I have a friend—bless her heart—who is habitually late to everything! It all started when Lynn went to work for me as a freelance editor. She never showed up when she said she would, always arrived looking like the mad scientist with hair askew and papers flying out of her cramped notebooks, and as breathless as if she’d just run the Boston Marathon before remembering, “Oh! I have an appointment!”
But Lynn is brilliant. She can’t find her car keys, can’t remember where she parked her car, can’t remember her husband’s birthday, and can’t remember appointments; but I realized very quickly that some people, like Lynn, have bigger things going on inside their heads than the mundane issues of life.
My solution? I started giving Lynn a one-hour grace period. In other words, if I wanted Lynn to meet me at two in the afternoon, I’d tell her to be there at one in the afternoon. If we were meeting for lunch at noon, I’d tell her eleven in the morning and I’d bring a book to keep me company until she arrived. This method hasn’t failed me yet, and I am less frustrated with Lynn and her tardiness.
Yes, I talked to her quite frankly about this bad habit and she always felt genuinely terrible about it. But I think we both knew it would never change so we started laughing about it instead of trying to cure her. In Lynn’s case, it was always just me and not a room full of people waiting for her so I took that into consideration when I hatched my one-hour grace plan for her. You make concessions for certain things in life, and if something is important enough to you then you can learn to adapt to just about any situation. All’s well that ends well on that note.
But what do you do about that Johnny-come-lately that can’t blame her harried state on an upper hemisphere IQ? You know the type: they say things like, “I’m an hour late every where I go” in the same vein as “I always put on my pantyhose before I put on my shoes.” There is no apology in her tone. She’s simply stating a fact. She’s not in the lab trying to find a cure for cancer, and she knows we know she’s not that smart! She’s late because she has no appreciation of other people’s time and doesn’t seem to mind if other people are waiting for her. It’s more of a Princess Syndrome. Making that dramatic entrance an hour late is, I don’t know, coy and adorable; inaccessible somehow. Actually, coy and adorable only works if you’re in junior high school. And inaccessible only works if you’re really a princess of some small country.
And the little problem with her tardiness becomes an even bigger issue when you add two other elements to the mix: 1) she is an immediate family member; and 2) other family members are getting downright sick and tired of her nonsense. So what do you do?
I suggested that we use the one-hour grace period. But this idea was shot down because, “it’s codependent behavior and it’s like lying.” Well, I happen to think “like lying” is better than “like eating cold dinner” or “like losing a dinner reservation” or “like the whole family getting pissed off and having a fight” because one member of the dinner party is an hour late—and it’s always the same member of the dinner party. Besides, what’s a little codependency between families anyway?
“Okay, so someone just talk to her about her tardiness and tell her it’s unacceptable.” Bad idea. Obviously the direct approach is considered an egregious offense when you live in the South. To confront someone, even a family member, and even in the gentlest of tones, with the slightest offense on their part is akin to burning a rebel flag in your front yard and inviting all your neighbors and relatives to a weenie roast.
So you can’t trick her into showing up on time (that’s codependent and dishonest); and you can’t be honest with her about her behavior (that’s uncouth and you’re a Neanderthal for even suggesting it). Oh, the question still begs for an answer: what do you do?
Since I’m obviously not a Southerner and no amount of browbeating will ever change that, my brain simply isn’t wired for passive aggressive or that weird thing called subtlety. I have some clever ideas that I think are mighty fine solutions to the terminally tardy family member.
1. If she doesn’t show up on time to the next family dinner, we put her dinner out on the front porch when the rest of us sit down to eat. When she arrives an hour late and sees the neighborhood cats polishing off her cold steak she may start to get a clue.
2. If she’s late to the next family gathering at a restaurant, we have a tall dunce cap with sparklers that she will have to wear if she wants to join us. If she refuses to wear it then we collectively ban her from the table.
3. If she’s late to an outdoor gathering, we pack up and move a mile down the road within the first 30 minutes of her no-show, and we don’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs for her to find us.
4. If she’s late to a wedding or a funeral, we instruct the ushers not to let her in the church (I mean, really, to waltz into a church in the middle of a wedding so that everyone will stop looking at the bride and groom and look at you as you curtsy and whisper your apologies. How . . . unSouthern.)
5. And if all else fails, we throw a black hood over her head as she leaves for work one morning, kidnap her and bring her to a clandestine location in the woods, and beat her severely with Miss Manners etiquette books.
No, Miss Manners probably would not be pleased with that last recommendation. In fact, she probably wouldn’t care for any of them. I know what Miss Manners would say because I researched it on the Internet. Her solution? “When you are the host, tell your guests when dinner will be served (‘Please come at 7; we’ll be eating at 7:30’) and go ahead with that schedule, telling anyone who arrives late, ‘I knew you wouldn’t want us to wait for you.’”
And that is probably what we’ll do from now on. We’ll simply plan our dinners and events and carry along as if she’s not coming at all. And until someone grows the guts to confront her about her unacceptable behavior (or just gives me the green light because I have no shortage of guts), we’ll just be Southern and pretend it’s not happening.
I can live with this because, like I said earlier, you make concessions for certain things in life, and if something is important enough to you then you can learn to adapt to just about any situation.