Turning up late for something is frustrating for everyone involved. But is it something the chronically late can control? We ask four women to share their experiences of being ‘late people’.
We’ve all got that one friend who reliably turns up 15-20 minutes late to every plan you make together. If no one comes to mind, that friend might be you. It’s an annoying trait, but one that people who are often late tend to take some sort of pride in. In fact, being a ‘late person’ is often a big part of the way a lot of people see themselves.
But why are some people so prone to being late? According to a 2018 survey, 25% of people have trouble getting to work on time. And even when consistently being late gets you in trouble, so many people still can’t kick their bad habit.
In her book Late: A Timebender’s Guide To Why We Are Late And How We Can Change, Grace G Pacie explores why people are late and how they can change. Pacie believes that people are late for a number of reasons, including lack of time management and an inflated sense of optimism. She says that these ideas are ingrained deeply within us, by both nature and nurture, which is why they can be so difficult to shift.
“A lot of people have an acceptable scale of lateness so you’ll allow yourself to be late for most things even if you always meet strict deadlines,” Pacie says.
Heather, 22, from Liverpool, says she would describe herself as a late person but she has been able to manage her lateness professionally. “In my old job I had warnings over my lateness and meetings which were awful, but for the past couple of years I’ve been early or on time for work everyday,” she says.
“Late people often say that they can be on time when it matters, like when they’re catching a flight,” Pacie says. This is true: many late people have never been late for a flight or an important meeting, so why can’t they simply apply the logic they have in these situations to the rest of their lives?
“Every day I think to myself ‘I will NOT be late’, but I always end up being late anyway,” says Anaelle, 27, from Hackney. “I plan the night before, set my alarm 10 minutes earlier than normal and overestimate how much time I need to get ready and yet… I’m always late.”
Research shows that much of our timekeeping skills could come down to our personality type. A 2001 study separated participants into Type A people (ambitious, competitive) and Type B (creative, reflective, explorative). They had to judge, without clocks, how long it took for one minute to elapse. Type A people felt a minute had gone by when roughly 58 seconds had passed. Type B participants felt a minute had gone by after 77 seconds.
Perhaps being on time is something we take for granted that we assume everyone can do when, in fact, it’s a skill that some people don’t possess. “I’m always late and it’s always because I get my directions wrong – I have no sense of direction,” says Anna, who is 28 and from Brixton, of her lateness.
Many late people are also overly optimistic, assuming that all the traffic lights will be on green and that all the roads will be empty; they don’t leave room for error.
“I don’t have self-discipline when it comes to time management,” says Jill, 23, from Mansfield. Jill thinks she might have become a late person because her family, too, are self-professed late people. “My whole family is late for everything and we’re very relaxed in general,” she says. Heather agrees: “The majority of my family are always late so we’re on the same page.”
All of these women who describe themselves as late people admit that they often find being late stressful. “I get really flustered and hot and I sweat, which can set you up for a bad start for something like a job interview or a date,” says Anna.
Being late has also got them into some serious trouble. Anaelle once missed her flight from London to New York and her best friend has become angry with her about her lateness in the past, explaining that he feels it’s disrespectful to him. Jill has had a similar experience and says that “my friends think that I don’t value their time”.
The idea that late people value their own time more than they do other people’s is a common one and Anna admits that she thinks this is true to an extent: “I hate being early so I’m my own worst enemy. I don’t like waiting for people and I don’t like it when they’re late. I’d rather be the late person than the early one - it’s a really horrible selfish trait.”
“Being late might not be causing huge problems for you but it’s definitely causing problems for the people in your life,” says Pacie, explaining that being late can seriously damage people’s relationships.
However, Anaelle says that both she and other people in her life have come to terms with her time management issues. “I accept my lateness; I won’t say I’m proud of it, but it is a part of my personality,” she explains, adding that she doesn’t care when other people are late because she feels as though she understands them.
Heather says that she has been through a similar period of acceptance and thinks that people who are obsessed with being early or on time are not necessarily better than people who always turn up late. “Everyone is different and I can accept those people who are opposite to me. I don’t get why it’s such a big deal unless it’s something serious,” she says.
Anna, while unable to get over her lateness, has tried to get better at managing it by ensuring she’s honest about whether or not she’s going to be on time, letting whoever she is meeting know as soon as possible if she’s going to be late.
If you’re friends with a late person, maybe you’ve found your own way of managing their behaviour. “My friend asks me to send her a selfie of me in front of my building whenever I leave so she knows I’m really on my way,” says Anaelle.
Everyone has their bad traits and being late for everything seems to be one that is as difficult to kick as any other. If they’re worth it, it’s probably worth trying to turn your frustration at the late person in your life into some sort of acceptance, even if you’ll never quite understand them. Hopefully, when it comes to one of your less attractive attributes, they’ll return the favour.