that it will do much good.) If she's late for work, that's a problem for her boss, not yours.
posted by ook at 9:58 AM on January 17, 2009


Can't be done, I agree.
posted by matteo at 10:05 AM on January 17, 2009


Is this really a concern for her at work or is this just something you've gotten tired of? Because if it's work it's really up to her to figure out. Her boss will either get tired of her lateness and she'll learn how to get there on time or lose her job. Or her boss will just accept the situation like everyone else in her life has.

If you've just gotten tired of it I think you've already got good advice. Give specific times (leaving 6:45) or wait a specific amount of time before you leave, start dinner on your own, whatever.
posted by 6550 at 10:18 AM on January 17, 2009


I used to be this person (and still am, to a lesser degree). My girlfriend is chronically punctual, so hilarity (and rage) would ensue. Generally, when it finally got through to me that she was genuinely upset by having to wait for me, I made changes to try and be more punctual. Nowadays I'm usually on time, give or take a little bit of leeway, and I try to be more communicative with my timeline by calling or texting as I'm about to leave the house, that sort of thing.

I think if you frame the situation as to how it makes *you* feel to wait for her, then she might be able to make changes. And then when she sees that being on time isn't much more taxing, it can spread to the rest of her life. I'm not sure that you can really speak to her about the effect her lateness will have on her professionally, as I think she'd get defensive since it's you horning in on her work life.

I'm happy to say that I've mainly kicked my lateness habit, and it's been replaced with a tendency towards punctuality, and I feel guilty if I'm a few minutes late, especially for things at work.

Also, I tend to agree with desjardins a bit too, after a month or two of walking into meetings after things have started, having people turn to look at her when she arrives in the office last, and occasionally having people make snide comments, she should probably figure out the rules of her particular workplace. Who knows, she might be heading to a super-casual atmosphere where her punctuality may not always be an issue and she only has to make it in on time once in a while.
posted by dnesan at 10:18 AM on January 17, 2009


She responded by saying she was not going to leave *early* because she didn't want to be the one waiting there for everyone else to show up. Suggest that she bring a book or find a coffeeshop nearby. I went through the same thing with an SO some years back, and something much like what dbarefoot suggested is what finally solved the issue.

At this point in her life, probably the best you can get is to establish that if you know how late she's going to be, it's not as big a deal. If you can at least get her to commit to calling you (or whomever she's meeting) at the appropriate time and say, "Hey, I'm heading out the door right now, I'll be there in ten minutes, sorry," then you're ahead of where you are now. And if not, then yeah, the date's off. Get her a good PDA (or a phone with a good, easy-to-program calendar function) as a congratulatory gift for re-entering the workforce. Each night, ask her what her schedule looks like the next day, and nudge her towards using the PDA to organize her schedule for the next day. Make sure she sets the alarm.

As for work, Garrison Keillor once wrote that in the history of radio, there were far, far more people of average talent who knew how to be on time than there were geniuses who didn't, because the latter get fired. Her employers-to-be will quickly establish their own expectations in that area, and when she gets yelled at or even fired for being late all the time, then do not be the slightest bit smug. Just commiserate with her and let her learn the lesson. She'll figure it out soon enough.
posted by Etrigan at 10:23 AM on January 17, 2009


Can't be done. My wife just doesn't seem to have much of a sense of time. She can't really estimate in her head how long a given task will take, and as a result she is always late.

I'm like this. It's much worse in the mornings (I am not a morning person), but generally, if I aim to be somewhere on time, I have no idea if I'll get there early, a few minutes late, or significantly late (which is rare). I'm acutely aware of it, and feel bad about it when I am late. No amount of telling me that it's rude or bringing it to my attention work for me--it just makes me feel awful. Yes, I'm somewhat self-absorbed (a writer). Yes, I know it sends the message that others aren't important to me. Communicating this is never my intention, though. I really do, quite literally, lose track of time. Also, "I lost track of the time" does put the blame on your girlfriend. Sounds like she knows she's accountable. It's not like she's blaming traffic, right?

I've had the best luck dealing with this at jobs/in classes where I knew the absolute latest I could be--I was never tardy for classes where professors told me that I absolutely had to be in the classroom on time; in my earliest retail jobs, we had a window of seven minutes within to clock in before we were docked time, and I never clocked in later than that (honestly, I'm rarely more than seven minutes late for things, anyway). However, I would, generally, be much more stressed about it. But anyway, I think dbarefoot's suggestion is reasonable. Fifteen minutes is a perfectly acceptable window of time for you to wait, and it's also acceptable for you to cancel after that time period.

Here are some things that help: having clothes picked out the night before, knowing what I'm going to make for breakfast, knowing my schedule, generally, not having plans change. However, these are organizational strategies that your girlfriend has to want to adopt. Other than that it's not a terrible idea for you to tell her to be somewhere earlier than really necessary--that's something that you can manage, while changing herself is up to your girlfriend.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:30 AM on January 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sorry, wife.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:30 AM on January 17, 2009


CAN she be on time? Are there things she is never later for, because she knows she must be on time? If so, she is actually making a decision that everything else is not important enough to be on time for. That can be changed, although she must be the one to change it. But I agree -- make sure there are repercussions. I had an ex who was late for everything, and, when she made me late, I would call and cancel the event. No discussion. Just canceled. She figured out to be on time, or close to it, pretty quickly.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:35 AM on January 17, 2009


Work is one thing. I work in live TV. You can't be late for anything.

Everything else- like dinner, parties, wtc? ... not a big deal to me.

Being anal is worse than being late for non-work things.

PS - there is a reason why it's called "fashionably late".
posted by Zambrano at 10:42 AM on January 17, 2009


Oh, and here's a thought: setting a clock ahead has never worked for me, because I know I'm doing it and tell myself I have more time and end up being later than normal. But if you were to set every clock in the house (and her computer, and her cell phone) a bit ahead, you might manage to get her to do it through trickery.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:42 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


The one thing that has worked for people close to me (and it hasn't worked on all of them, so YMMV) is:

"My time is valuable to me, too, and when you're late I feel like you don't appreciate the importance of my time." (or variations thereof)
posted by batmonkey at 10:56 AM on January 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Absolutely agree w/ batmonkey. "She was not going to leave *early* because she didn't want to be the one waiting there for everyone else to show up" sounds too much like "I'm not going to risk wasting some of my time waiting just to prevent everyone else from wasting time waiting fo me" which sounds very disrespectful -- maybe she doesn't realize that?

Though in my experience, this is unfixable ... just learning to live with it is the mst practical solution.
posted by bsdfish at 11:05 AM on January 17, 2009


I've had two friends who are like this.

No concept of time, always busy and having to do 15+ things and calculating it'll talk about an hour, then arriving hours late.

I've come to to conclusion that this is some quirk in their brains, something that is an essential part of who they are that can't be changed. It takes enormous effort on their part to put their late tendency in check, after all it is just against their nature.

As in most interactions with other humans, all you can do to keep yourself happy is decide on what's acceptable for you, and what actions you will take when the other persons behavior is not acceptable. You can be as flexible as you want, and still establish limits that work for you, and the other person.

One friend, I have her call me now when she is almost near my house, and we only make plans when I am at home (so if I have to wait an indefinite time for her, at least I'm at home relaxing.) If I agree to meet her someplace, I go with a book and the mentality that I'm going to hang out by myself for awhile, then see my friend.

My other friend, I got really angry with her after she strung me along for several hours... and we're not really friends anymore. That was several years ago, that kind of thing doesn't happen anymore.

So, to answer your question: You can't fix a chronically late person. You can provide consequences that may provoke an adjustment on her part, but only in relation to you.
posted by Locochona at 11:14 AM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


you are not anal about it, she is being disrespectful towards others and their times. she thinks she is more important and can make people wait. communicate to her that she is being rude.
posted by krautland at 11:16 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


...should have added: I also believe in repercussions. I give people 5min past an agreed upon meeting to show up if there's a schedule to be kept, then I go on to keep that schedule without them. If they call to let me know they're running late, I give them 15min. The people for whom a reminder of the value of my time doesn't work eventually figure out that I won't be holding dinner, movie, or other plans for them if they can't get their act together. If there's no schedule to be kept, I give them 10min then go on to do my own thing.

I learned it from some of the best meeting organisers I've known, and it's incredibly effective.
posted by batmonkey at 11:17 AM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am with Zambrano on this. My guess is that she will either suffer the consequences and embarrassment of being late to work, or, like me, she will never be late to work and almost always be late for social functions. In that case, the best advice has been given already. Agree to give her concrete times and not spans. Agree to leave after X amount of time if you are meeting her, or leave without her.

I was socialized specifically by my mother to arrive late to functions because, and I quote, "no hostess is really ever quite ready at 5:30 [or whatever]. Giver her a little more time." Meeting at public places, however, I tend to be closer to the time-- within 10 minutes.

I am never late to work on my own accord. Never not once. I am often late or later to parties (unless there is a good reason not to be, such as it involves a performance/surprise). I have, in fact, just gotten into a disagreement with a friend over this as she said I am "always late" so it should not matter that a third friend, with whom I was carpooling, caused me to be late twice for work. Horrifying-- not doing that again.
posted by oflinkey at 11:19 AM on January 17, 2009


I disagree that it can't be done.

I used to be your wife. Chronically late. Someone called me on it once by saying, "You know, your time isn't more important than everyone else's." I was mortified when she said this. Now I'm the one who tends to get there first. It really was as simple as that.
posted by meerkatty at 12:37 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let the boss sort her out at work. I'm a chronically late individual myself but I've had two supervisors who made it VERY clear that I was to arrive on time for my shift and I always complied for fear of being fired. It's more persuasive than you might think and she'll really have to learn this for herself. (My family badgered me for years to be on time but I never made changes until it affected me directly.)

My boyfriend is always on time and our system is for me to pick him up at his apartment. That way, he's comfortable and has entertainment close at hand in the event I'm running behind.
posted by cranberrymonger at 12:39 PM on January 17, 2009


She responded by saying she was not going to leave *early* because she didn't want to be the one waiting there for everyone else to show up.

I think this is the root of the problem. For people who lead (or believe they lead) busy lives, there is nothing worse than sitting around doing nothing while waiting for someone who is late. Thus, the urge to avoid it at all costs means they will try and cut it as close as possible by budgeting precise allotments of time to certain tasks that are based purely on best-case scenarios. So, a shower might be 10 minutes... provided the pipes haven't frozen and you've paid your water bills and someone else isn't already in the shower, etc., etc. Getting dressed might ideally take 2 minutes--provided you've already got what you want to wear for the day picked out, and nothing rips when you put it on...

The problem with this approach is that it fails to account for real life delays. Things that are unavoidable and, more importantly, unforeseeable. Budgeting your time thus becomes an exercise in time-waste-management. The more time you give for unplanned delays, the greater the risk you'll be wasting time waiting for an appointment.

One way to mitigate against this is to bring something to work on with you to the appointment. That way if you arrive early, you can always keep yourself busy (and give yourself something else to scratch off the "to-do" list).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:48 PM on January 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


I believe that everyone is right about 'can't be changed' (uh, I never knew someone like meerkatty...).

Are you ever late? How does she react? The answer makes all the difference. If she doesn't care much, she simply has another perception of how important this time thing is. That would explain the comment about 'anal'. You two view the same thing differently. Two persons, two realities.

If she, in contrast, gets all upset if someone else is late for her appointments, that's trickier. It is very difficult to maintain a good relationship when one person measures the same old things in various ways according to circumstances. One person, two realities.

You don't seem to be anal about this issue. Isn't she also single minded and persistent in her way about how she wants things to be?
posted by Namlit at 12:50 PM on January 17, 2009


*Are you ever late? How does she react? *

Rarely. She doesn't get upset.

*If she, in contrast, gets all upset if someone else is late for her appointments*

She actually has a notion that several of her friends have a lateness problem. Those friends are late....just the whole pot-kettle-black thing.

*Isn't she also single minded and persistent in her way about how she wants things to be?*

Oh yeah.


I'm surprised at all the *can't be fixed* people. This is good to know; I'll try and devote more energy to other things! Doesn't mean, though, as a chronically early person, that I can understand it.

Late people---are you chronically disorganized and unable to plan? If I told you were going on a trip in 24 hrs., a week, or even a year from now...would you still be up packing at 2 AM the morning of the trip?
posted by teg4rvn at 1:05 PM on January 17, 2009


You can't really "fix" this, but when I was in college, I lived in an apartment with a close friend and she was late for everything. I used to be one of those people who thought the chronically late were just inconsiderate, but after living with her, I discovered that it was more about her poor sense of time. She couldn't accurately estimate how much time anything would take. For example, she always thought she could go to the supermarket and shop for an entire week's worth of groceries in 20 minutes. So I began making suggestions, in a low key, non judgmental way. For instance if she said to me, "I'm going to the store at 2pm, I'll meet you at 2:30", I'd say something like, "It always takes me at least an hour to finish the shopping, why don't we make it 3 o'clock". This helped somewhat, but it obviously won't work with situations that you're not directly involved in. However, it did make her more aware that her sense of how long things take was off a bit, so maybe you could mention this to your wife and it might make her think twice when she estimates her timing for everything.
posted by katyggls at 1:11 PM on January 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Late people---are you chronically disorganized and unable to plan? If I told you were going on a trip in 24 hrs., a week, or even a year from now...would you still be up packing at 2 AM the morning of the trip?

This is definitely true of my husband. I see it as a division of labor - if we're going on a trip together, I plan it and get our stuff together, because otherwise I'd stress out. He carries the luggage, does all the driving, and pays for most of it. Be conscious of what your wife brings to the table, and maybe you won't feel as much resentment about her lateness.
posted by desjardins at 1:22 PM on January 17, 2009


No concept of time, always busy and having to do 15+ things and calculating it'll talk about an hour, then arriving hours late.

I've come to to conclusion that this is some quirk in their brains, something that is an essential part of who they are that can't be changed. It takes enormous effort on their part to put their late tendency in check, after all it is just against their nature.


That's how it might appear to others. But as someone who struggles with being this person, I can tell you that it's usually about disorganization and not planning ahead. I also have friends who are even worse than me, so I see both sides. It's not taking the time to even KNOW what you need to do prior to some event. It's not the lack of knowledge of how long something takes, it's wishful thinking that things will magically take less time because they know you're in a hurry. It's being a little too inside my own head and not prioritizing, IE "you don't know how busy I am".

It's not actively inconsiderate ("I don't care about other people's time or feelings"), it's passively inconsiderate ("Fuck! Forgot about the laundry!" or "I really want to finish this TV show" or even, "Gotta leave at 8 for the weddin- ooh, shiny object!").

It can also be that our brains ARE wired slightly differently and we don't recognize it or account for it, and end up using event-based time management: "When I'm done with this crossword, I'll start the laundry and then leave for the movie."

(As for the accusation of being "anal" about time, it really depends on the thing. If two people are meeting, timeliness is important. If one is hosting some social event, it's just not right or fair to demand instant starting times. Or at least not communicate them properly. "Come over for dinner at 5" shouldn't mean that food's on the table at 5:01, unless you say "we're eating at 5." That's why most social events [should] have a cocktail hour of some kind prior to The Thing.)
posted by gjc at 1:46 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Late people---are you chronically disorganized and unable to plan? If I told you were going on a trip in 24 hrs., a week, or even a year from now...would you still be up packing at 2 AM the morning of the trip?

No, actually. I'm a traditional Capricorn control freak/overplanner and tend to be very on the ball about just about everything else--work deadlines, etc. I have never, in my twenty or so years of schooling, handed in an assignment late. I'm usually packed well in advance. For me, it actually has a lot more with not knowing my capacity or biting off more than I can chew. And if I have to choose between, say, getting the bills in the mail on time, or being 5 minutes late to meet someone for lunch, I'll choose the bills every time. In other words, please don't assume all lateniks are also procrastinators, even if it's true for your wife.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:17 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


And if I have to choose between, say, getting the bills in the mail on time, or being 5 minutes late to meet someone for lunch, I'll choose the bills every time. In other words, please don't assume all lateniks are also procrastinators, even if it's true for your wife.

As a permanently recovering procrastinator I'd just like to point out that you wouldn't have had to make that decision if you'd gotten the bills in the mail earlier.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:44 PM on January 17, 2009


I'm generally late. Some of it is caused by mild social phobia. Much of it is caused by the inability to deal with time discussed above. I grew up with a Mom who was persistently tardy. It's not a control game, and I don't mean to be inconsiderate.

When someone says to me "Its important to me that you be here on time" I usually do much better. For important occasions, weddings, funerals, I'm on time. I haven't missed a plane due to lateness. I have been a week early for an event, because I don't seem to be able to organize time in my head.

Sit down and tell her that it's annoying when she's late. Ask if you can help her organize herself to be on time when it's important.
posted by theora55 at 2:55 PM on January 17, 2009


Seconding those who say work will help. She may indeed get written up or otherwise in trouble. Fear worked on me, and in the new economy, fear should work great. My current boss kind of gave me a bit of crankiness about being late - I take a shuttle in - and now my on-time-ness makes me feel kind of superior to my chronically late (and *never* penalized, grr) coworkers.

The morning might be tricky. I set my alarm clock and hid the time - that way I can't rationalize getting 8 more minutes as I can't know what time it is until I've left the room. And then I'm in another, non-bed-room.

She has to fix herself. The other thing is, if she thinks she's busy now, how does she think she's going to get things done when she's working? What household burdens are you going to take off her?
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 3:17 PM on January 17, 2009


As a permanently recovering procrastinator I'd just like to point out that you wouldn't have had to make that decision if you'd gotten the bills in the mail earlier.

That was just an example. I can't think of a time when that's literally happened, and I've never paid a bill late.

(Really, take my word for it, I'm not a procrastinator when it comes to anything except leaving the house in the morning.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:29 PM on January 17, 2009


I went through the reverse of this. I used to be very punctual, always leaving early to be places on time, and always annoyed at people who were late to meet me. I have softened up about it over the last few years, and am sometimes late now, but also, don't care when other people are late to meet me. I just bring a book when I'm going to meet someone. Sometimes our meetings will have to be cut a little short or something, but in the end, it is not worth getting stressed over.

And certainly it is not worth intervening in her work over - if her boss is particularly concerned about arrival times and punctuality, etc, then they can work that out together. But some workplaces run perfectly well with more elasticity in these things. In this age, with cell phones and other instant devices to relay messages about where people are, a lot of folks are less focused on arranging in advance to do things at a particular time, and instead, work it out along the way.
posted by mdn at 3:45 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had a chronically late friend in college. If you wanted her to show up for dinner at 7 pm, you told her to meet you at 5:30. She had no concept of time, or of how long things would take.

She joined the military (well, quasi-military: The NOAA Corps). She's a pilot. She doesn't seem to have a being-really-late problem for her work, at least.
posted by rtha at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2009


The problem with many chronically late people (like me!) is that they fixate on the destination time and have no concept of travel time. So help her calculate it (casually).
YOU: What time is your meeting tomorrow?
HER: 11.
YOU: Do you need to be there early?
HER: Yeah, I guess 15 minutes early.
YOU: What time are you gonna leave?
HER: 10:30.
YOU: To get there by 10:45? Really?
HER: Oh. I guess I should leave at 10.
YOU: That sounds better. When shall I set the alarm for?
HER: 9:30.
YOU: To be out of the house by 10?
HER: Oh, I guess 9.
YOU: Wanna have breakfast with me before you go?
HER: That sounds nice.
YOU: OK, I'm setting the alarm for 8:30.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:45 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read your question and the replies with interest (and will enjoy looking up other threads later), and didn't see anything about monochronic/polychronic tendencies mentioned, though many responses fit the definitions perfectly.

As one who identifies with the latter, and the mister with the former, we've had many struggles with this. He can't fix me - he can help himself not to be frustrated when I behave as per usual - or to make plans accordingly; and I can make attempts to behave when it counts. For example, I can never, ever, ever be late to pick up our daughter, so I'm not. The store where I work opens at noon, I'm there to do it. But I have no idea what time we're going to visit the in-laws tomorrow, because there's no time in which we have to do it.

But, back when I worked in a non-clock-punching 9-5 position, I explained during the interview that while I'd never be late for an appointment with a client, that it was likely I wouldn't be there for nine on the dot, but that I'd usually work through lunches and stay late because I wasn't one to disengage once I'd started. Because, if taking ten minutes before I left the house to check that I'd unplugged the iron and had dinner in the crockpot and the dog had one last pee outside meant that I could focus the rest of the day on my job, I'd rather do that. They were fine with that - I got the job and it worked well for years.

To answer your question, having the words for it and techniques that might work with her might facilitate the talk. There was this article in O (feeling defensive - I read it at the Dr's office, I swear!) that I was able to show my husband to prove that I wasn't a freak (and I can't believe he never met another before me!).

Polychronic people tend to choose jobs that suit their need for fluidity anyway - so hopefully that will help with her work. But if she can at least admit that there a few changes are needed, and do the things that will make the difference where it counts, there should be some improvement. The tips given in the article are pretty helpful - learning to disengage, planning backward, and apportioning energy to "the dismount". I also like to have emergency plans for when I'm really running late, and there a few other tricks that help somewhat.

Examples - I try to always have cab fare, in case I've cut my timing too short to use public transit. I find that I like to do projects from start to finish and am meticulous once I start, so I don't even begin them until I can - which looks like procrastination but is really a kind of perfectionism. I like to cross things off lists. So, I make smaller lists that break down the project, which helps me to accomplish both things.

And I like it when the mister is happy - so I think of being on time as giving him a present. Because, as one of the links mentions - I often base promptness on the importance of the relationship, and he's important to me.
posted by peagood at 4:58 PM on January 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


Late people---are you chronically disorganized and unable to plan? If I told you were going on a trip in 24 hrs., a week, or even a year from now...would you still be up packing at 2 AM the morning of the trip?

Yes, absolutely. At best I would do some fraction of the packing earlier on, but I'd still be finishing up the last bits at the last minute. Things always take longer to do than I expect them to, and I'm always going to get started/get moving in "just another minute" (which becomes 5 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour...)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 6:31 PM on January 17, 2009


As a chronically punctual person, I now have someone in my life who does not have the, ahem, same concept of time. He doesn't work in a 9-5 office environment, and is constantly running late to meetings, classes, dinner with his GF. It drives me batty, especially given that I have had to be ultra time-obsessed as a massage therapist. But unless it's a movie or a time-sensitive dinner reservation, there's not much you can do, other than bring a book or a sketchpad.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:37 PM on January 17, 2009


I do wonder if your wife has an Attitude Problem built into this as well, given what she said about how SHE can't be arsed to wait around for other people. (As one who is perpetually waiting on late people, well, I'd probably smack someone who said that to me.) As in, she may not WANT to work on this at all anyway.

But in general, late people have no idea of how long anything is going to take. You pretty much have to expect them to stay up all night before a trip packing, wake them up an hour and a half before they have to leave for work, rag on them to stop being distracted by shiny objects and "ooh, did I lock the house" and if they get a phone call, tell them to get the hell off, etc. Any tiny little thing will throw them off because the tiny little things are more important than time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:27 PM on January 17, 2009


I am a chronically late person who has recently improved a little.

Somewhere, probably on Ask.Me, I read approximately these words: "There's no such thing as on time. On time is an immeasurable split second in time. If you're not early, you're late." That really brought home the need to plan more carefully to be early for things, rather than late. But it still didn't make me improve.

I improved primarily be having a small project that I can carry with me, that I can work on a few minutes at a time, and that I enjoy working on. Currently, I am writing a romance novel, longhand, in a Moleskin notebook. I enjoy several aspects of that experience, so I'm willing to be the person who gets to a place a few minutes early. Small knitting projects work just as well. In fact, I'm now often disappointed that my other chronically late friend has gotten her act together and shows up early for things. How am I supposed to get any damned writing done if she goes around showing up early, too?

I am not perfect. Most often, I fall victim to "just one more X" when I'm at home. One more email check is fine if there's no more email, but one more email check is deadly if there's something urgent in the box. Or one more troll through my blog roll is fine if there's little there, but if there's some interesting huge post on MeFi that I want to read? Late. That's the behaviour I have to fight off and only replacing one pleasure (blog rolling, emailing) with another (being seen in public writing in my pretty notebook) helps.

But that's me.

When it comes to your wife, I think there are really two questions:

1. Does she want to change?
2. What behaviours lead to her being late?

If she doesn't want to change -- and it sounds like she doesn't -- you're kind of screwed. You can kind of threaten, cajole and browbeat her into wanting to change, but that'll likely be hard on your marriage. It might be easier to let her boss do that if you think it's likely to be an issue in her new job. Unless you really need the money, of course.

The second question only comes into play once the first question is a 'yes'. What are the behaviours that lead to her being late? I know basically 3 kinds of late people:

1. People who just can't plan for shit.
2. People who are easily distracted.
3. People who are self-centered.

It sounds like she might be in category 3 -- she's self-centered and she doesn't care if she's late, as long as she doesn't have to be early. The good news is that type 3 late people can usually cure themselves once the answer to question 1 becomes yes. They don't lack the capacity to be on time, they just don't want to. The bad news is that getting type 3 late people to 'yes' is damned difficult. Helping them learn to fill wait time productively can help these people get to 'yes'. That might mean a blackberry or an iPhone or a laptop or whatever it takes to make that time feel productive. For me it was a $15 notebook, but you're probably not that lucky.

Type 2 late people (that's me!) can probably best be helped by a system of escalating reminders. If she's meeting you somewhere, agree on a time she's supposed to leave wherever she was before, and call her at that time to remind her. Or have her set an alarm on her cell phone to remind her. Or ask her to call you to confirm that she's left and call her if she doesn't. Make leaving the thing that's on her calendar, in her day planner, and scheduled in her brain, rather than arriving. Because the problem for type 2 people lies in the leaving, not in the getting there.

Type 1 late people just need more help in planning. Their problem is more in the getting there -- and how long it's going to take. Introduce her to transit trip planners, get her a really good GPS navigation system with traffic times built in, help her start to think seriously and accurately about how long it's really going to take to get where she's going, and what her actual drop dead times for departure are. And then, somewhat like the type 2 people (but with less reminders needed, most likely), make leaving the focus of her schedule and not arriving.

And now, having decided to check Ask.Me one last time, I'm 30 minutes late for bed.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:33 PM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


**This is definitely true of my husband. I see it as a division of labor - if we're going on a trip together, I plan it and get our stuff together, because otherwise I'd stress out. He carries the luggage, does all the driving, and pays for most of it. Be conscious of what your wife brings to the table, and maybe you won't feel as much resentment about her lateness.**

Lost you there desjardins. What if your husband were going away by himself? Are you saying you tolerate your husband's tardiness and procrastination because he pays for things and carries the bags?
posted by teg4rvn at 7:36 AM on January 20, 2009


What if your husband were going away by himself? Are you saying you tolerate your husband's tardiness and procrastination because he pays for things and carries the bags?

I'm saying that it benefits me to be the planner/organizer when I go on a trip with him, since otherwise I'd completely stress out. It's not about tolerating it; it's about being on a team and taking on the role that suits me best. It's not as though all he ever does for me is carry bags and pay for stuff.

Re: trips by himself (which are almost exclusively business trips), well, he's responsible for his own planning and organization. Sometimes it doesn't go well; he's forgotten his cell phone charger I-don't-know-how-many times. But the consequences fall on him, not me, and I don't stress about it.
posted by desjardins at 11:52 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Got it. Maybe the trip analogy wasn't the best one. Perhaps I should have selected something where the tardiness also impacts you (e.g., you both have to be at an appt. with your child's teacher and he just can't get himself ready on-time.) Unless you're taking two cars, this will reflect poorly on you as well. The team concept somewhat falls apart there. I'm also getting the notion that he relinquishes the planner/organizer duties to you. What if he also felt that he should do the planning and organizing?...just on his schedule.

I don't mean to be picking on you, desjardins, but part of the problem with late people is that they think it is OK and/or that's it's out of their control. Sounds like your hubby is self-aware which is halfway to solving the problem.

How many people would be essentially saying, "Just deal with it," if the problem were that she drinks too much, smokes too much, drives too fast, or shops too much? Just curious....
posted by teg4rvn at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2009


How many people would be essentially saying, "Just deal with it," if the problem were that she drinks too much, smokes too much, drives too fast, or shops too much? Just curious....

Whoa, wait a second. Are you seriously equating lateness with addictive behavior? I think any reasonable person could see the difference--one is inconsiderate and intrusive, the other is seriously harmful to one's health or wellbeing. If you really think these are the same, then I agree with your wife: you're being anal.

I think what people here, including desjardins, have been saying is that you can't fix your spouse. She's not going to change unless she wants to. If she faces serious repercussions at her job, that might give her motivation to change. But your nagging and cajoling and criticism are not going to be effective, particularly when the behavior has no impact on you. In fact, they're just going to breed resentment. And it sounds like she already resents having had this brought to her attention in the past.

What you can change is either your perceptions of the behavior or your actions surrounding the behavior when it affects you. Cancel plans if she's late with you--no one here has said that this would be particularly unreasonable on your part. Or, alternatively, you can learn to live with the behavior.

But I promise you that if your wife is disinterested in changing herself, your efforts to "fix" her (when she doesn't think that she's broken) are going to frustrate the both of you. This is pretty much traditional relationship advice: you can't change others; you can decide you can't live with something, or, if that doesn't work for you, you can change how you react.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:33 PM on January 20, 2009


*Whoa, wait a second. Are you seriously equating lateness with addictive behavior? I think any reasonable person could see the difference--one is inconsiderate and intrusive, the other is seriously harmful to one's health or wellbeing. If you really think these are the same, then I agree with your wife: you're being anal.*

I guess I am equating them to a degree, but only to respond to those who think it's in their DNA to be late, therefore unfixable. Let's face it, the chronic alcoholic, shopaholic, and smoker *can't change themselves* either. And they often don't think their drinking, shopping, or smoking too much when you make an intervention.

Going back to my original question: my wife is going back into the workforce.

IMHO, chronic lateness will get her fired. Getting fired would impact the family finances. thus, it is not *all* about letting her be herself. Heck, my wife tells me when shirt and tie color combos are wrong so I don't *look* stupid at work. I was just asking how to approach a chronically late person without hurting her feelings too much.
posted by teg4rvn at 1:14 PM on January 20, 2009


IMHO, chronic lateness will get her fired. Getting fired would impact the family finances. thus, it is not *all* about letting her be herself. Heck, my wife tells me when shirt and tie color combos are wrong so I don't *look* stupid at work. I was just asking how to approach a chronically late person without hurting her feelings too much.

If you, or your wife, think this is a genetically ingrained trait, then needling her to change won't help any more than it would help an alcoholic. Generally, facing concrete repercussions for her actions will do far more. On the example you gave above, about a parent-teacher conference, it seems pretty obvious to me that the most effective thing to do would be to say, "Honey, we need to leave by 2:45. If you're not ready by then, I'll go alone." And then follow through. This seems fair and sensible to me: you need to be there, then go ahead and leave when you need to leave! She'll either get her act together or she won't, and you'll still be taking care of business.

But I really, really, really think you need to just let her boss and coworkers deal with her behavior at work. At this point, you don't even know for certain if she'll be late to work--and many of the late people here have told you that they're never late for working situations. There's a small chance that she'll end up in a workplace where it's acceptable to be late. If not, her boss will talk to her about it. Taking concrete criticism from your boss about work-related behavior is a lot easier than preemptive nagging from your significant other, which is how I'd see your interference, if I were in her position.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:25 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


*would be to say, "Honey, we need to leave by 2:45. If you're not ready by then, I'll go alone." And then follow through. This seems fair and sensible to me: you need to be there, then go ahead and leave when you need to leave! *

Well thought out and well said. You now get a best answer [click]!

* Taking concrete criticism from your boss about work-related behavior is a lot easier than preemptive nagging from your significant other*

Ditto. I need to stop trying to protect her from herself...I'll try :)
posted by teg4rvn at 1:33 PM on January 20, 2009


On the example you gave above, about a parent-teacher conference, it seems pretty obvious to me that the most effective thing to do would be to say, "Honey, we need to leave by 2:45. If you're not ready by then, I'll go alone."

You already marked this as best answer, but I wanted to echo this, as it's EXACTLY, word for word, what a couples counselor told me.
posted by desjardins at 2:21 PM on January 20, 2009


Coming here late myself. But I wanted to say, I have had problems with being late myself. I do the same thing, cutting things to the last minute. For me, I personally think it is not so much a "I will have to wait" thing (although that thought has crossed my mind) as much as it is part of the wonderfully strange subset of ADHD-thinking.

That being said, the solution is in fact to give me the earlier time. If I am supposed to be somewhere at 5, and I tell myself that I have to be there at 4:30, I will usually get there at 4:40 or 4:45 (and then be early). The truth is that most people plan to be a bit early, which is why they are on time. For on-timers, they automatically build in the extra 15 minutes or so that makes them exactly on time. I can't do that, so I *have* to force myself to be artificially early in order to be on time.

That being said, the solution for her is to find out the train or bus that arrives at work just before the one that would get her there on time. She should plan to be on that one. When she arrives at work, a bit early, she gets to have time for herself. As suggested above, she can bring something to do. I find books or magazines are great. If she has net access at work she can spend the first few minutes before work online looking at sites she likes.

By the way, even when I plan things out well in advance I still find myself doing things the last minute. So I can be packing for days before a trip and then still find myself packing things that morning before jumping in the car. It's just a thing.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:12 PM on January 26, 2009


« Older Credible scientific studies?   |   I'm taken but falling for someone else Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.