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The Manners Primer: Being Late

What being late says about you ....

From time to time, I will write about people who are late. Let me just say that I am not writing about the dead. Also, I am not writing about the people who have unluckily gotten behind a four-car accident on Route 64 during rush hour and are late for coffee with friends.

I am talking about the people who have no acceptable reason for being late. I do not understand these people. When we begin to attend school for the first time, we are taught that we must be on time. How does the chronically late adult make the leap from being able to be on time at the age of 5 to NEVER being able to be on time at the age of 40?

Here is what the late person is saying when they keep other people waiting:

  • You—your life, your schedule, your time has no value to me.
  • My ability to inconvenience you is a source of power for me.
  • I adore the attention that I get when I make my grand entrance—late.
  • I am thoughtless, careless and inconsiderate of others. I do not care how long it took to prepare the dinner or that others may be hungry. I am late because I am always late. (Refer to the first sentence in this paragraph.)

I belong to a choral group of about 20 to 30 people and we meet once a week. We are all volunteers, but we take pride in our performances and work hard at them.  One of the members is always late. Some of us have been late on occasion and we quietly get our music, take our places and join the group. But not this member. This member is always late. She flies in the door in a great huff, throws her coat off and slams her purse on the chair. She grabs her music and manages to send it flying in every direction. And then she begins to tell everyone just exactly why she is late—like we care. We all try to ignore her, of course, knowing her playbook as we do, but she makes it impossible. This childish need for attention is so distasteful. I wonder if it would matter to her what we think of her high jinx, but no one would ever tell her because we have manners.

For many years, I tolerated a relative who was always late for holiday meals. I am a good cook, and holiday meals are a particular joy for me to prepare. She was always late. At first, idiot that I was, I kept everything on warm and we waited, receiving geographical location updates every 15 or so minutes. As years went on, I served the dinner and kept a warm plate for her in the oven. Next, I let her eat cold food. Two years ago, she explained that she was late because she wanted to finish watching a re-run of her favorite show. That did it. I cut her from the guest list. I do not know why it took me so long to do this. I have saved countless dinners the slow death of the oven’s warm setting. Why would anyone accept a dinner invitation when they would much rather watch television at home? You just RSVP in the negative. It’s so simple and to lack the consideration to do so is beyond the pale.

To me, being late is the most egregious of all social gaffes. The funny thing is the late never see it as a referendum on their lack of manners. They schlep through life, throwing their purses and music, killing dinners and, worst of all, making other people late while we wait for them. I refuse to give them any credit for being oblivious because I believe they know very well that they are late, and they enjoy the power it brings to them and it is hostile. Being late allows them to control every social situation in which they engage, except with me. Little by little, I have found acceptable ways to eliminate my late acquaintances from my life, and am so much the happier for it.

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Susan Webber July 24, 2012 at 03:32 PM
My mother fits your description to the letter, except about the huffy part. I have never seen her be this way. But, chronically late, yep, she always is. I have gotten to the point where I will make restaurant reservations for one time and tell her a full 45 minutes earlier! I thought it was simple thoughtlessness, but as I have gotten older I see it as master manipulation. I have a dear friend who is chronically late, as well. I will not accept a ride with her as the anxiety of being late destroys my ability to enjoy myself. What do you say about someone who insists on being 15 minutes earliy everywhere they go? (That's me!)* I will simply not inconvenience anyone by the potential of possibly being late. :0) Mom lives out of town, so I will sign at least my first name. Susan
Jill Miller July 24, 2012 at 06:39 PM
You have to decide how crazy it makes you. If you are able to carry on with this behavior and adjust by lying to these people to force them to be on time, you may do nothing. But if you are driven mad with it, you need to tell them that you cannot meet them for dinner or accept a ride with them because they are always late. If they promise to behave better but disappoint yet again, the telephone is a nice way to keep in touch. In my experience with these people, you may use it a lot.
Lois Lane July 27, 2012 at 04:12 PM
I, too, had friends who were ALWAYS late!! When I would invite them over for a potluck dinner they were always assigned the dessert, definitely not the appetizer! One evening they were so late they never showed up at all! Never did find out what happened to them.

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