Playdate Punctuality (or the Lack Thereof)
Dear Wise and All Knowing Amy,
So my child and I met this lovely mother and her child over a year ago. Our kids hit it off right away and the mom and I have a lot in common too. We typically see each other weekly for play-dates, sometimes at their house, sometimes at ours, sometimes at a play place. Here’s the thing though. They’re ALWAYS late. I will admit that I’m punctual to the point of being a few minutes early. And as anyone with kids knows, sometimes a kid can throw a monkey wrench into the business of getting out of the house on time. But this is all the time and at least 15-20 minutes late. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s early in the day, afternoon or evening, near their house or ours. I try to hide my irritation from my kid, but the kid picks up on the fact that they’ve been playing for a while, and the friend isn’t there yet.
What should I do? I do find it annoying that a meeting at an agreed upon time isn’t happening. I also find myself reluctant to do more activities with them knowing that we’ll probably be cooling our heels for about 20 minutes waiting for them. I’ve met their other friends and they seem to have the same sort of time line, at least 20 minutes late, so I don’t think this has ever been an issue before. Do I say something, suck it up, or adjust my time accordingly?
Oh, dear. As someone who really, REALLY has to work hard to get places on time, I have to admit I’m probably going to be more sympathetic to your chronically late friend than Smackdown-y. It’s a fundamental personality difference thing. You’re SUPER punctual and view lateness as rudeness, or a reflection on how she values your time together. It’s more likely that she just has lousy time management skills and in her mind, 15-20 minutes late is within her “acceptable” lateness time window.
I used to have a window like that too — if I could arrive somewhere within 10-15 minutes of when I was SUPPOSED to arrive, I felt it was a victory. And I can’t even blame having kids, though it certainly got worse after I had a baby. But even before that, I was just one of those chronically late people who constantly underestimated how long it would take me to get ready or to drive somewhere. “Oh, it takes 15 minutes to get to X,” I’d think, while forgetting that my car was parked two blocks away or that there was construction or a delay on the Metro. Or I’d realize I forgot to leave time to hit the ATM, or get gas, or I’d just plain lose track of time while putzing around my house or doing my hair. And then I’d realize it wasn’t a 15-minute trip at all, but more like 25 minutes. It had NOTHING to do with the activity or destination — I had the same problem getting to an important appointment on time as I did meeting my best friends at the bar.
I’ve gotten much better, but it still takes a LOT of effort for me. Probably a lot more effort than people like you, the naturally punctual, would ever need to exert. I’m not saying this to make you feel bad or anything, or to negate the fact that you DO put effort into arriving places on time, but I think there’s just a different wiring of our brains. Your effort results in you arriving places a few minutes early. People like me (and your friend, probably) can try twice as hard and still end up five minutes late.
But I do understand that it’s an annoying pattern, which is why I did finally seek out tips and tricks for the chronically late and worked on it. Still do! I set clocks five minutes fast, I set a million reminders on my computer and phone, I log things in my calendars as starting 15 minutes earlier than they really do. I have to constantly fight my own lack of clock-fueled inertia — I look at the time and still tend to think “oh, I have time to do/finish what I’m doing or send an email.” And then the next time I look I’m suddenly 10 minutes late to pick up my kid from preschool.
(Luckily for me, my husband does not share my bad habit. We were once friends with a couple that were BOTH chronically late people, and it was completely normal and expected that they’d arrive at least an HOUR late. To everything. All the time. It was crazy. I really don’t know how they functioned.)
Point is, she CAN change, but it’s probably best for you to accept that she won’t, at least not for casual playdates. Stuff like work meetings, flights, doctor appointments tend to get the most effort from the chronically late, and until we screw those up regularly, we tend to downplay the fact that it’s a problem. Hence that “acceptable lateness window” I mentioned earlier, which I guess is more like a form of denial.
So ALL THAT SAID, my suggestion for dealing with your friend is to simply tell her a time 15 minutes before you actually want the playdate to start. You arrive 15 minutes after that agreed-upon time. Then hopefully you’re only waiting for five before she arrives. If, by some Christmas miracle, she ACTUALLY shows up on time and ends up waiting for you…well, no big deal there, right? She owes you.