Why are some people chronically late?
November 24, 2004 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Why are some people chronically late?

I have a hard time understanding such people, because I am chronically early. I know some people are late because they have very busy lives, but those aren't the types that interest me (I can understand why they are late). I'm interested in those folks who are always late for no apparent reason. The type you have to invite an hour before the event actually starts, knowing that this will make them only twenty-minutes late, instead of an-hour-and-twenty-minutes late.

I've theorized that chronic latecomers are people that are so caught up in-the-moment that the smallest thing can distract them from a later goal. For instance, I had a latecomer friend who used to say things like, "sorry I'm late. I was getting dressed to come see you, and then I noticed my guitar leaning against the wall. I started playing a few chords, and before I knew it, two hours had passed..." I've also theorized that some people are really bad at estimating how long tasks will take. They leave at 5:55 because they estimate that it will take them 5 minutes to walk to the cinema for a 6pm movie. Whereas someone better able to estimate durations would allow 20 minutes.

I've know people who are chronically late and also continually surprised that they're late. I know people who swear up and down that THIS time they will be on time. But I know they will be late again, and I'm always right. I've also known a SMALL number of people who say things like, "well, I'll probably be late, because I always am."

I know part of my chronic earliness stems from a world view that things often go wrong. If I estimate that it will take me 20 minutes to get somewhere, I will leave 35 minutes before the event in order to give myself some slack in case the subway breaks down or whatever.

I would love to hear from you latecomers about what goes on in your lives and heads when you are late. I can't vouch for other AskMe folks, but I won't chastise you. I don't really feel like I'm "right" and you're "wrong." We may irritate each other a bit, but it's mostly just a personality difference. I'm really interested in how your minds differ from mine.

Latecomers, why are you late? When you ARE late, do you feel guilty about it? Or do you feel like lateness is just a part of life. Do you feel like people should plan events around latecomers -- should plays always start ten-minutes late? Do you feel like people who are early or on-time (or berate latecomers) are too anal and need to relax?
posted by grumblebee to Society & Culture (142 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'm having trouble finding any supporting links, but I used to have the same problem with my chronically late roommate. Then I was looking into the Myers Briggs testing, which divides the population more or less equally into "Judgers" and "Perceivers." Judgers like it when a decision is finalized -- a solution (dinner plans) is reached, then a plan (what time to get there, how much time to allow for transportation, when to start getting ready) can be put into play. Perceivers like it when a decision is up in the air, when all possibilities are still open (I could start getting ready for dinner, but doing so would mean that I would cut off all my other options for right now, which would make me rigid and uncomfortable).

This difference (at least IMO) would also result in bizarre conversations in which I thought we had definite plans, he thought we had just been riffing on possibilities. "Let's do dinner tomorrow at 7" means, to me, "Be there at 7." To him, it was "Here's a possible idea, let's talk about it again at 6:50pm and see how we're feeling."

So it does tie into what you're talking about with "being in the moment," but it's also, to some extent, a refusal to commit. To anything. Even a plan to brush one's teeth in time to make a train in time to make a movie.
posted by occhiblu at 10:02 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Lack of focus? I used to be always early and now I'm never on time to anything (unless it's of utmost importance, which is rare). Sometimes it's contagious (I took some classes with a chronically late friend and I seem to have caught it from him). I used to freak out a little and get worried if I was going to be 5 minutes later to being early, but now my earliness or lateness doesn't bother me unless I'm really really late. (I will always show up though, unless something major happens and I can't make it, so in my case it's not a lack of commitment.)
posted by mrg at 10:05 AM on November 24, 2004

If you're the late one, you never have to wait for anyone else.
posted by smackfu at 10:05 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I'm late because I think I can get away with it. Simple as that.
posted by ascullion at 10:07 AM on November 24, 2004 [2 favorites]

I think people who are late are passive-aggressively demonstrating their contempt for the people they have agreed to meet.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:07 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I suspect that perpetual lateness shares DNA with the same subconsious impulses that cause us to remember suddenly that we've forgotten something (keys, wallet, etc) immediately after walking out the front door. I do both often, and my best guess at the culprit is my woefully short attention span. In my last-minute rush to remember everything I need to do before stepping out the door, seconds can easily become minutes, and important facts such as "bring an umbrella" won't sink in until I'm out in the rain. Your anecdote about the guitar against the wall rings true -- I simply cannot string a series of simple tasks together without embarking on a few mental side trips, and the behaviour is extremely difficult to correct.
posted by Succa at 10:12 AM on November 24, 2004

Ugh, my biggest pet peeve. I understand it's somewhat irrational, since the concept of punctuality is fairly new, tied to recent leaps in transportation and time-tracking technology. A century ago, it was almost impossible to meet someone at a specific time.

fff, there are a small pool of people who I think this applies to. Personally, I quickly stopped being their friend.

But, I think there are people who are just poor planners who don't think about the details. Getting dressed takes time. You probably also need to take out the trash. Oh, and you need to find that thing you were supposed to bring, as well. It all adds up.
posted by mkultra at 10:15 AM on November 24, 2004

I've theorized that chronic latecomers are people...

I'm a bit of both of the things you mention. I'm inclined to be distracted very easily. The main reason that I'm chronically 3 minutes late for meetings at work is that one last email check is irrisistable to me. I'm on my way to the meeting, I'm standing up, I'm carrying my notebook, I stop, and take one last peek and get distracted.

The other thing I do very poorly is estimate the time it will take for me to get places. I tend to assume that traffic will be good, parking plentiful and my navigating skillful. In reality, traffic sucks at the oddest hours of the day, I can never find parking, and if I make less than two inappropriate turns on my way to someplace new, that's a miracle. This is what makes me 20 minutes late to most dinner engagements.

When something has a hardcore start time, that absolutely must be met, I get places on time by planning to be there really, really, really, really early. Like, an hour or more before I need to.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:16 AM on November 24, 2004

I think the under-estimating theory is spot-on, at least for some people. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is known for her lateitudeosity. Nearly every time, it comes down to, "I had to do x, y, and z, and I thought y would only take 5 minutes, but it turns out that when you go someplace, you have to actually get to and from there, and that took an hour." It's more than a failure to plan, it's an inability to use past experience to anticipate future events. Such people, in my experience, have a very difficult time seeing much more than the current moment in any situation.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:21 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I think that time actually accelerates as I'm trying to get ready to leave. I go to put my shoes on and it's suddenly 20 minutes later.

I do identify with Succa's having to go back for stuff and short attention span. I am very easily distracted. And I've certainly done the playing guitar while looking at the clock thinking "man, I should really get going; I'll play that riff right this time and then go... damn; ok, one more try..."
posted by transient at 10:22 AM on November 24, 2004

Late makes me CRAZY. I got my on-time-ness from my parents: if my Dad was picking me up at 2pm, by god I'd better be ready and waiting at 1:55. It became habitual after awhile, and now I get really insane at my husband if he's dawdling and we have to be somewhere at a given time. He has ADD, and I've noticed that if I'm with him and his mother, I fudge the time. It's like I'm herding cats...
posted by mimi at 10:23 AM on November 24, 2004

ADD types like myself are always late because we get distracted and then make posts on MetaFilter.
posted by oaf at 10:23 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I will add to my previous comment on this post that stopping to make that comment made me 2 minutes late to a meeting.

It's not our fault we're late, grumblebee, it's yours.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:27 AM on November 24, 2004

occhiblu, I'm a big "P" perceiver, and it's not *that* bad with me. Mostly you will find me not particularly committing to long term plans, or setting long term goals. In fact, I often have people ask me "What's your goal in life?" Honestly, I can't answer it properly. Best I can come up with is usually something I know I'd like in the future, and the question often ends up answered as "I'd like to own a home with a complete movie-style theatre in it." Yeah, you could call it fickle. But it works well for me. I can (and do) anything I like when I like. Kinda. Hello IsTPs!

When it comes to appointments, etc, though, I understand it is necessary for me to be there within about 10 minutes of the appointment, else I am inconveniencing people. So I measure my time and do it.

If I'm leaving for work in the morning, or anything else regular like that, I schedule my life so that I am out of bed and out of the door within 5 minutes. Doesn't leave time for distractions.

I have also noticed this is a cultural thing. In Europe and North America it is regarded as ignorant to be late for appointments. I have discovered, through experience, people form South Asia and the Middle East tend to regard appointments as EXTREMELY flexible, to the point of being 2 or more hours late. Sometimes even a full day late. That frustrated me until I just started to tell them "After xx pm/am I won't be there. You can walk home / be alone after that." Then everything works out.
posted by shepd at 10:27 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

From my experience, changing the question from "What time's dinner?" to "What time do your think we need to leave the house?" worked wonders at getting my roommate closer to on-time. Shift the focus onto the fact that getting someplace takes time, rather than on just the final "arrival time." Don't know if it might also help those who are trying to get themselves on time...
posted by occhiblu at 10:27 AM on November 24, 2004

grumblebee, I am intensely attracted to the early, the up and at-em types, who do each task with precision and clarity of mind. I am reluctant to wake. I'm a dawdler, and ambler, and there's not a rose on my path that I haven't stopped to smell. I've driven my loved ones crazy. I've nearly gotten fired for it.

Things I've informally mapped as related to this: I heavily sleep. I am more comfortable and aware at night. I slip into meditative or dream states very, very easily. I read a lot. I am social, but I need to have time alone to feel happy. My husband's much the same, so we spend a lot of time just with each other, working on creative projects so we can face the more regimented world without going batshit crazy.

I have gotten much, much better about this, because I am ashamed of being rude and irresponsible, and rightfully so. You won't judge, but I will: I really despise people who are rude jackasses and write it off to dreamy or artistic temperament, most especially if they postgraduate, and most especially if they are untalented. I've known many such people. They have left my dinners cold, they have made me shiver in the snow outside theaters, they have made me miss fireworks and cocktails and the last taxi home, and they can all go to hell and play a slow game of footsie with the devil as far as I'm concerned. For most of us, leisure is precious. Because I need a lot of daffodilly Wordsworth moments, I do it away from others, so I don't intrude my inner time on theirs.
posted by melissa may at 10:31 AM on November 24, 2004 [3 favorites]

shepd, I'm a *huge* J (like 98%-ish) and I have no long-term life goal either (though house with movie seats sounds good!). But I think what you're saying is that you recognize your capacity for being distracted and work around it, rather than that you're not distracted, right? Recognizing the problem is the first step to fixing it, and all that.

And I'm not sure about characterizing all Europeans as a group -- I think there's a shift between the Anglo-Saxon Northerners and the Latin Southerners. Italians and Spaniards, at least, aren't known for their punctuality. (At least in social settings; don't know about business settings.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:32 AM on November 24, 2004

smackfu is dead on, if you ask me. It might be a cultural thing, too- I know that if I'm invited to a party where it's going to be mostly Iranian people, and I'm told to come at 7, I don't even start getting ready until 8 or 8:30. But, in my mind, that doesn't mean I'm LATE- I intend to be there at 9, and I'm usually there exactly at 9.
The honest, selfish truth is that if I go somewhere 'late' and my friends say, "what took you so long?" the unspoken answer is usually something along the lines of, "I figured it would take half an hour for us to get a table and I didn't feel like waiting here with you guys, so I only started getting ready ten minutes ago."
So, I don't know if some people are chronically distracted or disorganized or what, but as for me, I'm Iranian, I'm selfish, and I come and go when I like, haha.

On Preview: shepd is exactly correct- when I was in Iran this summer, hell if we didn't show up for anything whenever we wanted, often hours late, only to find we were still some of the first people there.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:32 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

bad manners. many chronically late people simply don't give a fuck about wasting other people's times. so they let them wait, because they don't care, it's under their radar. I've seen it personally: "Hey, let's go or we'll be late", "I'm doing something else, they won't die if they wait for a minute". it ended up being something like 10 mins.
getting old, I have less and less patience for chronically late people. I usually wait about 5 mins, 10 maximum, then leave
posted by matteo at 10:33 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

to protect myself against the wrath of melissa may types: I never leave friends waiting out in the cold. There're times when you know it's OK to be late, like when you're meeting a group, and times when it's never OK. I don't even think my cultural programming is capable of making me leave a friend in the cold.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 10:34 AM on November 24, 2004

What Jacquilynne said.

That last Email check is extremely hard to resist, and then you realize you need to take out the trash, and you forgot to put gas in the car yesterday, and of course TODAY is the day that there's an accident on the highway that normally moves very quickly at this time of day, etc. etc. etc.

We fail to acccount for the slightest disturbance in a perfect plan, and therefore, our plans are the least perfect imaginable.
posted by TTIKTDA at 10:34 AM on November 24, 2004

1. Easily distracted.
2. Inability to say no to other people who make demands on my time.
3. An alternate universe that closely models everyone else's but is ruled by a select number of Laws incompatible with the universe at large.
4. Being early can force me into a social situation. 1-3 people is uncomfortable for me, especially when one or more people rank no higher than acquaintance on my personal scale. See #3.
5. An innately poor sense of time in general.

Pick and choose from this list and you will cover about 98% of my lateness. I always regret being late and make mental notes to do better, but sometimes the Laws override all else.
posted by Fezboy! at 10:37 AM on November 24, 2004 [2 favorites]

ADD types like myself are always late because we get distracted and then make posts on MetaFilter.

I am a chronically early person, sort of like you grum, and I often have to drive around or kill time at my destination because of this. My live-in is one of those ADD-lateness guys and once I realized he wasn't being late to spite me, or being late because he didn't care, we've been working out how to make him not late for things that matter [planes, movies, etc]. A lot of time I find that if we agree on a time for him to leave the house [on preview, as occhiblu says], as opposed to being at the airport to meet me, that totally works. He can set an alarm clock or whatever but doesn't sort of give himself wiggle room to arrive on time even if he takes a few more email checks or has one more cup of coffee. Otherwise he might say "Well I gave myself 30 minutes for a 30 mile drive, if I drive 70 the whole way I'll still be able to make it....." and not make it. The other technique has also been to help me get over my insane punctuality where I'll hustle him out of the house and be really tense about it even though I know the people on the other end that we're meeting don't care and will probably be late themselves. This sort of "on time for time's sake" thinking is something I've been working on outgrowing because otherwise you show up early and sweaty and annoyed which is much worse than being late 9 times out of 10.
posted by jessamyn at 10:38 AM on November 24, 2004 [3 favorites]

I am not a chronically late individual but I do go through periods of lateness for the following reasons:

I've been late out of poor planning. I've been late out of distraction. I've been late out of contempt or lack of caring about the people I had to meet with. I have been late when it's truly not my fault (external forces). I have been purposefully late because I haven't wanted to be the first person to arrive (one of my most uncomfortable but common life situations). I have been late because my partner is running late (but I was actually ready on time).

It seems for me there are a number of reasons to be late and only a few to be early.

Interestingly, I used to be chronically and obsessively early for everything. I used to hate the lates. But for some reason, I swung in to a serious late phase when I moved to New York (and still found myself to not always be the last to arrive). After a few years, I've mellowed out with that and now, I don't have a watch but I'm relatively on-time for everything.
posted by safetyfork at 10:38 AM on November 24, 2004

Maybe a better model would be this: Those who tend to be naturally on time (Judgers) *like* planning their days to get to the destination on time. I like knowing exactly when I'll start getting ready, exactly when I'll leave, exactly when I'll get there. I need that schedule in order to feel like I can get on with the rest of my day -- if I don't have exact times figured out, I'm antsy.

In my experience, those who tend to naturally be late (Perceivers) like having their days as open-ended as possible. They don't like being tied into a set schedule, don't like knowing exactly what's going to happen when. If they are forced into such a schedule, they're antsy.

In the same way that I can get over my natural inclinations and just go with the flow, though, they should be able to suck it up now and then and schedule their time correctly (which many on this thread seem to say they can, when it's necesary).
posted by occhiblu at 10:38 AM on November 24, 2004 [2 favorites]

five fresh fish is on it - those who are chronically late are self-centered boors.
posted by Pressed Rat at 10:47 AM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: "people form South Asia and the Middle East tend to regard appointments as EXTREMELY flexible, to the point of being 2 or more hours late."

How does this work in terms of scheduled events, like movies or concerts? If you're 2 hours late, the movie is over.

I have the same question in regards to Buddha's iranian example. People arrive hours late. Doesn't that mean people often miss each other?

In these cultures, do people just wait around for hours and hours until their friends show up (surely some people NEED to get home to walk their dogs or put their kids to bed). Or do people constantly miss each other (or movies, concerts, plays, etc.)? And is this considered no-big-deal. Is a dinner date a hit-and-miss affair? When someone invites you out to eat and you accept, is it understood that it means, "we'll try to come, but we might be hours late and we won't be surprised or upset if when we finally get there, you're gone."? If it's a date for two people, that means someone is likely going to sit there alone for hours. Is it common to bring something to amuse yourself (a book or whatever) in case your companion doesn't show for a few hours?

Re: that last strategy: I ALWAYS do it. I continually have to deal with being stuck places, because of my own earliness and other people's lateness. So I carry around an arsenal of amusements: books, iPod, etc. With some latecomers, when they agree to meet me, I take that to mean, I might be spending a pleasant hour with them -- or I might be spending a pleasant hour sitting in a restaurant, reading a novel. That way, I don't get pissed off.
posted by grumblebee at 10:49 AM on November 24, 2004

I'm chronically late and always have been, from childhood. It's really out of character for me as I'm generally very considerate and have a strong sense of responsibility to others. And I hate being late. It hurts me much more than it does anyone else. It's been a problem in all realims: social, occupational, everything-else-ical. It's irrational. I don't intend to be late ever but am always anyway.

I think I'm late for a couple of reasons. First, I don't think my sense of time is like most people's. Time for me is completely non-linear. Days can last minutes and seconds can go on for years. That makes it tough to stick to a schedule or to have a sense of how long it takes to do things, like get to a destination.

Another reason is eternal optimism. I always think I can get there in the absolute minimum time possible. I don't factor in traffic or stopping for coffee or the train might be late, etc. That's also out of character; I'm pathologically pessimistic about everything else.

And I don't think, in my case at least, that it's Passive-Agressive; clearly the later suffers more than the latee. If it's anyting subconcious it's more likely some kind of self-destructive impulse that drives it.
posted by TimeFactor at 10:50 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

But I think what you're saying is that you recognize your capacity for being distracted and work around it, rather than that you're not distracted, right?

Very correct. Now, I am good at figuring out how long it takes to get somewhere, and when I'm on my way to an appointment, I look at it as a sort of "mission". I get in the car and go there and that's it. Nothing else, no matter how interesting, stops me because I have decided I have to be there. I don't enjoy that, but it's necessary.

Also, if I have "slack time" before an appointment, I try to make sure I'm not spending it doing something where I'm not paying attention to time. For example, I often don't realize time going by when I'm surfing on the computer, so I'll tend to avoid that before an appointment. I will play video games, since I've never been one to get engrossed in one for hours without noticing time go by. I'll also watch movies or TV shows, because I can work out how long those will take and be sure that they'll end before I need to leave.

I think a lot of it, for me, was my mother pushing me to always be on time for appointments. Otherwise, I expect I'd be like a lot of other big "Ps", always late. I'm glad I can at least make appointments on time.

Now, the time a problem comes in is if you give me any hint the time is flexible. If that happens it is almost certain I'll either arrive way too early (because I got bored) or way too late (because I was interested in something else). Oh well.

I spend a lot of my life very tired because, often enough, I'll be interested in something that takes me well into the night to be disinterested from. Maybe I've set up a Star Trek marathon and I don't quit watching until 4:00 am, whatever. At the time I figure I'd rather be tired the next day than miss the great time I've having now. Then, the next day, I'm almost always sorry when I wake up to a bottle of Advil.

How does this work in terms of scheduled events, like movies or concerts? If you're 2 hours late, the movie is over.

Heheh. Guess what? I know these same people have ended up going to Bollywood movies half way through, often, because they can't make it there on time. But when necessary, they seem to just ensure they leave hours earlier. :-D

One day I'll have to take a trip over there and see what life is like. I'm told the way of life there supports this constant tardyness without trouble.
posted by shepd at 10:55 AM on November 24, 2004

I'm always 10 minutes early. It's a curse. I feel too guilty when I'm late, so perhaps I overcompensate by being early. My girlfriend is always 15 minutes late. Do we have a future? (And will she be on time for it?)

She has a cell phone and wears a watch. I have neither. She blames my irritation at her lateness on the fact that I don't have a cell phone: if I had one, she could call me and tell me that she's going to be late, right? True, but it doesn't change the essential, chronic, irritating lateness.

Seriously, though, Myers-Briggs doesn't factor in here, at least in my situation (not that I hold much truck with Myers-Briggs, but that's another thread). We're both INFP, with the P part expressed pretty much the same, and yet she's late. All. The. Time.
posted by goatdog at 10:56 AM on November 24, 2004

I'm usually always late to social things, but have learned not to be late for work things. It's not about not caring for the people you're meeting but any number of other things--changing outfits, forgetting cash/atm card or wine/present, misjudging subway/train/travel time, etc. Everyone who knows me knows it's better to set a range of time to meet instead of an exact time (bet. 9 and 9:30, for instance), and it's better to meet inside a place, so if anyone's waiting, they can wait in style.
(i was like this as a kid, too--always losing mittens/homework/etc...)

I find that people who are always early, or exactly on time, are usually too anal about everything else in their lives, too.
posted by amberglow at 10:57 AM on November 24, 2004

grumblebee- I can only think of a single time during my month in Iran where we met people OUT somewhere instead of meeting up at their house first- and that single ocassion took an hour before everybody met up. See, it's not that X will say "be there at 2" and Y shows up at 3:35. X will say "be there at 1" and both X and Y will show up around 2:30.

But really, every other place I went, we first showed up at their house and then headed out- or waited at home until they came to us, usually very late- and even when they came an hour late, they'd come in and have tea for another half hour before we'd head out wherever we were supposed to be.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:00 AM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: "We fail to acccount for the slightest disturbance in a perfect plan, and therefore, our plans are the least perfect imaginable."

Several people have mentioned this, and I think it's the most interesting aspect. My model of the world is sort of a Woody-Allen model: things are likely to go wrong. Some of my best friends have a more glass-full outlook.

So I'm always planning in advance for disasters. I assume they're going to happen. Which means I'm early (or on time), because I've taken the disasters into account. Or, when I'm late, I blame myself for not planning well.

Whereas friends of mine blame the cosmos. Hey, my plan was good. How could I know there'd be a traffic jam?

I can see big plusses and minuses to both of these outlooks, and there's probably a healthy place in the middle somewhere. It's difficult to work things out when one type meets another.

I do agree with jessamyn that there are some clear places where each type should try to adapt. Latecomers need to try to push themselves when their lateness inconveniences others. Anal types, like me, need to relax in situations where promptness is not important -- otherwise we'll just ruin everything with our pissiness.
posted by grumblebee at 11:04 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Late people aren't late just to spite early people.

I am often late because I can't manage my time to save my life, I am easily distracted, and I stupidly think that the five minute trip will really only take five minutes. (And I am subject to the will of my muse. If I am inspired, I have to at least take some notes, if not get into a couple quick sketches. Art comes before everything else, and if I kept you waiting for it, I'll apologise, but only once.) I'm never late because the person I'm meeting isn't worth my time. If that were true, I wouldn't be meeting this person at all.

Really, it depends on what we're talking about. Unless there's a Thing (ie: a show, or a job) starting at whatever o'clock, I can't see the big deal about a few minutes. If we make a plan to just hang out at your place tomorrow at 8pm, and you get upset with me because I don't show up til 8.05, or even 8.20, I will think you're crazy. What am I late for? Looking at you? (If there is a Thing, I try to be early so I don't miss it.)

Though I don't mind being kept waiting (for a reasonable amount of time), and I think a "subway was delayed/I got stop and talked by an old acquaintace" time buffer should be expected, I do feel bad about keeping people waiting because it is inconsiderate, if generally innocent.

No, I don't think events should be planned around late people. Give them the details, and tell them the time rules, and let them deal with it. I am all for lying to the hour-laters to get them there on time.

I'm late because I think I can get away with it. Simple as that.

I hate to say it, but this probably applies to me as well. Also, sometimes I'm late on purpose if I think I'm going to be waiting alone in a place I've never been to before.
posted by digifox at 11:04 AM on November 24, 2004

I alternate between being chronically early (to the point that I sometimes intend to arrive late, and arrive on time) and occasionally being late for reasons of distraction, or because I underestimate how long something will take. I hate hate hate being late, though, so that doesn't happen too frequently.

My mother, though, is almost always late. Distraction plus not knowing how long it takes to get places.
posted by kenko at 11:07 AM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: If we make a plan to just hang out at your place tomorrow at 8pm, and you get upset with me because I don't show up til 8.05, or even 8.20, I will think you're crazy.

See. this is where I stop getting it. I'm fine with the five-minutes-late thing, but twenty minutes starts to bother me, and it does seem -- even by your comment that if I'm upset, I'm "crazy" -- that you're being selfish.

You may very well be inconveniencing me and other people. It's possible I was with someone else before the 8pm meeting and left at 7:45 saying, "sorry I have to go, but I'm meeting someone at 8:00." If I'd KNOWN you were going to be 20 minutes late, I wouldn't have had to rush off from my first meeting.

On the other hand, I can see how it's -- again -- a personality difference. You would probably say to me, "I didn't ask you to rush away from your previous meeting. If you were enjoying yourself, you should have stayed longer. I would have understood if you'd shown up at 8:30." But if I'd shown up at 8:30, I would have felt bad, all the way there, that you were waiting for me and I was inconveniencing you.

I'm not sure I understand the "I'm late because I can be" idea. Surely we can all be late if we WANT to be late (unless we're in prison or something). Am I being to literal?

Also, all the examples from non-western cultures have been about groups of people, not 2-person dates. I can see how large groups often makes lateness less of a problem: if X doesn't show up right away, Y and Z can chat until he gets there. But this doesn't work if I'm sitting somewhere by myself for two hours, waiting for you. It it simply that in these cultures, it's rare for people to meet outside of large groups? That would significantly change things. The majority of my socializing is one-on-one.
posted by grumblebee at 11:20 AM on November 24, 2004

Late late late. Doing better at it, but still late far more often than I'd like. Here is why I think I am late:

A) I'm bad at estimating time. I have no internal sense of time, so I'm not really sure how long it takes me to get somewhere, or get ready to go somewhere.

B) As TimeFactor says, I'm eternally optimistic. I always think that, when I'm in a rush, the universe will magically accommodate me with no traffic jams, no delayed trains, etc.

C) I was raised by extraordinarily tardy parents. My father is invariably late to social occasions. I'm prompt by his standards. And, er, my late mother wasn't particularly good about being on time either.

D) Shyness. As digifox said above, I hate to wait alone in a place I've never been to before. Similarly, if I am going to a party hosted by people I don't know too well, I try to be the next-to-last person to arrive. However, given my limitations as outlined above, I tend to misjudge this.

E) Distraction. This is less of a factor for me, but I can't wholly discount it.

F) Refusing to accept my physical limitations. For most of my life, I have been a fast and tireless walker. However, since my recent year-plus illness, I haven't gotten back to speed. Nonetheless, I still figure travel times as though I could walk as fast as ever.

It isn't the "disrespect for others" thing at all, with me. Although I used to be late to work and school because I didn't want to go there...
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:22 AM on November 24, 2004

I have a similar experience to safetyfork; I used to be obsessively early and have really slackened up about it in recent years. As jessamyn describes, I used to get places stressed out and sweaty but at least: not late! Now if I am running late, I am quite likely to simply accept that I will be a little late. I am also quite likely to stop worrying about it much earlier in the game, so to speak, so that there are many more occasions where I am nearly late. When I was obsessively early, I always gave myself more than enough time and had strict rules about getting out of the house, etc, but this meant that when I would mess up and put myself in danger of being late, I would be very harsh on myself about it. This extended toward my treatment of others, I think - I was very bothered by people who were late. It seemed utterly unacceptable, considering the effort I put in to make it on time. Now that I am easier on myself about being late, I am easier on other people about being late as well. If I'm made to wait for ten minutes, I can read or people-watch or daydream and it isn't the end of the world. If we miss the movie, we can see it another time. If we miss the flight - well, that sucks. Still.
posted by mdn at 11:24 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Also, grumblebee, you might be interested in this article about cultural and individual differences in the perception of time norms.

I found it while looking for a good link to Robert Levine's A Geography of Time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:27 AM on November 24, 2004

grumblebee - In that example, though, "hanging out" isn't a Thing. I'd feel bad if I got to your place at 8.20 and you told me that you'd rushed home from a meeting expecting me to show up at 8, but if you hadn't rushed home, and were still ticked... I guess that wouldn't make sense to me. If the situation were reversed, I know I could find something to entertain myself with for those 20 minutes. In fact, I probably wouldn't even notice those 20 minutes. Maybe that's the rub.

As for "I'm late because I can be.", I think you are taking it too literally. It doesn't mean that we're late for the sake of it, but that we might not be too worried about being right on time, because we can get away with being late, and being late means I can check my e-mail and hair one last time.
posted by digifox at 11:32 AM on November 24, 2004

I'm neither. I'm usually on time.

If I'm late, it's because I have to go somewhere or do something that I just don't want to do, and I wait until the last possible minute and add a couple before I go.
posted by pieoverdone at 11:33 AM on November 24, 2004

digifox -- I know exactly what you're saying, from the opposite side. If you showed up 20 minutes late, I'd get annoyed because I *could* have cut off an earlier appointment for you, *could* have re-arranged my day to be on time, *could* have been inconvenienced. Even if none of those things were true. Which, I think, leads the on-timers to declare everyone else inconsiderate -- we're thinking on the many noble ways we've sacrificed ourselves for your benefit, and now you're not here to appreciate it.

Like Jessamyn, I'm working on not getting annoyed when I had, in fact, no reason to be annoyed (that is, I didn't have to overcook the roast to account for your tardiness, didn't have to break off some other engagment) OR when you had no reason to know that your tardiness would annoy me (I didn't tell you the roast had to be out of the oven by X, I didn't tell you I would have to cut something short to get there by the time you suggest). Why get upset over something that had no real foreseeable consequences?

I've noticed, too, that I tend to be very willing to accept appointment times that are actually inconvenient to me. If a friend says, Let's do dinner at 8, and I have another meeting that probably won't end under 7:45, rather than asking the friend to push back the dinner I'll instead start devising elaborate plans about how to fit everything in (and I'll make it work). I think I do this because I assume the friend suggested 8pm for some actual reason, and needs to be there then.

Late-ish friends seem to be more willing to say "That time's not going to work for me," and therefore less prone to attempting a Herculean effort of time management, and therefore less impressed when others do the same.
posted by occhiblu at 11:43 AM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I think that saying "Shall we say sometime between 8 and 8:30?" is a good answer, because if I try to get somewhere by 8, I will certainly be there before 8:30.

I do want to point out that the flip side of "people who are late disrespect others" is "people who expect absolute punctuality from others are crazy control freaks." Neither is true of most people.

(Obviously, if a movie/play/opera is starting, or a train/plane/bus is leaving, absolute punctuality is important. However, if someone shows up at 7:45 for a dinner party scheduled at 7:30, that's another issue.

I wouldn't call someone who was impatient when others were 15 or 20 minutes late to an appointment that had no external constraints "crazy" or "a control freak", but I would wonder why it bothered them so much. My guess is that many of the reasons--"I didn't want to wait alone in a place I'd never been before," etc., are similar to the reasons people have for being late. Interesting, no?)
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:07 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I really think having a good inner sense of time figures largely in this, and that individual variations in that trait don't necessarily correlate to other attributes (conscientiousness, politeness, anality, etc.) I don't fit the stereotype of the invariably-early person (I'm the opposite of anal--a total slob, highly disorganized, a major procrastinator, prone to daydreaming, and a strong Myers-Briggs P). But at any given moment during the day, even if I hadn't seen a clock in many hours, I could tell you what time it is and be right within ten minutes plus/minus. I can tell you exactly how long it takes to drive to any part of the city, or to shower and get dressed, or whatever. So being on time for stuff is in no sense an effort, because the inner clock cues me throughout the day as to when I need to get going for event X so as to be there by time Y. (My problems tend to occur when I space out event X completely--I'll either be there early, or not at all because I've forgotten all about it.)
posted by Kat Allison at 12:14 PM on November 24, 2004

I wouldn't call someone who was impatient when others were 15 or 20 minutes late to an appointment that had no external constraints "crazy" or "a control freak", but I would wonder why it bothered them so much.

Aren't you proving that you can't be trusted to follow through on your commitments or do what you say you'll do? I've found that to be true of my friends that are chronically late--they're just flakes in general and I can't really put much faith in them or rely on them for things because they'll let me down.
posted by LionIndex at 12:16 PM on November 24, 2004

a geography of time
posted by callicles at 12:21 PM on November 24, 2004

I think I do this because I assume the friend suggested 8pm for some actual reason, and needs to be there then.

That was a sharp little dig, but your point is taken.

grumblebee, and occhiblu - I'll admit that I've never really thought about what my friend might have been doing before our meeting. When I make plans with a friend, I think about what we will be doing, not what he was doing. Thank you for your perspective! You may have changed my attitude a little.
posted by digifox at 12:25 PM on November 24, 2004

(late to the thread - what a surprise)

I have a dreadfully bad time sense. Taking a shower could take 3 minutes, or half an hour. And heaven help me if I haven't figured out before hand what I'm going to wear. I chronically underestimate how much time it will take to get from point A to point B.

It's absolutely not a passive-aggressive statement - if I'm late to a social engagement, I'm the one who's missing all the fun. In most other aspects of my life I'm very well organized but this is one I haven't been able to conquer yet. I'd love to hear how other people improved their time sense.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:28 PM on November 24, 2004

No, LionIndex, I'm not a "flake in general" and I'm very good about following through on my commitments. I think that everyone who knows me would agree with this, even the ones who are obsessed with punctuality.

However, I do have a very poor sense of time and some real problems estimating the time a journey on public transportation or by foot is likely to take me for the reasons I enumerated in careful detail, above. It's also something I'm working on, but at which I am not yet perfect.

You, LionIndex, on the other hand, appear to be "a crazy control freak". See how easy it is to just toss these epithets around? Hooray for misunderstanding people.

And, er, callicles, I know this is a long thread, but I linked to a review of that very useful book above. Just sayin'.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:29 PM on November 24, 2004

Also, if I invite someone to my house for 8 p.m., and they don't get there until 8:15 p.m., how does that affect my life negatively? This happens to me all the time, and it never bothers me; I therefore expect others to extend me the same leeway (in the absence of external time constraints like a movie/theater, of course).
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:31 PM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: Okay, reporting from the other side: why am a chronically early?

1. Completeness is (for reasons I don't quite understand) really important to me. I have known many people who have say things like, "I know I missed the first 10 minutes of the movie, but I got the point of it." Movie-watching (and most other activities) for me are never about "getting the point." They are about experiencing the entire arc of the event, from beginning to end. And that means being there BEFORE the beginning and staying a little bit beyond the end. (because if I get there right on time, I'll spend the first few minutes getting comfortable in my seat, and I'll miss the FEELING of the beginning). I'm one of those people who won't go see a movie if the opening credits have started and who always (unless I hate the movie) stay until the final credits have finished and the lights have gone full up. People have often asked me if I really care who the gaffer was. No, I don't. But I do need to hear the theme music play all the way out in order to feel completion. Which also makes the point that feeling completion is important to me.

2. In social situations, I'm always really scared of pissing people off. My hidden assumption, which I don't really like to admit to myself, is that people aren't very forgiving. So I arrive early so as not to inconvenience them.

3. Also hard to admit: arriving early gives me a certain feeling of superiority to those who arrive late. It's completely irrational, but I do feel this way.

While I'm admitting to several bad personality traits, I'll also admit to one more -- maybe the worst one: I get a secret cruel pleasure when latecomers are inconvenienced by their lateness.

For instance: I spent a few years attending a "hippy college," which was a BIG mistake given my personality. People waltzed into class whenever they felt like it. There was even a saying that time ran slower on campus than in the real world.

But I had one prof. who despised lateness. On the first day of class, he said, "I know sometimes we are late, and it's unavoidable. So if you're late to class, I will NEVER hold it against you. But I also would rather you not attend. Let me be very clear: if you're FIVE MINUTES LATE, DON'T COME AT ALL. I won't be mad at you, and I will be happy to fill you in on what you missed during office hours. But I find it disruptive if you come in late, so please don't."

Of course, several people didn't really get the message and showed up late anyway. These events were great fun for me. The latecomer would come to the door, and the prof would say, "Sorry, class has started. We'll see you next week." Inevitably, the latecomer would look confused and then blurt out something like, "but I'm only seven minutes late." The prof would say, "I know. We'll see you next week." The latecomer would then start making excuses: "but see, my alarm went off late, and then I got this phone call and..." To which the prof would replay, "that's unfortunate. See you next week." And he'd shut the door.

Objectively, I'd say the prof was being unfair by refusing to honor community standards. But It was a wicked pleasure none-the-less.

I've had the same pleasure sometimes when I acted as house manager to plays. Some producers have a policy against seating latecomers. It's really interesting seeing their faces fall when they say, "but I'm only five minutes late!" and they realize that this won't get them a pass. It's clear that within their cosmology, you're ALLOWED to be a little late, and they're totally scandalized when this "rule" is not obeyed. It's fun (and cruel) to watch them splutter "but... but... but..."

I have little (even objective, intellectual) time for these people, because I do think coming late for a play, movie or concert is disruptive to many of the people who came on time. And it's especially disruptive to people like me, who find that even people who walk in during the credits diminish the experience.

I wonder if some of the people who say they're late "because they can get away with it" mean that, in general, people put up with it and nothing bad happens to them. These experiences are a corrective to that. Their moral is, "see, when you're late, you DO sometimes lose." But that's MY way of looking at it. A latecomer might look at it as, "those producers and that prof are unfair assholes."
posted by grumblebee at 12:48 PM on November 24, 2004 [4 favorites]

I didn't mean to single you out sidhedevil--I meant it more in a rhetorical sense, not aimed at any particular person. I was trying to explain why the lateness could upset someone.
posted by LionIndex at 12:50 PM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: Also, if I invite someone to my house for 8 p.m., and they don't get there until 8:15 p.m., how does that affect my life negatively?

It depends how busy you are and how packed your day is. There might have been something you could have gotten done between 8 and 8:15, and if you'd known your guest was going to be late, you WOULD have done it. Admittedly, we're only talking about 15 minutes, so my example is kind of dumb. But when the lateness extends to half-an-hour or more, I stand by my point.

Maybe it's hard for you to understand, Sidhedevil, because you have a fairly relaxed life with a lot of free time between events. Not all of us live that way.
posted by grumblebee at 12:51 PM on November 24, 2004

I do make my own schedule now, grumblebee. But until recently, I worked a 60+ hour week for a very demanding boss, with lots of travel and meetings, and served on three non-profit boards, and cared for a terminally ill relative, so I do see where you're coming from. Even then, I didn't freak out if someone arrived fifteen minutes after the scheduled time.

Now I do agree that lateness of more than a half-hour is extreme (and I was almost never more than twenty minutes late to anything, even in my worst days of lateness). But you were using fifteen minutes of lateness as an example before. To me, if someone is stressing about fifteen minutes of "wasted" time in their day, they've got much bigger things to worry about then their friends' tardiness.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:02 PM on November 24, 2004

than their friends' tardiness. The dumbass, she is me!
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:03 PM on November 24, 2004

Space Kitty, the main thing that helped me get over it out was a desire to stop screwing up other people's work/social plans. Without that impetus, I never would have changed.

The concrete things are: I get one snooze hit, only. I always have a watch, cell, or clock nearby and check it. I don't overextend, or accept invitations hastily, even ones as simple as a movie. I never leave the house without a well-defined route, especially if I've never been there. Sounds excessive, but when you're fighting your own nature, you have to be vigilant. It's less a dreary imperative than unconscious habit, now, so it's much easier than it once was.

Too, reforming myself came from getting older, and most people I know acquiring more responsibilty, especially kids. If my friend with kids and a full-time job and a husband she doesn't get much alone time with is kind enough to make a date with me, I'm not going to screw her over by not showing up on time. Nearly everyone I know in such a situation is forced to plan their lives rigidly. A few minutes of lateness is okay, but if I steal an extra 20 or 30 or worse by daydreaming it away, that might have been the only time she had to herself all day. I just don't want to do that to someone I care about.

That's why I'm impatient about it: unless you have a real cognitive disfunction that impairs your time judgment, like jessamyn's ADD example, you can cease being perpetually late. (Actually, one of my close friends has severe ADD, and she worked a lot harder than I ever did to learn punctuality, so I have that example to goad me, too.) A bit of lateness, at some elastic social event: expected all the way around. Lapses, mistakes, human inattentiveness: all forgiveable and understandable. But significant, chronic lateness as a permanent lifestyle is pretty hard on the people who have to work with you or who have chosen to care about you.
posted by melissa may at 1:03 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think another issue has to do with confidence. Are you (not you, Sidhedevil -- a more general "you") the sort of person who is very self-confident and charismatic -- or are you socially fearful and accustomed to rejection. I'm more the former these days, but that's a thin veneer, papering over a childhood of rejection. So when people are late, I (pathologically, perhaps) take it personally. After 20 minutes or so, I start thinking, "maybe they're not going to come! Maybe they don't really like me! Etc." And I am early, because I don't want them to think the same about me.

So I guess what you say is true, Sidhedevil. I do have "much bigger things to worry about..." Threads like this are great for proving that these differences are not necessarily anything more than differences.
posted by grumblebee at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2004

Also, if I invite someone to my house for 8 p.m., and they don't get there until 8:15 p.m., how does that affect my life negatively?

Well, you had to be ready at 8:00, when you could have had an extra fifteen minutes to do something else.

Of course you could do that something else while waiting for your tardy friend to show up, but you can't, really, because you don't know when she will actually show up. And so you can't start anything that you know will take e.g. 15 minutes of time because you don't know how much time you have.

Of course when you're waiting at home, there are usually plenty of things to do while you wait. This is not so true if you're waiting for someone at a restaurant or whatever.

Look at it from the other way around. Your friend wants to spend time with you, otherwise he wouldn't have asked you over. Assuming that the end time is fixed (as it often is, i.e. you have to go to work tomorrow and thus need to be home by midnight) you are robbing your friend of time with you. He has gone to the trouble of clearing a period of time to be with you and you have thoughtlessly squandered it, disrespecting his efforts to make time for you. It doesn't matter whether he actually did have to make any effort to make time for you; politeness demands that you always assume that he did.

It is rude to stand someone up, obviously. It is thus proportionally rude to partially stand them up by arriving late. They expected two hours with you, say; if you arrive 15 minutes late, so your offense is 12.5% of standing them up. This isn't fatal -- occasional minor rudeness is tolerated among friends, especially if it is properly apologized for and amends are made. But repeated rudeness, however minor, is generally not tolerated.

In short, you should be punctual because you are expected to be, and you will be punished if you re not. Your friends will stop inviting you to do things with them, you will be fired from your job, etc. This is sufficient reason for being punctual. Sure, your life would be easier if people didn't expect you to be so punctual. But it is much easier for you to simply be punctual than to convince everyone else in your culture that it is okay for you to habitually be late.
posted by kindall at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2004

I think people who are chronically late are the same people who make inaccurate claims about how much they sleep, how much they drink, how much money they make, how they'll finance the house, how they'll manage on a new salary, how long it takes to get to work, how much they love or are loved, etc.

I have a neighbor who works in my building. He lives four doors down. He swears it takes him 20 minutes to get to work. He goes the same way I do, by subway. We usually take the same route. But it takes me from 30 to 50 minutes, no matter what. So what's happening is, he's not only unable to accurately predict how much time something will take (and to account for possible delays), he's unable to account for time once it has passed, even though he does it every day.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

My perception of lateness depends on the event. I am personally very anal about being on time, due to childhood scarring from a mother who was extremely casual about picking me up when she said she would. Once she dropped me off at the grocery store with a list (I was so proud to be old enough and responsible enough to shop for the family) and was so late picking me up that the ice cream melted and the store people asked if I was ok. So now I hate shopping and hate being late.

I do arrive "fashionably late" for social events like parties, but I have to plan the time in my mind in order not to freak out. I'm still usually the first one there. I have no problem with others being fashionably late to my events, as long as they aren't the only invitees or it doesn't stretch past an hour or so, because then I start to feel personally rejected. (replay the same pathos I felt with the ice cream so proudly purchased).

I don't arrive late to meet-ups for food, drinks, or movies (or I feel incredibly guilty when I do) because I'm usually starving to death and want to get to it, and I assume everyone else is too. My irritation at others being late is in direct proportion to my hunger and/or the rushing we'll have to do to find a seat.

In general, I judge others not so much based on the attitude I have for myself (which is pretty anal as I said), but by my perception of how much they care about any imposition on me that they could have avoided. Minor delays due to traffic or lost keys or an occasional time mismanagement event are totally forgivable as long as they're accompanied by ready apologies. Major delays with no phone calls or no frantic-ness are egregious and disrespectful, and drop the person's character in my estimation.
posted by dness2 at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: Too, reforming myself came from getting older, and most people I know acquiring more responsibilty, especially kids.

How old are those of you who "are late because you can get away with it"?

The older I get, the less likely I am to be this way. I'll be 40 on my next birthday.
posted by grumblebee at 1:10 PM on November 24, 2004

What about the theory that some people can only get motivated to be somewhere they don't want to be via the fear of being late? I'm guilty of this, and I don't thing this is ADD...
posted by ParisParamus at 1:11 PM on November 24, 2004

I'm already 40. And I think that dness2's last paragraph is pretty accurate.

I don't want to be late. I am working pretty hard on not being late. But sometimes I don't succeed. When I don't succeed, I apologize. That's the best I can do.

Fortunately, for me, very few of my friends are really invested in punctuality (I have several friends who are habitually really late, as in "miss planes" late, which can be infuriating, and the majority of my friends arrive within the 15-minute window).

I should point out another factor--I, and many of my friends, attended a college that had a 7-minute lateness window built into its class schedule. One's 8:00 class, for example, actually started at 8:07; the campus bells, etc., were coordinated to that, with one bell at the hour and one at 7 past the hour. This is not a good way to train the young in the ways of punctuality.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:16 PM on November 24, 2004

What matteo said, but perhaps there is more to it than simple rudeness. My experience may not be typical, but the chronically late people I know seem to share one trait: they all have personalities that can best be described as 'borderline psychopathic'. They tend to have difficulty experiencing genuine empathy, remorse or guilt.

Although they sometimes try to rationalize their behavior, it seems that most of the time they are simply unwilling or unable to care about, or even understand, the inconvenience and discomfort they cause for others.
posted by Deepspace at 1:23 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

The other reason, aside from passive-aggressive bastardness, is simply this:

They've never been adequately punished for being late.

They're the people who, as kids, were told to be outside the mall for pickup at 5:30pm, didn't show up on time, and mom was dumb enough to wait 30m for the slackers. And so on for all other aspects of their time-keeping life.

And, of course, because no one has shoved a clock up their ass, they think it's okay to make people wait on them.

As I get older, I get less patient with this sort of boorish, selfish, bastardly behaviour.

When you agree on a time, your word is your honour. Show some damned honour, and do what you say you will do.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:24 PM on November 24, 2004

I tend to over-commit. I want to be agreeable so I tell my friends that I'll meet them at 7, when realistically I know that the only way that I'll make it by 7 is if I don't go home and change. And of course, I do go home and change. Thus making me 20 mins late. Cellphones come in handy in these situations.

I tend to adhere to a "general" timeline. I aim to be in the office at 9, but I know that I don't have to, so I work out, drink espresso, watch the news, check my email, reply to emails, listen to music and change the litter box before leaving the house. I usually get to the office between 9:30 - 10.

I live this way because I can. My friends accept this of me. My family has given up on trying to change me and since they're stuck with me, they deal with it and plan around my time-style.

Whenever there are real consequences to being late, for example on days when I have court, I make myself be on time no matter what. Although, I'm usually walking in the courtroom last. I always feel a sense of pride when I manage to be on time, but it really doesn't carry over to the parts of my life where I can do what I want.

On the other hand, people who are chronically early annoy the piss outta me. I had boyfriend that was early for absafuckinlutely everything. If a play started at 8, he had to be there at 7, which meant he was picking me up at 6:30 for the 10 frig'n minute drive to the theatre. He used to wait in his car a block from my house so that he could ring my doorbell exactly on time.

I am always cutting it close timewise and it does drive some people (control issues) crazy. But somehow I've managed to be successful despite my laissez faire attitutude toward timelines.
posted by Juicylicious at 1:28 PM on November 24, 2004

fff needs a hug.
posted by Juicylicious at 1:30 PM on November 24, 2004

I'm on time. I meet deadlines. I'm reliable. I'm a grownup and i plan to meet my committments and responsibilities. When events outside my control happen and there's a delay, no one rolls their eyes and thinks "typical".

A person who is chronically late to meet you, but makes it to work on time is sending a message about how they prioritize their committments. It's neither good nor bad... just how they are.

That said.. i give folks slack, but don't wait around very long. There are people i dearly love who i do not trust not to hang me up.. so i go to them. If i want my friend (who is a ditzelwit when it comes to time) to accompany me.. i FETCH that person, and i start 30 minutes early, so i can facilitate the timely departure. Or.. just bag the whole thing, make some popcorn and hang out with the pal. Friends are more important than appointments; i just don't want to work with any of the chronically late.
posted by reflecked at 1:30 PM on November 24, 2004

I feel that this is most annoying when it's tied to a regularly-occurring event. When people are late by the exact same amount of time to the exact same even consistently, I find it annoying and disrespectful. I understand that things come up that may cause people to be late, but if a person is always five to ten minutes late to the same class/appointment every week, you'd think that person would start leaving five to ten minutes earlier.

The rest of us are there on time and don't enjoy watching you stroll in and disrupt the seminar by getting situated. Class starts at the same time every week.
posted by trey at 1:32 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Those who tend to be naturally on time (Judgers) *like* planning their days to get to the destination on time.

That MBTI-based explanation doesn't jive for me. I am a solid "P", and I prefer to leave my schedule as loose and open as I possibly can. But I nearly always show up on time for an appointment. It's not that I plan things out on paper, listing the things I need to do and adding up the time they will take - I can't stand being that organized. I don't even wear a watch. I just have a feeling of urgency that builds up, a sort of instinctive awareness of the length of time it is going to take me to get ready and go; the closer I cut it the more antsy I start to feel. Sometimes this sense fires a bit early and I end up killing half an hour before dinner or the movie or whatever; I think this is just because I instinctively budget time for unexpected holdups.

I think there are punctuality strategies to suit every cognitive style. The question is not: is your brain capable of punctuality? but: to what degree do your friends/acquaintances/business partners consider tardiness to be impolite, and how motivated are you to avoid being rude? Of course this is all context-dependent.

This difference (at least IMO) would also result in bizarre conversations in which I thought we had definite plans, he thought we had just been riffing on possibilities. "Let's do dinner tomorrow at 7" means, to me, "Be there at 7." To him, it was "Here's a possible idea, let's talk about it again at 6:50pm and see how we're feeling."

Cell phones are great for dealing with this! I rarely have to make rigid plans in advance anymore. I can just kick ideas around with my friends, then when the time comes whoever's most interested calls up the others, and we decide who's going and where we're going to meet when. If someone's running late, someone can just call them and find out what they're up to, and the rest of us can respond accordingly. So liberating.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:35 PM on November 24, 2004

Well from my perspective, it's more of a cultural issue more than anything else. (coming from a country that has its own GMT - Ghana mean time, which is whatever stated time give or take an hour...)
I see people who are anal about being punctual to the exact minute as being uptight...relax. Take a chill pill. If i'm going to be more than 15 minutes late, i'll call you and let you know. You may think i'm rude for being late, but i'm not THAT rude!
I guess for me it really depends on the setting. For something more formal, say a doctor's appointment or a work related appointment, i'll make the extra effort to be on time, or at least to call ahead if i cant make it at the scheduled time.
On preview...what Mars Saxman said too!!
With friends and acquaintances, i almost always give myself a window. I never say i'll be there at a specific time if i can help it.
Now i'm not saying my tardiness is good OR bad...its how i operate. I make allowances for others, if others cant be bothered to make that allowance for me, well...life goes on!
posted by ramix at 1:51 PM on November 24, 2004

I'm pretty much late to work every day by an hour, as a passive-aggressive protest against the fact that I have to work overtime without pay everyday anyway. So it's my personal definition of 'flex-time' that I neglected to tell anybody about.

It started off with me only being late by 5 minutes, but once I figured out that I could get away with it and nobody was reprimanding me, it turned into 10... then 15... then 30... and 9 months later I'm an hour late everyday. They've learned not to schedule meetings during this time, because I'm simply not going to show up. It's pretty disrespectful, but I also think it's disrespectful they give me so much work that I have to stay late everyday (regardless if I came in early or not).

A HUGE reason for this is that my 'responsible' mindset is not in gear when I'm waking up. If I wake up and see that it's time for me to get up for a meeting, I say "Fuck it." If it's midafternoon, and I know it's time for me to go to a meeting, I always leave right then and there.

I don't know what that means or what I can do to fix it, but there you go.
posted by Stan Chin at 1:57 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

fff, this is just one of the many reasons why you and I will never, ever be friends.

See, you see me (and everyone like me who might be a few minutes late and who is working to become more punctual) as "dishonorable" and I see you as "a crazed control freak who is impossibly rigid and can't understand or accept that the world is a complex place and people aren't perfect."

Given that we could already never be friends because you think of Canada as the moral center of the world and I find that attitude appalling, no further tragedy has come out of this thread.

However, I wonder how many friends you actually have. I have lots. They're really nice people and very honorable, even though they sometimes show up 15 minutes after the agreed-upon time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:57 PM on November 24, 2004

I'm surprised that no one yet has mentioned Ellison's story "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:21 PM on November 24, 2004

The best solution is to adopt Postel's law: Be liberal in what you accept, conservative in what you do.
posted by Khalad at 2:23 PM on November 24, 2004 [3 favorites]

One of my sisters seems to believe that her car is a teleportation booth and not an automobile. She intentionally leaves where ever she is at the same time she should be at where ever she's going. Which works out because she is so consistent. If you want to meet her for lunch at 11:45 and it's going to take her 25 minutes to get there make the appointment for 11:20 and she'll be right on time.
posted by Mitheral at 2:26 PM on November 24, 2004

I have a special word for people who are always later: "tards".
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:49 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I would love to hear from you latecomers about what goes on in your lives and heads when you are late . . . Latecomers, why are you late? When you ARE late, do you feel guilty about it? Or do you feel like lateness is just a part of life. Do you feel like people should plan events around latecomers -- should plays always start ten-minutes late? Do you feel like people who are early or on-time (or berate latecomers) are too anal and need to relax?

I'll take this opportunity to point out to you and you know who you are, grumblebee asked for responses from those who tend to be late. Grumblebee did not ask for every control freak, OCD m'fer with an attitude to pile onto those of us who are willing to give grumble an honest answer. Not that I personally give a moment of thought of what you think of my tardiness, but jeez at least respect the question posed.
posted by Juicylicious at 3:22 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

It's a tad ironic how nasty people can be in telling others that they're being "rude."
posted by transient at 3:49 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

I think the main problem is that no single person on the planet perceives time the same as a mechanical clock. Checking your watch helps, but until we get heads-up time displays projected on to our retinas, everyone will always be a little bit off. Some will be ahead, some will be behind.

I'm chronically late-- generally by 5 to 15 minutes. However, I seem to be cursed by girlfriends who are generally 30 to 60 minutes late. I never thought someone would make ME feel anal about being on time. Ha, ha, karma.

It has been nice to read the comments in this thread that indicate that most chronically late people are not lagging because of disrespect for the people they are meeting. I have a history of taking that personally.
posted by samh23 at 4:01 PM on November 24, 2004

I perfectly understand that people aren't perfect, Sidehedevil.

When you tell me that you'll be at Location X at Time Y, pray tell why you would show up at Time Y+15, outside extenuating circumstances beyond your ability to foresee?

If you're late because of an unexpected police check-stop, then, yah, I can cut you slack.

If you're late because you left at Time Y-15 knowing that it's a half-hour drive to get to our agreed location... well, wtf were you thinking? You gave your word, and then chose to not live up to it.

That's what it comes down to: choosing to honour your promise.

One of the keys to living successfully is to not make promises you can not or will not keep.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:01 PM on November 24, 2004

dness2 -- are we related? I am freaked out by being late partially because my mother was a chronic late-person, and I always felt responsible toward the people we always seemed to be inconveniencing. I was the pathetic kid sitting outside school for two hours waiting for her to decide to come get me, having to explain to the pissed-off administrator or teacher who was babysitting me why my own mother couldn't be bothered to collect me. Or having to deal with the piano teacher asking why the check was late again.

My mother's chronic lateness -- and, by extension, mine, since as a little kid you're at the mercy of your parents -- became something that was deeply shameful for me. That notion took a long time to shake, but the impulse to never EVER be late didn't. I have relaxed a ton over the past ten years, and have had to come to grips with the reality of time as a mother of young children myself (multiply the amount of time you think something might take by 30 minutes, then multiply that exponentially by the number of kids you have), but I still have that awful panicky feeling when it becomes clear that I'm in a situation where I'm going to be late. And I still sometimes regress to that visceral moment of panic -- oh no, this person isn't here on time, they're never going to come, never! -- when I'm the one waiting for someone else.

My spouse grew up with a mother who was the opposite of mine. Instead of forgetting he was around, his mother was enmeshed to the point where he practically didn't exist as an agent in his own life because she was making all the decisions for him. Consequently, he is a S. L. O. W. poke. It drives me crazy. Even when I remind him 45 minutes before that we have to go somewhere, he's still just pulling it together as we're walking out the door -- I'm all tense and frantic and he's all dismissive, and he always has to joke with me along the lines of, "It's not a big deal if we're five minutes late, it doesn't mean your mommy doesn't love you..."

I think he and I represent opposite ends of the punctuality spectrum -- I am always conscious of time and how much time I am taking (even though I don't own a watch), whereas he is ever in his own world, relying on other people to hurry him along. For business things -- meetings, interviews, showing up to work as a doctor -- he is punctual. But for anything else, he's just a slow mover. Sharing his world has made me relax my hyper-freaky being-late-means-you-don't-care-about-the-person-you're-meeting thing, but I can't say it's made me totally okay with it. We showed up nearly an hour late to his oldest friends' party for their new baby last week, and I thought I was going to have a panick attack from the sheer horror of being so tardy.

I understand I've got problems...
posted by mothershock at 4:10 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Just to repeat myself: I'm late all the time and I hate it. So if it bothers you, imagine how I feel about it. You're thinking: "well, stop being late", to which my response is "stop being so fat", "stop being a smoker", "stop being a drunk", "stop being inconsiderate in myriad ways that don't include being late", "stop being a jerk", "stop tail-gating", "use your turn signal", "stop expecting perfection in everyone else when you are so clearly imperfect yourself". These are all things I don't do, yet I won't hassle you for doing any of them. And you're going to have to go a long way to convince me that you aren't guilty of any of the above. I'm late. That's it. I wish I wasn't. But I'll bet, overall, I'm at least as considerate, respectful, responsible as you are.
posted by TimeFactor at 5:15 PM on November 24, 2004 [2 favorites]

Well, fff, obviously if I foresaw the circumstances, I wouldn't be late, now would I?

Because if I foresaw the circumstances, I'd call before I was late ("Hi! I'm here at the train station, but the 5:55 is delayed 25 minutes, so I won't be able to be there before 7:20 at the earliest. Call me on my cell if that's a problem.") to let you know when I was going to arrive.

But sometimes you get on the subway to the restaurant for what is usually a twenty-minute ride, but for some reason the subway stops between stations for ten minutes, and suddenly the two minutes you were running behind turns into twelve minutes you're running behind. And then, at the next station, a larger crowd has built up and instead of the three minutes it usually takes to disembark/board/leave the station, the train takes eight minutes. Now you're seventeen minutes behind, and you're underground with no way to use your cell phone.

So then you're running down the street at top speed so you don't inconvenience your friend, who is comfortably ensconced at a restaurant table. When you arrive, panting, out of breath, and generally verklempt, he says to you, "I'm disappointed in your lack of honor." How would you react then?

You might say, "Well, you should just leave earlier and chance arriving twenty minutes early at the restaurant every time," but the problem with that is a) sometimes you might arrive forty minutes early at the restaurant, because the "usual plan" (at least for me) involves a few minutes of "wiggle room" in case of ordinary subway slowness, but not the kind of happens-maybe-once-a-month craziness I describe above, and b) it's really uncomfortable for women, even women as elderly and respectable as I am, to wait alone in a restaurant for any length of time.

So I just don't see where the "honor" comes into it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:22 PM on November 24, 2004

mothershock, I feel your pain--seriously, because I, too, was the kid who was always sitting outside the school in the cold/having to have the schoolbus stop by my Mom's office so that she could sign the permission slip she forgot to give me before the trip, while my classmates waited in the parking lot/watching my parents walk into the concert moments after my brilliant clarinet solo/etc.

However, I also didn't learn any time-management skills at home, and the best I could do for a long time is to generally be within fifteen minutes of being on time for things (a huge, huge improvement over my parents' general ability).

Imagine having a) that enormous childhood shame-button about lateness, and b) not having mastered punctuality perfectly. Now imagine reading this thread and having people tell you that people like you are dishonorable, disrespectful of others, flakes who can't keep their commitments, etc. It's not fun.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:28 PM on November 24, 2004

Also, LionIndex and fff, I should say that of course I don't think that either of you are really "crazy control freaks"--I was just trying to point out that drawing a blanket conclusion from behavior in a particular area, like punctuality, can be overly reductive.

I just asked my lovely and incredibly punctual husband how he thought I was doing in improving my punctuality and he suggested that I was actually on time at least 60% of the time now, and on time or well within the generally-accepted "lateness window" of ten to fifteen minutes at least 90% of the time. So I guess old dogs (or bitches, in my case ;) ) can learn new tricks.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:32 PM on November 24, 2004

I really think that people like my mom and yours and mothershock's ARE disrespectful when it comes to chronic time mis-management, and to some extent moms can get away with that with their kids without being evil people (my mom is a good person, just a bit flakey and we kids saw the worst of it). But, being acutely aware of what it feels like to be on the bad side of someone's flakiness, I think we carry the burden of being more cognizant of what that kind of behavior looks like. I can't claim ignorance of what it feels like to have an already late person constantly telling me to "slow down!" when I'm excited about going somewhere, like I'm the unreasonable person.
It doesn't sound like you are as bad as your mom, but you're still reacting to fff and LionIndex like you are. Maybe you're just afraid of being that extreme?
posted by dness2 at 5:57 PM on November 24, 2004


So why all the hullabaloo, Sidhedevil, if you don't actually choose to be late?

It is obvious that there can be extenuating circumstances, well beyond one's control and wholly unpredictable, that can interfere with one's ability to arrive on time. In those cases, it is obvious that the person's lateness is not via disrespect or self-centred behaviour.

I suppose I should have prefaced my statements re: passive-agressive behaviour and one's honour with a disclaimer to the effect of the above paragraph, despite my thinking that no one would think to generalize it to the obviously excusable cases.

My bad.

So to reiterate my two previous posts, couched in the sort of language that should suffice to keep me from having my ass further chewed out unnecessarily:

There is a class of people whose behaviour is such that, consciously or unconsciously, they are effectively choosing to be or become late for a formerly agreed-upon meeting time. Typical examples are people who persistently fail to account for sufficient preparation and travel time such that, except in unusual extenuating circumstances, they will arrive at the destination in time to meet their party; and people who habitually fail to keep track of the time.

These people, who are but a limited subset of those who are late, are people who are acting either passive-agressively; or are people who have never faced consequences for their lateness such that they would learn to change their habits and behaviours.

It is my opinion that one's word is one's honour: when one makes a promise to be at a certain place at a certain time, one should make every damn effort to do so, including allowing extra time to account for unexpected but not-improbable delays in travel, including such ordinary things as heavier traffic, unexpected stops, lack of parking, poor weather conditions, and delays at the ATM, gas station, elevator, etcetera.

In summary, if you can't be trusted to honour your word to arrive at a given time, how can your word on anything be trusted?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:13 PM on November 24, 2004

If you're late for a meeting with me, you get away with it once. Once. There won't be a second time. You arrive late a second time and I will have already gone.

Five fresh fish is spot-on. People who are habitually late are not just rude, but intentionally rude and disrespectful of others. If you can't understand that, that's fine, but you're not going to waste my time more than once. Your word that you will meet me at a designated time is no longer believable.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:19 PM on November 24, 2004

Response by poster: People who are habitually late are not just rude, but intentionally rude and disrespectful of others.

I'm totally confused by this statement. I'm always early, and I'm offended by latecomers, but how can you POSSIBLY know someone's intentions, mr. crash davis? Do you mean that YOU would be intentionally rude if you acted in this way -- and are you assuming the same of others?

You don't have to forgive people who are late, but I think you owe them the respect of admitting that they are more astute about their mental states than you are. It's possible for a person to err multiple times without intentionally meaning to be rude. It's also possible that such a person DOES intend to be rude. You have no way of knowing, unless you have psychic powers.

It's fine for you to say that you don't care about their reasons. That's different from claiming that you KNOW their reasons.
posted by grumblebee at 6:28 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Wow, this has gotten nasty.

Mars, point taken. Myers Briggs was the way that I at least learned to realize that those who are late are not on some personal mission to drive me nuts, and learning that let me relax about it. But you're right, it doesn't explain the whole picture.

Digifox, the comment you quoted from me above was actually not meant as a barb at all. I just meant it was an unconscious assumption I was making, and when I realized it was an assumption instead of fact, again, I was able to start negotiating better with friends about timing events.
posted by occhiblu at 6:44 PM on November 24, 2004

In this case, I'm on FFF's side. Especially with regard to this one:

if you can't be trusted to honour your word to arrive at a given time, how can your word on anything be trusted?

I will not be friends with people who are consistenly late. In my experience it *does* correlate with being a massivly inconsiderate flake.

Your time is not more important than my time. But that is what being late says. I am not your table-waiting surrogate. I am not your advance scout. And being incapable of judging time is lame. Consistently misjudging how long it takes to get somewhere is not being optimistic; it is being dense.

And though I will be the first to admit that I am intensely anal, the frustration is beyond that: I set high standards for myself and I work hard to meet them. I expect that from you. No floppy-doodle folks for me.

On preview: Grumblebee, it doesn't matter if the person being late thinks they're rude, it matters if the person waiting for them does, especially if that person has expressed their distaste for such.
posted by dame at 6:48 PM on November 24, 2004

Yeah, Five Fresh Fish, that makes tons of sense. Because I can't get my ass in gear well enough to honour my promise to show up for the meeting at 4:00 instead of 4:03, a judge also can't trust my promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because all commitments and all promises have exactly the same level of importance and seriousness.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:48 PM on November 24, 2004

grumblebee, I've lived 22 years with a sister-in-law who will be late to her own funeral, and I've heard pretty much every excuse there is to hear. I'm pretty astute at figuring out if someone's late due to circumstances outside his control, or if it's something that couldn't be avoided.

There's one thing we all have a finite amount of, and that's time. If someone's disrespectful of my time, I don't care to associate with that person any more. They're free to continue being late to meetings with other people, and I hope they're both happy that way. But I'm not wasting any more of my continually-dwindling time sitting around waiting for them, when I could be using it for more important things, such as throwing my opinion out for internet duscussions. Capische?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:54 PM on November 24, 2004 [1 favorite]

Jacquilynne: I know I'm not FFF, but because I do have that attitude, I can say that for me it isn't a question of three minutes. Anywhere beyond five (consistently), it getting to me, and beyond ten is not tolerated. If you said you're going to do something, do it.

Another pointer for late folks: calling to say you're late does not make you on time.
posted by dame at 6:56 PM on November 24, 2004

See, fff, I had no way of knowing that you wouldn't think I was dishonorable or a flake if the 5:55 train was delayed by 25 minutes due to circumstances beyond my control, because dame's responses seem to indicate that she would think that I was a dishonorable flake because of that.

I don't know how dame keeps friends in a city where one (at least, this one) is very often caught between subway stations for twenty or thirty minutes at a stretch completely unexpectedly. Apparently, all of her friends don't mind showing up a half-hour or more early for appointments with her 90% of the time, just to avoid her wrath that 10% of the time that they are delayed by circumstances beyond their control.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:21 PM on November 24, 2004

I don't know what subway you live on, but I am only very rarely caught between stations; when I am, it is only for a few minutes.

More generally, if someone is late due to freak, unforseeable cicumstances, then of course I'm forgiving. That's why it's about chronic lateness. But if your train is always stopped, then yeah, you should leave a half-hour earlier.
posted by dame at 7:58 PM on November 24, 2004

I go through periods of being chronically late, despite have been raised to be punctual, and almost always these periods are when I am frantically multitasking and frequently interrupted. I am then tempted to leave at the last possible minute just to try and get a little more done. Especially when you're a programmer, contiguous blocks of time are vital to productivity, and we try hard not to shorten them.

When I am less stressed (which is most of the time, these days) I am always on time.

So, I'm late because when I'm overwhelmed I find it hard to say no to people, to leave meetings early so I can get to the next one, or whatever, and the easiest person to piss off (given that I'm going to disappoint somebody) is someone who isn't in my face yet. Ironically, the more overloaded I am, the less backbone I have. Thus I try hard these days to refuse engagements that I probably could squeeze in, just so as to avoid getting into the drowning state.

The cultural thing is definitely real: I can attest to the differences between Brazilian and Anglosaxon time sense. I don't think the number of people attending an engagement has anything to do with it; rather, it's a result of a *shared* expectation that everyone will be late, and a lifestyle with fewer scheduled events, meaning people have slack in their day.

Even in a majority clock-time culture, there may be subcultures where clock-time is not important. In my little Kiwi-Jewish community, "Jewish Mean Time" is well known, as is "Maori Time". Both Jews and Maori who are perfectly capable of making appointments in formal, majority-culture settings will be late in others, and we can get our contexts mixed up.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:00 PM on November 24, 2004

Yeah, Five Fresh Fish, that makes tons of sense. Because I can't get my ass in gear well enough to honour my promise to show up for the meeting at 4:00 instead of 4:03, a judge also can't trust my promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because all commitments and all promises have exactly the same level of importance and seriousness.

Thank you for your honesty. Now that I am adequately informed, I now know that from you, a promise is meaningless. It might be fulfilled. It might not. Depends on your mood, your whimsy, and whether there's a lawyer involved.

This is good to know.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:20 PM on November 24, 2004

I don't know how dame keeps friends in a city where one (at least, this one) is very often caught between subway stations for twenty or thirty minutes at a stretch completely unexpectedly. Apparently, all of her friends don't mind showing up a half-hour or more early for appointments with her 90% of the time, just to avoid her wrath that 10% of the time that they are delayed by circumstances beyond their control.

Are you saying that you are very often 10% of the time delayed, or 10% of the time very often delayed?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:24 PM on November 24, 2004

I don't live in NY, but I would say that I am stopped between stations for more than five minutes on the 1 and 9 lines between 5 and 10 percent of the time. This has been true on these particular lines for the past couple of years.

When I did live in NY (1988-90), I found that the A and C lines were far more prone to the unexpected between-stations stoppage, for at least 10 minutes closer to 10 percent of the time. I was caught on a C train once for more than three hours between 14th and West 4th Streets. I was not a happy camper.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:27 PM on November 24, 2004

Wait, fff points out that I am not exactly making sense. I mean to say that, of every 100 times I take the 1 and 9 lines, between 5 and 10 of those trips will occasion a between-stations delay of more than five minutes, and that, in the past, of every 100 times I took the A and C lines in 1988-90, between 8 and 10 of those trips occasioned a between-stations delay of 10 minutes or more.

Here in Boston, I would say that about 5 of every 100 trips I take on the Red Line occasions a between-stations delay of 5 minutes or more (generally on the bridge over the Charles, which is the nicest place to be stuck on the Red Line), and about 7 or 8 of every 100 trips I make on the Green Line occasions a between-stations or at-station delay of 5 minutes or more (more frequently when there are home games at Fenway Park).
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:31 PM on November 24, 2004

Interestingly (or not), the State of the Subways Report Card suggests that the A and C have gotten better about delays in recent years, and that the 1 and 9 have gotten worse. That makes me feel slightly less delusional.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:35 PM on November 24, 2004

Sounds to me like you should endeavour to leave ten minutes earlier all the time, Sidhedevil.

On the one hand, you'll often spend five to ten minutes waiting for someone to show up on time. During that time, you can wander about windowshopping, read a newspaper, go to the bathroom, get a coffee, enjoy the view, whatever. You can find ways to productively or interestingly occupy yourself for a few minutes.

If you don't leave earlier, then the person you made a commitment to will sometimes spend five to ten minutes waiting for you to show up. During that time, they will have extremely limited options: can't wander off, 'cause you might show up; can't get into anything too interesting, 'cause you might interrupt; can't do s.f.a., really. Not to mention that there's the emotional stress of not knowing what's going on: got the date wrong, got the time wrong, wrong place, you got hit by a bus, wtf is going on, and when should I just walk away?

All told, it's a lot more hardship on the person who was on time, than the one who showed up early.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 PM on November 24, 2004

What I find offensive is people who show up early. Now that's totally rude! Especially if they are coming to my house.
Please, wait in the car instead. I'm not ready for you to come in yet and you are liable to come across something neither of us want you to see that I would have hidden in my last minute cleaning sweep.
posted by tinamonster at 10:57 PM on November 24, 2004

Context is so important to this discussion and seems to be missing. If I ask you to dinner at my house at 7 pm, please be kind and be 15 minutes late as of course I will not be ready for you at 7. You are certainly welcome to show up at 7, but I still won't be ready most likely. Show up at quarter to seven and you are just plain rude - for Christ Sakes I am dripping wet naked, just out of the shower what is the matter with you. However, if we agree to have a business meeting at 10 am, please don't drag your sorry a-- in at 10:15 as you are just wasting everyone's time.
posted by caddis at 11:31 PM on November 24, 2004

I'm late because I'm disorganised, often sleep deprived and sometimes depressed. Also, my roommate and I just finally worked out a good shower schedule. It kills me when I'm late when I know people are waiting - my stomach knots up, I bite my hands - it's worst when I am not under my own control (eg walking) but stuck in some form of other transport (eg public). If you want to interpret my physical pain as a sign that I don't care that I'm late, that's fine.

That said, my own failures make me very sympathetic to those who are moderately late, and to those who are early - I am happy for them to come into the house early, even byan hour, so long as they are happy to hang out in the kitchen while I cook, clean, read a book while I shower.
posted by jb at 11:55 PM on November 24, 2004

Has anyone else had the "impossible commute" problem? I once had a job where I was expected to be at my desk at 8am. But because of the bell curve of morning traffic levels, there seemed to be no reasonable time that I could leave my house to get there at 8am. If I left at 7:50 I'd get there at 8:10. If I left at 7:30 I'd get there at 8:10. If I left at 7:15 I'd get there at 8:10. I had little to gain by leaving earlier and earlier except more wasted time and fuel. Eventually I proved through other means that I had a work ethic and was not being disrespectful. (The reverse is often true, wherein people work late simply because they'll get home at the same time whether they leave at 5 or at 6.)
posted by Tubes at 1:54 AM on November 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

A Google search on the terms "Executive Dysfunction" or "Executive Function Disorder" might be illuminating here.

Folks with EF disorders have difficulties with planning, organizing, shifting modes from one activity to another... and with estimating time. See this brief overview. It seems to commonly appear with ADD, Asperger Syndrome, etc. It seems to be a neurological issue involving the frontal lobes of the brain.

As the overview mentions, even a highly motivated person who has executive function problems may not be able to be somewhere on time. It's not that they don't care, aren't trying, are dishonorable, or any of that bullshit. It goes way beyond that.

Since the question asked for answers from those who are late, I will confess to being one. And I hate it. I NEVER do it to be passive-aggressive, or because I don't respect your time. I always expect to be somewhere on time. I am, however, completely unable to judge time at all. As someone mentioned above, time is flexible in my brain -- an hour can be very short, a minute can be very long. (I can't estimate amounts of anything, actually. I constantly put teeny-tiny amounts of leftovers in HUGE bowls, for which my husband makes fun of me. And when I try to drive or park, I always overestimate the space I need for my car. Which is lucky, because if it was the other way around, I'd probably not be able to drive at all.) So if I plan to leave 20 minutes early so I won't be late to an appointment with you, then I have to be able to figure out how to make THAT 20 minutes happen. And then I screw it up, because I have no idea how long anything will take/is taking. I don't know if a scan of my brain would show I have an EF disorder... but I certainly feel like I do. Time isn't the only EF area where I have difficulty. :/

When I am late, I am frustrated and upset. I probably am more annoyed by my lateness than you are.

The only thing that has worked so far is a strict routine. But when I don't follow that routine I am messed up again. (For example -- I know how long it takes me to get ready for a particular errand, and how long it takes to get there -- if I can start getting ready on time, with alarm clocks, etc., and I try to do nothing else, I can be on time. But if I step away from the routine it's all up in the air. If I look at the computer, or try to do any cleaning, or read a magazine article, or anything else that's not in my routine -- even if I really do have time for it -- I tend to be late because I will then lose track of time completely. Even though I think I haven't.

It's taken me a long time to start understanding this about myself, and now that I understand better how my brain works, I'm hoping I can do a better job of being on time. But this really has been a lifelong issue, so it's not likely to be an overnight fix.

I think that most people who run late aren't the borderline psychopaths some in this thread would have you believe. If the person is otherwise a good person, just non-punctual, he or she is still a good person with some flaws. Just like other good people might be fat, or depressed, or vote for the wrong person, or wear stupid clothes, or cook inedible food, or have a tin ear... And a psychopath is probably a psychopath in ways besides his time sense.

My reminder program just popped up a window telling me to "get ready for bed". And I had no idea it was 3 am. Good thing I have the reminder.
posted by litlnemo at 3:03 AM on November 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

So, I'm going to throw a different spin on this (or maybe not. That's a huge freakin' thread here.)

These are just two theories I have, not, I repeat not, my behavior.

Being late is a method of control and resentment.

Control: You can't start until I'm there. The world works around my schedule. No fun/work/etc will happen unitl I show up. Being late gives me a method of dominating the situation.

Resentment: I don't want to do that activity, be there at that time. I want to indulge myself and do what I please.
Some people think: I don't really want to go to that meeting, movie, activity. It's going to be unpleasant. And showing up late means I have less of it to do, and possibly guarantees I might have a bad time (reinforcing how horrible it is.)
posted by filmgeek at 5:12 AM on November 25, 2004

filmgeek, et al - all the people in this thread who actually have a problem with lateness have said that it is not about control, resentment or not caring about other people. It's about organisation or ability to estimate, etc. The whole long thread, the people who know what late people are thinking are trying to tell you, and the non-late people aren't listening. I know what I'm thinking - "F*ck, I'm late. I'm so stupid. Why am I late, why did I stop to make coffee, I'm so stupid, I'm running and my knees hurt, oh I'm so stupid, this is awful, people are going to hate me." And I do this even when 5 minutes late. (Or 2-3 for a seminar or meeting).
posted by jb at 9:41 AM on November 25, 2004

Oh, jb, I can hear them. I just don't believe them. I can manage to be on time, and so can you.

What the late people don't seem to get (and that FFF outlined so well), is that waiting is harder on us than being late is on you. So no, I'm not sympathetic to your pain. Besides, have you read these excuses? "I'm always optimistic and expect everything to go perfect. So I'm late a lot." How dense can you be? How long have you been alive? How often does everything go perfect? Something will go wrong, so plan for it. "I lose track of time." That is why Jeebus invented clocks. I mean, there's one on your phone and your computer. Look at it. Set an alarm.

Punctuality is the tiniest thing. It is really the least you can do.
posted by dame at 9:54 AM on November 25, 2004

In NYC, subway delays have become just commonplace enough to mess with you (but not quite enough that you can plan on it) - I find that about 10-20% of the time there's a delay of some kind or another. Every few weeks, a station will close completely for an hour or two. It has simply become impossible to predict with and error of less than 15-20 minutes how long it will take to get from point A to point B.

While you may not want to sit around for 15 or 20 minutes waiting for someone, they also don't want to plan to get there 15 or 20 minutes early and sit around waiting for you.

The best solution, I find, is to find someplace to meet where it's okay to sit around for a little while. A bookstore, a coffeeshop, or a bar, and not stress too much about it.
posted by Caviar at 10:06 AM on November 25, 2004

dame, and those with a similar attitude, just a suggestion, one you may already be doing, but you may want to let new acquaintances know up front (and give fair warning to old acquaintances) that you don't accept tardiness and don't care to understand it. you'll save them and yourself lots of aggravation at being acquainted and won't mess it up for the rest of us who think "empathy. it's the least one can do."
posted by namespan at 11:09 AM on November 25, 2004 [2 favorites]

I'm late a lot, usually because I get sidetracked. In fact, I'm going to be late right now, because I'm posting here. I was only going to check my email, and then I saw this thread...

I get round the lateness problem by never saying "I'll be there at 8pm". I always say, "see you at eight eight-thirty". That way, punctual types know that they can turn up at 8.30 and meet me, while people like me can sidle up anytime between eight and eight thirty.

I'm lucky not to really know any people like dame, because phrases like "Punctuality is the tiniest thing. It is really the least you can do" upset me. No, it's not the tiniest thing, you all-the-world's-like-me self-centred monster. Late people are not wired your way. Tell a morning person that staying up late is the tiniest thing. Tell an anorexic that eating's the tiniest thing. Tell a claustrophobic to take the damn lift.

Actually, I suspect people like dame, fff and M_C_D are the sort who do harbour pull-yourself-together thoughts like that.

All the better for the rest of us if they disappear once their ten minute wait time is up. (Incidentally, they're all quick to say, 'oh, we're forgiving if there's a good excuse. But since they all scarper after being made to wait a bit, how do they know?)
posted by bonaldi at 11:16 AM on November 25, 2004 [3 favorites]

oh, wait, dame and crash have already made things clear, which really is for the best, despite the fact that I think your judgement is roughly on par with saying stuff like "anyone could get calculus if they're willing to work at it". Undoubtedly there are people who don't get calculus because they've just never tried, but there really are different cognitive abilities for working mathematics or abstract thought in general -- why not perceiving and organizing time?

so maybe choosing the term empathy was a mistake on my part -- maybe you're actually capable of that, but maybe you're simply incapable of imagining that there are people in the world who are not just like you. or, maybe you just don't care. that's fine. but don't confuse the two.
posted by namespan at 11:34 AM on November 25, 2004

oh, wait, dame and crash have already made things clear, which really is for the best, despite the fact that I think your judgement is roughly on par with saying stuff like "anyone could get calculus if they're willing to work at it". Undoubtedly there are people who don't get calculus because they've just never tried, perhaps that's even true for the majority of people, but there really are different cognitive abilities for working mathematics or abstract thought in general, and for most things. Why not for perceiving and organizing time?

so maybe choosing the term empathy was a mistake on my part -- maybe you're actually capable of that, but maybe you're simply incapable of imagining that there are people in the world who are not just like you. or, maybe you just don't care. that's fine. but don't confuse the two.
posted by namespan at 11:41 AM on November 25, 2004

hey namespan, shut up, eh?
posted by bonaldi at 11:49 AM on November 25, 2004

or, maybe I need to exercise this myself and realize that there are people in the world who either don't have the skill in realizing/applying that, or just don't care to.

sorry about the double. dodgy connection made it look like the first didn't take. but maybe there's no excuse for that either. that's what we need! a no excuses world!
posted by namespan at 11:53 AM on November 25, 2004

You simply don't get it, do you?

This isn't a matter of whether or not you can organize your time.

It is a matter of whether you are as good as your word.

If you know yourself to be nigh incapable of showing up on time, DON'T SAY YOU'LL SHOW UP AT A GIVEN TIME.

I rather suspect you're not nearly so casual about other commitments in your life. I'll bet that when you say you'll bring a dessert, you bring a dessert. I'll bet that if you say you'll buy coffee, you buy the coffee. I'll bet that when you promise your boss to do X, you do X.

Or are you the sort that habitually lies about what they're going to do?
posted by five fresh fish at 12:47 PM on November 25, 2004

phrases like "Punctuality is the tiniest thing. It is really the least you can do" upset me. No, it's not the tiniest thing, you all-the-world's-like-me self-centred monster. Late people are not wired your way.

If you are habitually late, and you live in a society where this is a problem, you need to take steps to correct it. Regardless of how tiny or big it is for you to do so. The ability to compensate for your shortcomings is the difference between being a functional adult and being mentally ill.

I know several people who lack the sense that makes a word "look wrong" if it is misspelled. That doesn't mean they do not have to spell words properly. It means they have to find other ways of spelling besides just looking at what they've written and fiddling with it until it looks right.

I have shortcomings of my own which I am painfully aware of, and do my best to compensate for them. You are expected to do the same, with a minimum of bitching about how unfair or difficult it is.
posted by kindall at 1:35 PM on November 25, 2004

I continue to wonder why the non-lates, who were specifically excluded from the question, continue to crap on this post.

I was going to say more but I am attempting not to be late for Thanksgiving.
posted by litlnemo at 2:04 PM on November 25, 2004

This was not a direct response to kindall, by the way.

I do agree that latecomers have to attempt to compensate for their shortcomings as well as they can. But this thread has been about explaining why they HAVE those shortcomings, by specific request of the original poster. So of course this thread will have "bitching about how unfair or difficult it is" -- if you want to call it that.

I see it more as an earnest attempt to explain something that frustrates us, as we have said over and over and over, as much as it probably frustrates the punctual.
posted by litlnemo at 2:12 PM on November 25, 2004

I apologize for contributing off-topic ("I would love to hear from you latecomers about what goes on in your lives and heads when you are late.")
posted by five fresh fish at 2:54 PM on November 25, 2004

It is a matter of whether you are as good as your word

Riiight. So an bulimic who turns up for a dinner made by friends then chucks it up later is breaking her word by putting the friend to pointless trouble? Or an agoraphobic who tries to meet a friend for lunch but freaks out is breaking his?

Listen, lateness is not the same for us as it is for you. I know that the only thing that would make you late is not giving a fuck. But that's not what's going through our heads. We don't like being late. We just are. Keeping our word means turning up. And anyway, in my particular case, I'm always upfront and give a 'range' time.

If you are habitually late, and you live in a society where this is a problem, you need to take steps to correct it.

Er ... except society's not like that. For every clockwatching boss there's one who turns up at 10.30. For every get-up-and-leave-friend there are two who have a drink at the bar. How many lates in this thread have major problems with society because they're late? I'm willing to bet not many. Most of us have good friends that don't have rods up their arses.

But your sentence doesn't carry as much weight when it's just "If you are habitually late, there are anal-retentives that might not like that, so you need to take steps to correct it", does it?
posted by bonaldi at 3:34 PM on November 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you truly are akin to a bulemic or an agoraphobe, then I suggest you seek psychological help.

Keeping our word means turning up. And anyway, in my particular case, I'm always upfront and give a 'range' time.

If you're giving a range and showing up within that range, then you're keeping your word and can quite freaking out at me, okay?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:39 PM on November 25, 2004

Most of us have good friends that don't have rods up their arses give enough of a shit about either us or themselves to actually have high expectations and live up to them.

Look bonaldi, I know I'm being exceedingly cranky on this topic, but this whole "I'm an adult and don't understand time" schtick is pretty thin. And the utter lack of regret for wasting others people time is totally galling. But yeah, that's just me.
posted by dame at 7:55 PM on November 25, 2004

Most of us have good friends that don't have rods up their arses give enough of a shit about either us or themselves to actually have high expectations and live up to them.

Look bonaldi, I know I'm being exceedingly cranky on this topic, but this whole "I'm an adult and don't understand time" schtick is pretty thin. And the utter lack of regret for wasting others' time is totally galling. But yeah, that's just me.
posted by dame at 7:55 PM on November 25, 2004

I've had a really good chance to examine this topic as a generally late kind of guy who fell into a quasi-project management position a year and a half ago. Frankly, it has been a struggle the entire time at best, and a disaster at some of the worst times.

Trust me when I say I have done everything I could think of when it comes to improving. I *hate* giving up on something, admitting I'm incapable of it, and won't do it unless the evidence is to the contrary, and so far, the best I've been able to do is become nearly adequate.

One of the most revealing things about the whole thing has come from an inherent problem in a situation: during nearly all of it, I've been expected to jump in and do coding on many of the projects (or other projects) as needed. And in switching back and forth between the two, I eventually learned to see the contrast between the kind of thinking that takes place.

Coding is generally an immersive task for me. When I'm doing it, I get lost in the world of ideas it's represent. When I'm experiencing "flow", hours can go by and I don't notice. Details about other things are pushed aside to surface when they may -- although if I'm stressed out about something else important, I never achieve that immersion and code poorly.

Project/Account management is, almost by nature, not an immersive experience. It's the kind of job that peopel describe as "fast-paced and detail oriented." Your job is to take lots -- maybe a wheelbarrow full -- of small bits of information, organize them, and push to the right people at the right time, and "the right time" usually means ASAP. You have to be available to give this information to, you have to be thorough about detailing/documenting it, and you have to be prompt about getting it away, and often have to make timelines.

(Given that I have done the immersive-type work nearly all my life, I think you can see why this was difficult. And switching between the two types of work is nearly impossible. If I have to wear one hat on a given day, it had better be the case that the other hat isn't urgently needed.)

The second kind of work is really an entirely different cognitive skillset, and I agree fully with people in this thread who've expressed it that way.

Or are you the sort that habitually lies about what they're going to do?

fff, I often (not always but often) make promises in the throes of optimism and poor judgement about how long certain things will take, oversimplifying or forgetting some of all the steps involved. The likelihood of doing this increases if someone puts pressure -- "I must have this by a certain date/time." I have learned to *sometimes* recognize when I am in danger of doing this, check my pleaser impulses, multiply my estimate by a factor proportional to all the unknowns.... and I still underestimate or give the wrong answer anyway. With the best of intentions, not thinking "this is impossible, but at least I'll have the poor sap believing in me for just a few more days, hah hah!"

The calculus analogy above seems pretty accurate to my experience -- many, perhaps most people have the cognitive skills to master it with discipline and work. But there's a reasonable number that would find it elusive even when doing what they can. I've taught some of these people in public schools. There are cognitive skills I have that other people don't, things that come inately to me that I don't see how other people can struggle with. The way I *do* understand it is by analogy: there are a number of things I find difficult, some I find almost hopelessly vexing. Time management and awareness of time while I'm focused on something else is in the difficult category.

And the utter lack of regret for wasting others' time is totally galling. But yeah, that's just me.

For a lot of us, there isn't a total lack of regret at all -- often it's a "crap, how am I in this situation *again*?" kind of thing. But there is a puzzlement that time waiting is time wasted. Maybe it was all the time I spent waiting for others as a kid, but I learned to keep something interesting, entertaining, or even necessary to do with me, as grumblee mentioned.

And, speaking of which, that seems like a pretty key but perhaps unmade distinction in this thread. Some of us latecomers are trying to understand both you punctual people and see if we can learn to do things more like you do for the sake of personal satisfaction and for the sake of maybe keeping your acquaintance. Some punctual people -- at least the one who asked this question -- are interested in understanding latecomers for much of the same reason.

Maybe the real difference is whether or not you're going to try learn what makes others tick and make some accomodation for having people who are different from you in your life, or whether you're going to assume bad intentions/lack of character on their part, and conclude it's your way or the highway.
posted by weston at 9:22 PM on November 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

(One more note about that: your way or the highway is a perfectly acceptable choice to make about your life. But doing it while making a value judgement about the way that latecomers choose to live theirs seems to be somewhat indefensible on any other basis than "it annoys me.")
posted by weston at 9:28 PM on November 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

And the utter lack of regret for wasting others' time is totally galling.

Dame, like I was saying to fff: It's not the same for us as it is for you. I realise that if you were to be late for someone it would be because you didn't care, and therefore you assume that people who are late don't care about you.

Then, when they don't grovel at your feet, they're not doing a worthy amount of penance to make up for the impression they've made on you.

However, as almost every late here has said, again and again, we don't like being late. We do regret it. It's not fun. We don't sit sniggering on the couch at home until - "ooh, that's 45 minutes she's waited now, I'll go along now and see the ol' cow" or sit defiant through your complaints as if we could have been on time all along and you just have to get used to it, or any of the other fantasies that run through on-timer's minds (as they sit waiting).

That's why we say, "sorry I'm late".

Oh, and to come back and say, "you should show your regret by fixing it so you're on time next time" would be missing the point: lates are about as likely to be on time, every time, as you are to decide to be flexible about timekeeping. Being on time's a simple task for you; well, spontaneously rearranging previously fixed plans that collapse into dust is a simple task for us.
posted by bonaldi at 5:03 AM on November 26, 2004

Bonaldi, you seem to think I am magically on time without considering it. I'm not. If I have to meet someone, I figure out how long it will take, add ten minutes, and then do it. You also seem to think that punctual people don't get distracted. I certainly do. But I know myself well enough to know what kind of distracted I'll get. So if I have to leave the house at three, and when I look at the clock, it's two, I won't do something that will distract me. I'll spend the hour cleaning instead of reading metafilter, for instance. Why? Because I know reading metafilter would make me late. So I don't do it. Everyone here seems to know what makes them late, yet they keep doing it.
posted by dame at 11:53 AM on November 26, 2004

Response by poster: To anyone still reading this thread: this has been a fascinating experience for me. Thanks to all who posted. I'm sorry things got a bit nasty -- I hate nasty threads -- but all of the posts have been illuminating.

I honestly started this thread as an attempt to understand an alien (to me) personality type, and you later-comers helped me do that. To be honest, though, my starting point was one similar to dame's and fff's: offense and irritation at late people.

It's stunning to me that this thread has changed me. I'm rarely changed by anything I read. Don't get me wrong, I'll still get pissed next time I'm left waiting in the rain for 20 minutes, but that will be in the heat-of-the-moment. When I'm able to take a deep breath and think it over, I'll recall some of the stuff I learned here.

The nastiness was a big turning point for me. Yes, I hate lateness, but there's something I hate more: people who are SURE they know what goes on in other people's heads. To me, lateness seems like a slight (but galling) sort of rudeness. Assuming my psychology seems like a monumental act of rudeness.

fff's post is interesting, because on the one hand he implies that latecomers, being people who have broken their word,. are totally untrustworthy in other areas. On the other hand (contradicting himself), he implies that latecomers DON'T break their word about other things (getting coffee, etc.). I think he's on to something with the second idea. In my experience, it's NOT true that people have simple psychology. Sure, one is breaking one's word when one arrives late. It's a fallacy to assume that one untrustworthy act implies complete untrustworthiness. The world is full of people who are untrustworthy about one or two things: Bert's a great guy in general, but don't loan him money. Alice is fun to be around, except when she's drinking. One fault does not make you a sinner.

Emotionally, I feel much like dame: it's easy for ME to watch the clock. How could it possibly be hard for YOU? That's how I feel. But you know, I might just be wrong. The shear force of your responses, latecomers, have convinced me that I MAY be wrong. Again, people are complicated. I'm not a big fan of people who blame everything on childhood trauma or whatever, but -- as many of you have pointed out -- NOT EVERYONE IS THE SAME. Things that seem really really easy to me are may NOT be easy for you -- even if it FEELS to me like these things should be easy for anyone with a brain between their ears. I may be wrong. And in an argument between you and me about what goes on in YOUR mind, I at least owe you the respect of admitting that you are in a better position to judge your motivations than me.

If dame and fff had said, "you know, I don't care about your reasons," I'd understand. But they both go further and condescend. I find this more rude than the lateness.

But I guess in the spirit of cutting everyone slack, I will assume that it's just as hard for dame and fff to understand human complexity as it is for some of you to be on time. Maybe they're not trying to be rude. Maybe they really CAN'T imagine that others think differently.
posted by grumblebee at 12:09 PM on November 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

Grumblebee, to be clear, I just don't think any of the given "reasons" are good ones. That's my problem. To me they still add up to "something else was more important than you."

I understand that this might be harder. Plenty of things others find easy are hard for me. But I either put forth the effort because it is important, or I choose not to and willingly admit it's because I don't care.
posted by dame at 12:55 PM on November 26, 2004

Response by poster: Dame, I think we've gotten to the crux of the matter. I (think I) understand what you're saying: it may be harder for some to be late than others, but hard or not, they CAN be on time and they WOULD be on time if they cared enough.

This might be true.

It also might be true that you and I just don't get what it's like for them. When someone says they get distracted, I compare it in my mind to when I get distracted. But that may be an unfair comparison.

Think of something that is very very hard for you to control. Impossible or close to impossible. For instance, if you're a crier, imagine someone telling you that you need to buck up and stop crying. Or if you're someone who has a temper, imagine someone saying, "I'm REALLY offended by your anger. Stop being that way!" I don't know you, so you'll have to supply your own trait.

I still think you MIGHT be right: maybe these latecomers are just rude people who need to buck up. But I also think you might be wrong. Many people here have claimed that they (a) are late, (b) hate being late, (c) try very very hard not to be late, and (c) fail. Is it POSSIBLE they are telling the truth? It at least gives me pause for thought. If they ARE telling the truth, then you're really rubbing salt in the rude (not by saying you hate their lateness, but by implying that they are not trying hard enough).

At the very least, I don't think it's fair for you to use your mental processes as models for theirs. (Sorry if that's not what you're doing. It SEEMS like it's what you're doing to me.) I know the world gets really complicated when you can't model other's minds on yours, but... the world is complicated.

When it gets too complicated, I think it's better to say, "I'm sorry, but I don't care what your reasons are," then it is to read things into other people's minds.

By the way, what reasons WOULD be good enough for you to excuse chronic lateness? A brain scan that revealed a damaged region of the brain?

Also, do you have NOTHING in your life that is out of your control (or very difficult for your to control) but seems easy to other people? Have you NEVER had to explain to some skeptical person that it's really hard for you to stop drinking, to get a good night's sleep, to keep your house clean, to mingle at a party, to take a bite of something that really grosses you out, etc.?

I can't ever REALLY understand chronic lateness, but I CAN map the idea of an uncontrollable impulse (that other people CAN control) onto my own brain. A good example for me is the food one. I get grossed out by certain tastes to such a degree that they literally make me gag -- even if I just have half-a-spoonful. I HATE this about myself, and I've been told MANY times that I'm being rude by not tasting Aunt X's meat loaf or whatever (and that I'm being hystrionic when I gag). The people who say this simply don't understand what it's like to be me. When I say I dislike a certain taste, they think about what it's like for THEM when THEY dislike a taste. For them -- and for most people -- it's unpleasant, but not THAT unpleasant. If they have to down a few bites, they can. I HATE being the way I am, and I AM trying to change. But so far I haven't been able to subdue a gag reflex that is seems to be out of my control.

So when someone says that they can't control something that I can control, I have to at least grant them the possibility that they're being honest. They may just be lazy bastards who need to buck up, but maybe not.

If someone feels like my relationship with food is so irritating that they don't want me at their dinner party, that's fine. But it's NOT fine if they tell me that I'm lying or exaggerating. I'm not.
posted by grumblebee at 1:27 PM on November 26, 2004 [2 favorites]

grumblebee, thank you; I really respect you for those last couple of posts.
Also, do you have NOTHING in your life that is out of your control (or very difficult for your to control) but seems easy to other people? Have you NEVER had to explain to some skeptical person that it's really hard for you to stop drinking, to get a good night's sleep, to keep your house clean, to mingle at a party, to take a bite of something that really grosses you out, etc.?
This sort of describes the disagreement in a nutshell. For the earlies, punctuality is simple. As dame said: "If I have to meet someone, I figure out how long it will take, add ten minutes, and then do it. " For the lates, this is exactly the difficult part. Figuring out how long it will take? I can't estimate quantities of time (or much else) at all. I am not always late, nor am I usually really late, because I have been able to learn a few things about myself in 39 years, and about the place where I exist -- so I do know that if I leave my house at 2:30 I can be at my mom's well before 3:00. (And so I was on time for Thanksgiving yesterday after all!) And I know that I have got to plan to leave the house at 5pm to get to my evening class at 5:45. But the trouble comes when I have to deal with variables I don't know. Once I have to start estimating, guessing, judging -- that is where I am lost.

dame (and others) assume that what is easy for them is easy for everyone. But after nearly 4 decades I have finally figured out that my brain doesn't work that way. This is not an excuse. It is an explanation, and one I can use to learn how to deal with the way my brain does work.

I don't drink much. I don't care for alcohol that much, and never really get drunk. If I have an alcoholic drink, and I want to stop after that, I just do. It's easy for me. But I think we all know alcoholics for whom the advice "just stop after one" doesn't work. I can't project my ease at non-drinking onto them. They have to accept their alcoholism and learn methods to deal with it. Same for "lates." They have to learn methods to deal. Saying "just be on time" doesn't solve the problem.

But I think all of this has been said, really.

Thanks again, grumblebee.
posted by litlnemo at 4:59 PM on November 26, 2004

Grumblebee, you make good points, and frankly, you are a much nicer person than I am. At least on this topic: there are foibles I am much more forgiving of, but tardiness is just beyond me.

I *do* have things I am poor at controlling. The difference is I don't compare my short temper to alcoholism. If I really really cared about the ramifications of having a temper, I would work at controlling it. Since I do not, I must not really care. I do revisit that decision at times, but when it comes down to weighing changing and not caring, I choose don't care.

People in this thread have admitted that if something is really "important," they can make it. So they may as well have the guts to admit then when they don't make it, it's because they don't think it's "important."

Litlnemo admits that it just takes making methods for oneself; that is, working around one's known flaws.

Take the example of estimating time: if you can't estimate time, spend a week writing down how long it takes to get from your house and other common launching pads to places you normally go—that's all I do, except I don't have to write it down. I know how long it takes to get to Union Square because I have gone there before and noticed how long it took. If I am going somewhere new, I compare it to something I know. Like I've said before, I'm not magic. (Incidentally, the only reason I can imagine for chronic lateness is just having moved to a new area, and that should clear itself up in a month or two.)

In the end, just live up to your words. Don't say something pains you but do nothing about it, and don't say you care about something while letting your actions set that as a lie. It is because I cannot live in someone's head that I judge her by her actions. You can look at this as not understanding other people. I see it as thinking well enough of them that I don't let them get away with bullshit. If you try and fail, then you didn't try hard enough. That doesn't make you Satan; however, it also doesn't give you a free pass.
posted by dame at 8:52 PM on November 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I see the point in continuing to tell you how you are still not getting it. But I will point out that "knowing how long it takes to get from your house and other common launching pads to places you normally go" does not nearly even begin to cover all the things that might make one late, and even if I were to write all of those times down it wouldn't solve the problem. Maybe one of the other "lates" will fill in, if anyone is still following this.
"If I really really cared about the ramifications of having a temper, I would work at controlling it. Since I do not, I must not really care. I do revisit that decision at times, but when it comes down to weighing changing and not caring, I choose don't care."
Please do not assume that we are all like you in this matter. I can assure you we are not.

Thanks again to grumblebee for a great thread! I've said my part; I'm done.
posted by litlnemo at 4:16 AM on November 27, 2004

Except I hit post when I meant to hit preview one more time. :) I was going to add that dame's error in that previous statement is to continue to assume that lates arent working at controlling it. Failing to achieve something is not evidence that one isn't working hard on achieving that thing.

So now I've said my part.
posted by litlnemo at 4:20 AM on November 27, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, well, having come down pretty hard on dame, I would like to temper what I said a bit. As I've said many times, my view of human psychology is that it's rarely back-and-white. I don't think you're 100% in the wrong, dame. I just think your view is extreme to the point of being a bit unfair.

My guess is that it's not IMPOSSIBLE for latecomers to be on time in any specific circumstance. My guess is that it's just very very difficult for them to do be on time consistently. We commonly make the error of assuming if someone can do something once, they can always do it -- or that they can always so it without great personal hardship. To go back to alcoholism for a minute, I'm sure most of us have met alcoholics who have abstained from drinking on specific occasions. Does this mean that they can give it up altogether? Does it mean they CAN'T give it up? Are alcoholics all doomed to drink themselves to death? No. Neither are they are destined to shake the habit. It's more complicated than that.

I can think of a couple of issues from my life that fall within this plane: messiness and exercise. I struggle really hard to keep the house clean and I generally fail. I also struggle to exercise regularly and often fail at that, too. What's worse, there's someone else involved. I'm married, and my wife really wants a neat house. She also wants a healthy husband who will not die of a heart attack at 50. I really want to change this behavior for her. I want to change it for myself, too.

It's very hard. I'm not going to say it's impossible. But it's a constant struggle. Even if I manage to do these things consistently for two months straight, I can't seem to reach that magic place where I've crossed some border and don't have to struggle anymore. Each day I stay orderly and fit is a monumental struggle for me. And sometimes I just don't feel up to it. And I fail.

Is it my fault that I fail? Am I just being lazy? To be honest, I don't know. It's complicated. It DOES feel like if I just tried a little harder, I could do it TODAY. On the other hand, could I keep doing it tomorrow and the next day and the next day...? I don't know. I beat myself up about it a lot (as do many of the latecomers here), but I'm unhappy when life is a constant struggle. And it's hard to put yourself in a position where you're unhappy all the time. Does this mean I care more about my happiness than I care about improving or making my wife happy? I don't know. I don't have a care-meter. I KNOW that I deeply deeply care about my wife's happiness. I deeply deeply want to improve myself. I also HATE the struggle and want to be happy. It's horribly draining.

(I can understand why it's easier to be-on-time-to-work than to meet-you-for-lunch. Sure, this seems like the latecomer cares more about work than about you, but I think that's an illusion. We MUST work to pay the rent. Work is something we're FORCED to do. Socializing shouldn't feel forced. If it does, it feels like work. People want to meet you, because they want to have fun with you. They want to associate you with good times. If meeting with you turns into a struggle, it won't feel like a good time. Meeting with you will feel like work.)

Do I want people to take pity on my and give me a pass? No. It's MY problem. The only thing I ask is that people NOT tell me what's going on in my head. Tell me I'm a slob. Fine. Don't tell me I don't care that I'm a slob. I DO care. No one can know whether or not I care except me. You can even tell me you don't give a shit whether or not I care. That's fine too. But that's the limit of what you have the right to say.

Here's where I most agree with dame: latecomers SHOULD be honest and admit they will probably be late. It violates trust to keep saying "THIS time I WILL be on time," and then to be late again.

But to once again parade my own sins in public, I continually claim that I will keep the house clean; I continually claim that I will exercise more. Then I don't. I'm not proud of this. It's reprehensible. But I'm not lying when I say it. I'm also, perhaps, not being 100% truthful. But it's MUCH more accurate to say that I'm in denial than to say I'm lying.

We're all raised to believe that GOOD people are on time and GOOD people neat and GOOD people take care of themselves and are trustworthy. I SO want to be a good person. It's VERY hard to face being a bad person. Saying, "you know, I can't be counted on to keep things neat, and there's no way I'm going to the gym" is VERY hard to say. It's hard to even type it here. It really depresses me to say these sorts of things about myself.

And the more I say them, the less I feel like I can improve myself. I understand what the latecomers mean about being optimistic. It doesn't just mean optimistic that I'll be on time in this circumstance. It means optimistic that I can get over my problem and be a good and honorable person. In a very real sense, it feels like admitting that I may fail will cause me to fail. If I keep a positive attitude about it, I MIGHT succeed. The times I HAVE managed to clean and exercise are ALL on days that I was optimistic.

So my advice, for what it's worth, would be: latecomers, be aware that your actions feel like a betrayal to others. On-timers, tell them you hate it when latecomers are late, but don't tell them that they don't care. Don't tell them what's going on in their own heads. Being late is disrespectful. Playing shrink is disrespectful.
posted by grumblebee at 6:24 AM on November 27, 2004 [2 favorites]

"He has forgotten this request or that promise, they say. He doesn't remember his friends. He did not remember to do this, or say that, or to keep quiet about the other, for my sake. Certainly I am prone enough to forgetfulness, but as for neglecting, out of indifference, a service which a friend has asked of me, that I do not do. Let them be content with my misfortune and not turn it into a kind of ill-will, a kind quite foreign to my character."
-- Michel de Montaigne, writing in 1572.

Another commenter writing about people: "Personally, I quickly stopped being their friend."

I give thanks that life is self-selecting in this way. Although I am not usually late, my forgetfulness tends to select people out of my life. Since I can no more control these peoples' wrath than I can control the weather, this leaves more sunny days on my island.

While this by no means applies to all people who have selected out of my sphere of interaction, I am particularly thankful that this is very effective in ridding me of people who use very narrow definitions of manners that turn out to be, in practice, "Everything is about me, and if you don't agree, YOU are rude." Being spared the contempt of such self-righteous moralizers, who confuse manners with self-interest, is priceless. Such moralizers use "manners" as a defensive shield. Saying "manners, " for such people, is an extroardinarily effective means never having to actually argue for what you want over what everybody else wants. If such people choose to self-select out of my life, so be it; if they choose to stay, I honor what is good about them by giving them all that is good about me.

The only true manners are compassion and thinking of the other person. I myself am imperfect, all my friends are imperfect, but their imperfections are not my business: that part of God which is lodged in them is.
posted by lisatmh at 6:33 AM on December 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

This might be of interest...

I personally have a very good friend of mine who's always at least 45 minutes late, and it's coming to the point where I'm wondering if I can still be friends with her, believe it or not...
posted by rubin421 at 1:03 AM on December 5, 2004

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