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#282: Making plans with flaky sister isn’t working.

Alice In Wonderland's white rabbit looking stressed out and late! For a very important date!

He has a giant watch, so why is he always so late?

I’m having some trouble with my sister that I don’t know how to deal with. Basically, she’s a huge flake. Often when we make plans to spend time together, she’ll change her plans and not tell me until the last minute (when or after we were supposed to meet) and sometimes not at all. She seems to do this with everyone and doesn’t understand when people get pissed at her for it. A few times she has claimed that she’s on her way home and then doesn’t show up and doesn’t answer her phone, which of course means we get worried. Later she’s admitted that she lied about being on her way to begin with.

I’ve tried to explain that this is really annoying for me and I’ve asked her to at least contact me and cancel ahead of time so I can make other plans. I’ve also asked her not to make plans with me if she doesn’t think she’ll actually make it. I get that sometimes things come up or take longer than expected, but this happens all the time. When I’ve tried to talk to her, she’s been pretty defensive about it and she hasn’t changed her behavior. She’s 19, which I think is too old for this kind of behavior.

I really enjoy spending time with my sister and I don’t want to stop doing that, but I also want her to be respectful of my time. What can I do?

Annoyed Sister

Dear Annoyed:

You can’t make your sister less flaky, and while your desire to stay close and spend time with her is admirable, it’s leaving you annoyed at her all the time.

Relationship paradox: The stress of making and keeping plans with your sister makes the actual time spent together less enjoyable. The more you try to make plans, the more her flakiness is activated, so the more unpleasant it gets.

Relationship axiom: No matter whose fault it is, a relationship where one person is always fucking up (or feels like they are) and the other person is always frustrated (and wanting an apology) is a dysfunctional one. The roles calcify and soon everything is about “you’re unreliable and immature!” vs. “you’re controlling & judgmental!”

Confession: I really struggle with being on time. I have gotten WAY better at it over the years with the help (& gentle mocking) and understanding of kind friends. Sometimes it’s a manifestation of depression – I lose focus and get a lot of anxiety & guilt about leaving things undone right before I leave the house because my jerkbrain has set up a bizarre hierarchy of tasks. Sometimes I have what is frankly Magical Thinking about how long things actually take, and sometimes I’m disorganized so things take longer than I think they will + I didn’t leave enough of a margin for things to go wrong (bad idea when you depend on public transit). I have a strong introvert streak, and sometimes balk at social plans on a weekend when I haven’t had enough downtime that week. My boyfriend summed it up really well recently, saying something about how my jerkbrain is self-sabotaging to create risk and drama out of stuff that should be easy. The morning commute turns into a “Will she make it?” exciting chase sequence. If I don’t make it on time I  get to carry a lot of shame and do a little dance of shame/apology/forgiveness-or-punishment which feels familiar and like what I deserve and if I do make it I get to feel victorious and virtuous and normal about a really not-very-challenging activity that billions manage every day without fanfare.

I had things in much better shape for a while, but I remember backsliding about this fiercely after I witnessed a murder in front of my house 2 years ago – I started to have small panic attacks, lose time, be in a dissociative state & procrastinate even more whenever I had to go out my front door. Even though I have lived in major cities all my adult life, often in areas with major gang issues because that’s what I can afford, I spent a small fortune on cab fare because I wasn’t leaving myself enough time for the train (because I was afraid to walk there) and a small fortune on delivery food (because I was afraid to walk to the grocery store a few blocks away). I live in a different neighborhood now. Fortunately my street has just the one gang and I’m not on the borderland of disputed territory like I was before. I feel much safer here and can definitely go about my business. My post-traumatic stress about the shooting has largely dissipated and the depression is more under control. Product Endorsement: The Transit Tracker Phone App that says when the bus & train are due has really changed my life for the better.

But my own brain chemistry, personal history, and a lifetime of immaturity and bad habits around this are still against me and it’s a fight almost every single day even if I’m feeling okay and heading somewhere I really want to go. The mantra that gets me through is “Self, you don’t have to feel good while you do it, but you do have to do it, and you’ll definitely feel worse if you don’t do it.” It also helps me to visualize the other person or people waiting for me – fear of disappointing other people or being perceived as a fuck-up is a better motivator sometimes than taking care of myself. Sad feelings are not excuses for rudeness.

I feel like should say this now: Readers, if you’re tempted to jump in with helpful hacks or time-management tricks like “Lay your clothes out the night before!” and “Set your watch 15 minutes early to give yourself a buffer!” or any sentence that contains the words “But you could just….” or “Why don’t you just….?”  just  don’t. I can’t be smart at this problem and I’m really not looking for people to put their smart to work for me around this especially when so many of the solutions ARE really obvious. If smart fixed things I’d be fixed. I’m sharing this about myself because I think a lot of people can relate, and if you can’t relate, just enjoy your own good luck and this brief chaotic window into the rest of us.

So yeah, I understand your frustration with your sister and as a recovering Chronically Late Person, I can empathize with her, too. Nineteen IS old enough to behave better, and figuring out how to be on time is part of becoming a functioning grownup and also part of treating other people well. As we say all the time around here, knowing the why of someone’s behavior might give you more insight into and compassion for them, but it doesn’t meant that your needs don’t matter or that solving “Why?” is a magical solution to your problems. Your sister might have a lot of reasons for her poor time management: brain issues (many disorders manifest in the late teens/early 20s), lack of maturity, disorganization, jerkiness/basic lack of consideration, the fact that what is taught/modeled is not always what is learned and she did not get the same skills & manners you did from your upbringing, lack of healthy boundaries around scheduling (saying yes to too many things because you don’t want to say no and then realizing when they all converge that you can’t possibly do them), self-esteem issues that manifest in little tests to see if you’ll still wait for her and put up with her…etc. to infinity. Sussing out those reasons matters to her in developing coping skills, but they’re not (and should not be) as important to you as your need to have her cut the shit and act right around this.

So. Practical stuff.

You’ve already spoken up about how you feel and asked her to behave differently just fine without us. My advice is that you give yourself a set time period (3 months to start?) where you do not initiate any plans with your sister. The goal is not to punish her or give her secret tests, it’s to give yourself a total break from this dynamic and the responsibility of being the planner and see if you can reset some things about how the relationship works. Remove all pressure from her to change or prove something to you. Keep your expectations very low.

During this three months:

1. Prioritize people who actually treat you like you want to be treated. Don’t initiate plans with her, but if Sister initiates plans with you, use the following decision tree:

Were you invited to something else with someone else for the same block of time (and is that something you’d like to do)? ==> Accept the plans with the people who can keep plans and give your sister your regrets. Do not prioritize plans with her and set yourself up to miss out on something you could have gone to instead when she behaves true to form. If the block of time is totally open and you enthusiastically want to see your sister ===> make plans with her, with many caveats described below.

2. Set yourselves up to succeed by designing the lowest-pressure scenario possible. Nothing elaborate that costs you money or stress if she doesn’t show up on time, nothing that’s inconvenient for you to get to and from.  You’re not buying advance tickets to anything, driving for hours, standing in line at the crowded brunch place that won’t seat people until the entire party is present (In Chicago this is the rule anywhere popular, so if you’re dealing with flakes, Sunday brunch or a Thurs-Sat dinner is the WRONG meal to meet up for).

Think along the lines of :

  • (Drinks) + (Bar 2 blocks from your place that you like going to anyway) + (On a Monday or Tuesday) + (She should stop by between 6 and 7) + (You’ll have a book to read)
  • (Sunday night) + (You’ll be at home doing laundry anyway) + (Sure, come by and we’ll order something and watch a movie) + (Anytime between 5 and 8 is a good time to show up) + (After 8 sorry, you’ll have to do it another time and she shouldn’t bother. You’ve got an early start tomorrow.)

Anything more complicated than this she has shown she cannot handle, so once again, politely decline more elaborate offers for the present.

3. Travel separately. Don’t depend on her to pick you up. Don’t get sucked into being her only way to and from an event.

4. Think twice about involving others.  It will end with you and whoever else you invite being stressed out about whether you should just go ahead and make it a party of two so you can order. Also nobody likes watching their dinner companion carry on the 45 minutes of “ARE YOU HERE YET?” anxious texting.

5. Set limits on how long you’ll wait and how much you’ll text back and forth. Let’s talk about that anxious texting that you’re probably doing that’s making you long for the days before cell phones when making plans meant “See you at the movies at 8” and then you’d see the person at the movies at 8. Even a Recovering Late Person like me hates the constant cycle of confirming and reconfirming plans or the email sent late Thursday night/early Friday: “Do we still have plans for Friday?” I don’t know, it is Friday. You tell me.

You say in your letter that when she doesn’t show up or respond in a timely manner, you worry about her. Is there any way you can, for the 2-3 month trial period, try to reset that in your head to assuming that she’s fine and that she probably just flaked out again? Better yet, frame it as a choice: “Sister chose not to come tonight.” Resist sending texts, calling to check up, or issuing ultimatums like “I don’t even care about the movie anymore, can you just let me know you’re ok?” Give yourself permission to disengage and turn off the phone. I’m trying to get through this response without saying the words “you are not your sister’s keeper,” but obviously that failed. You’re not your sister’s keeper. You can care about her, you can’t do her caring for her. Break the dynamic where her disappearing or running late = tons of “ARE YOU OK?” attention from you.

If she’s barraging you with “OMW!” updates, respond once with “Cool, hope you get here soon.” Then put your phone in your bag and get on with whatever you were going to do. Prioritize your own comfort and enjoyment and the comfort of the people who actually showed up. If you’re hungry, eat. If you need to leave, go to sleep, or whatever, you make the decision to cut the evening short. Text her with “Looks like you won’t get here in time. Sorry to miss you, but I really have to go to bed/drive Mom home/stop by the post office. Catch you next time.”

6. Pleasantly, casually, accept-but-mostly-ignore her excuses & apologies. Sister: “Long elaborate story about why I’m late!” You: “Huh. Good thing I brought a book.” or “Sorry you had to deal with that, but yeah, I really couldn’t wait up.” + (Change the subject) + (Keep a tone out of your voice. Yeah, THAT tone). Don’t give her attention for having an entertaining story and telling it in an entertaining way or let her do the weird “I”m so ashamed that I’m like this” over-apologizing shame dance. This will seem counter-intuitive, but don’t make her lateness an issue (right now, during these three months). Just keep a flat affect and ignore it as much as you can. You want to try as much as possible to treat each interaction as a separate incident and not part of the story of how Late Sister is Always Late. You’re not letting her off the hook for rudeness, it’s more about getting out of the Big-Sister-Scolds pattern. What happens if you don’t scold? Find out.

7. If she improves, give positive reinforcement, but don’t make a thing about it.“I’m really glad you could make it”  or “It’s super-great to see you” + (hug) + (Get on with your planned evening).

NOT “Who are you and what have you done with my sister?” Really, anything you say that makes a big deal about it is just drawing attention to the old conflict and all the other times she did not show up on time. It keeps the conflict and hurt feelings bitter and fresh. Or it sounds patronizing with an air of “Look who finally made a poo-poo in the Big Girl Potty!

8. Change your expectations to reflect the reality of the situation. Right now your expectations are “Goddamnit, stop being late! You shouldn’t be late! Don’t change plans at the last minute and disappear without calling us! Be more considerate! Grow up already! You shouldn’t act like this!

More realistic expectations are “Sister will be late or absent and not communicate well about it. She’s rude like that sometimes. What’s our Plan B?” Stop being surprised when she acts like this. Treat it like the status quo that it is. You actually do have a lot of control over how much you allow this to wreck an evening of your life.

This whole trial period is about disengaging, withdrawing attention triggers & rewards for her bad behavior, and prioritizing your own comfort. You want as little as possible of your relationship and communication to be about her lateness problems so that you can enjoy what there is to enjoy. Does that make sense?

At the end of the three months, see how you feel. Are things better? Are you at least feeling less stressed and angry about it?

Save any big talks until you’ve given yourself that time to try different strategies and reset. When and if you do have a big talk, start it like this:

1. “Sister, you know and I know that you have trouble being reliable and committing fully to social plans. It’s not normal to be this consistently late or to have to lie about where you are. What do you think is going on with that?

(Listen)

2. “The way things have been really hurts my feelings and stresses me out, and I hate feeling that way. I’m sure you hate feeling like I’m always mad at you. Do you want to try to figure out a better way of handling this with each other?

(Listen)

3. “The good news is that we’re adults now and we get to decide how we want our relationship to work. So, in a perfect world, how do you want this to work between us?

(Listen)

Ask questions and get as much of her side of the story as you can without lecturing her on how things should be = a good plan for any kind of stressful conversation with someone you love and are trying to do right by.

We’ve had one past thread about sibling unreliability and one more general thing about flaking here, maybe something in there will be useful in handling things after the 3 months are up.

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162 comments
  1. Ellen Fremedon said:

    One thing that worked well for me and a chronically-late friend (who is now an often-on-time, only-occasionally-late friend) was to move the locus of intervention. Instead of asking her if she could please just manage to be on time– because, no; at that point, for a lot of reasons, she couldn’t– I asked her if she could try to give me more timely warning when she was going to be late. And made it clear that I was happy to change my plans to fit her schedule when that was possible– which I was!– but that that tended to get less possible the less warning I had.

    This was a much easier thing for my friend to change than all the factors that were coming together to make her chronically late– it was an achievable goal. And I think it may have helped her get past some of the catastrophizing that was contributing to her lateness to have it demonstrated that she could change her plans on the fly without horrible consequences; that other people would see a 2 PM email saying “I think I may have to work late; can we meet at 7 instead of 5:30?” as her being proactive and responsible, not as a sign that she was Failed to Honor Her Commitments and Could Not Be Relied On.

    • Denzi said:

      Speaking as a Chronically Late Person myself, this has been the first step for me. If I am having a Bad Brain Day and am running late or have to cancel plans because getting out of bed is basically impossible, learning that I do have the spoons (or need to make them) to make that one phone call or email is really helpful. And it certainly makes my (always early and on time) partner much happier with me, as well as my understanding bosses. And then on the (rare but getting more frequent) times where I think I am going to be late, and then I am actually on time, I get to look Super Extra Responsible.

      At the same time/on the other hand, it makes me more aware of how late I am and how often I’m late. (There was probably a three week period where I called my fast food job to say “I’m five to ten minutes late” EVERY DAY. AAAAGH SHAAAAAAAAAME. But also some incentive to get up five to ten minutes earlier.)

      I don’t think this is really useful for LW’s sister (because of the Cap’n’s very accurate perception of the Scolding Older Sister dynamic) but I offer it as my experience for anyone else who has Chronically Late Person problems.

      Also, Cap’n, your description of what it’s like to be a CLP is SPOT ON. AAAAAAGH. Magical thinking + depression + inattention + self-sabotage + bad habits. *gives you Jedi Hugs, mostly because I need them*

    • Rosa said:

      I wish this had worked for me! I also have a chronically late friend and I asked her to let me know if she was going to be late so I wouldn’t have to be worried that she got in an accident on the way to meet me, etc etc. This has resulted in “hey I probably will be like 1 hr late” 5 minutes before our meeting time, aka I’m already at our meeting place or on the subway/bus on the way there. Sigh. My friends and I have basically been forced to get around her lateness issue by only hanging out in groups of 3+ (aka if she doesn’t show up or shows up 3 hrs late, we can still have a rocking time!)

  2. Mary said:

    Think twice about involving others

    I have a few friends who have fallen into this kind of category. I’ve actually found that bigger group things are a good solution (at least, assuming LW doesn’t hate bigger group things for themself). If, say, you invite 4 or 5 people, it may not be the case that it being a “wait it might be 5 or 6, will it, won’t it?” is a big deal. “My sister might swing by later, not sure what her plans are” kind of thing. The bigger group is also helpful in persuading you to move on with the evening. Eg you might avoid ordering if it’s just you, but if you and 5 hungry people are in a cafe, not waiting for her before you order is easier.

    Definitely agree with giving her an end time for one-on-one plans!

    And also, speaking of eating, don’t hold up comfort for her! If you choose to meet in such a way that you don’t eat until she shows, or you’re going to get cold standing around, or you have nowhere to sit, or you’re going to be scanning the street for muggers or whatever, you will be way more annoyed with her than if you set up the meeting safe somewhere with a comfortable temp, after eating or where you can get a snack and so on, you’re going to be in a better mood when she shows. (Kinda obvious in many ways, and the Captain folded it into her scenarios, but I frequently forget to arrange plans so that, no matter what transpires, I actually EAT. And then failure to eat means I deal with problems less well. Whatever your grouchy triggers are, make sure that they aren’t in play when meeting her.)

    • General Assortment said:

      I was going to write a reply that was exactly this. I have flaky friends as well and it is always easier to plan an event with a group of people, or one reliable friend, and then we invite all the flaky people as well. If someone doesn’t show that is their prerogative.
      But I am a ‘planning’ type of person it did take me some time to wrap my brain around ‘Why would they say they would be here and then NOT SHOWUP?’
      I had to adjust my expectations, as well as my plan making habits.

    • xenu01 said:

      I think the key here, as the Captain sussed out, is not to invite others when you’ve got an event with a defined time window. It is definitely not cool for anyone to have to wait 45 minutes and then give up and order food and then eat it and then have the person show up and want to order, or to already be in a movie and be slipping out to text back and forth with someone who is late/a no show.

      I have a chronically late (like, really really late) friend. Last time we hung out, I invited her to a movie. I spent the first twenty minutes of preview and movie (and I love previews! and one of them was for the new batman movie! And our movie companions helpfully informed me that it was great, too bad I missed it) in the lobby, waiting for her…and since I am a chronically early person, it meant I spent over half an hour in that damned lobby.

      Here’s the thing about that: she’s a nice. truly lovely person, and I am sure that she never means to be a jerk. She may actually run into a lot of transportation problems. She may be really really bad at leaving the house. She may be not that great with estimating transportation time. She certainly doesn’t have to be as annoying as I am, with my written maps and directions and plan B, C, and D, and leaving an hour or more to get places. However, no matter how much I try to logic myself out of being irritated when she’s half an hour late AGAIN (with 15 OMW! and Oops, missed my train! texts), I can’t help it. It’s a big pet peeve of mine, and the downside is that when she makes me wait for the zillionth time because she doesn’t get it yet that there are less trains on Sunday or whatever, I will not have a good time. I will be civil and nice, but I will also be irritated and grumpy underneath, and neither of us will want to hang out again for reasons.

      So here is what I have decided: I will only invite her to things which have a time window that is very very long. And also, as CA has said many times, things which I can do with or without her. Like, “I’ll be in the park from noon to 4, reading. Drop by if you want.” Or “Come on over to *party*. We’ll be here till midnight.” Or “I’ll be at Very Small Concert With Five Dollar Cover, which I will enjoy whether you show up or not.” Basically, enjoy your life, do what you would do anyway, and invite her to things where it doesn’t really matter if she even shows up, because you’re having fun anyway.

  3. innocentsmith said:

    Oh man. Great advice as always, Captain. I’m just delurking to say thank you for the section on depression and lateness, because it’s something I’ve struggled with for over a decade and I was kind of flinching reading the description of the sister’s behavior. Not because I necessarily think that she has the same problems I do: there could be all kinds of reasons for it, or she might just be careless. Hard to tell, and it doesn’t necessarily affect how LW should act in order to not have her own life disrupted.

    Just. It’s so hard sometimes to deal with sometimes, on the “oh noes human interaction” days, and then once you start running late there’s the issue of “I’ll never be on time, and they will think I don’t like/respect them because I’m late, or that I’m just a flake, oh the shame, I should just STAY HOME and hide under the blankets for some desultory websurfing and periodic weeping. Because that is all I am capable of, pathetic person that I am, and even if I went they wouldn’t really want to see me, and who could blame them?” Etc. I’m still working on this: I sure as hell didn’t have it together at age 19. So it’s just really nice to feel I’m not alone with this. And I cosign your advice and script – really great approach.

    • Ethyl said:

      Oh goddddd right, and then comes the storm of “*normal* people don’t have this problem….”

      Reading this response reminded me of the time I was in both roles — I wasn’t good at being on time but I also wanted my friends to be there for me when *I* needed them, and I kind of wish my friends who wanted me to be on time were able to step back the way the Captain indicated. I would’ve felt a lot better…. And uh, that I had done the same for a few of them ::embarrassed cough::

      • cadenzamuse said:

        Cosigning the Self-Sabotaging Brain “*normal* people don’t have this problem…” I do sometimes remind myself that “normal” people = the middle class kyriarchy-established standard for the Western World, and that there are many places in the world where time is more flexible. So maybe I would fit in better if I moved to Greece or Kenya!

    • JenniferP said:

      Have you ever read Joanna Kavenna’s Inglourious?

      The protagonist is definitely having some kind of depressive, existential break, and her to-do lists look like this:

      Things to do, Monday

      Get a job.
      Wash your clothes.
      Clean the kitchen.
      Phone Liam and ask about the furniture.
      Buy some tuna and spaghetti.
      Go to the bank and beg for an extension – more money, more time to pay back the rest of your debt.
      Read the comedies of Shakespeare, the works of Proust, the plays of Racine and Corneille and The Man Without Qualities.
      Read The Golden Bough, the Nag Hammadi Gospels, the Upanishads, the Koran, the Bible, the Tao, and the complete works of E.A. Wallis Budge.
      Read Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Bacon, Locke, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and the rest.
      Hoover the living room.
      Clean the toilet.
      Distinguish the various philosophies of the way.
      Clean the bath.”

      • Christen said:

        Oh my god. That is pretty much what MY to-do lists looked like three years ago. I would just make them and then refuse to look at them.

        • Christen said:

          Which is also to say, because it’s not really clear in my other comment, that I REALLY appreciated the stuff about lateness and depression too.

      • innocentsmith said:

        Ahaha. No, I have not, but it is going on my BookMooch wanted list immediately based on that excerpt. So true. (Also amused by E. A. Wallis Budge and also effin’ Kant, because wow, way to give yourself some light easy reading.)

        I have a book of sparkly stickers sitting next to my dayrunner right now that I use whenever I complete a task for the day. I feel a little as though I ought to be in 2nd grade for this, and as though “normal people” shouldn’t need that kind of thing, but at the same time I do get a great little mood boost every time I put a shiny star next to something I’ve done today, even if it’s just “got to work on time and appropriately groomed.” Because that isn’t nothing, you know?

        • JenniferP said:

          Oh, I use giant stickers and gold stars on my to-do list. It was suggested by my therapist kind of jokingly, but it’s THE BEST.

          The book is pretty great.

        • Alice said:

          I am SO going to try this sparkly stickers thing! I relate so much to the Chronically Late Person and depression stuff that I could cry just reading this post and the threads. I’ve never gotten therapy but since I’ve been reading this site, I think it might really help me.

        • piny said:

          Ha, yes. I had a ten-minute session this morning of YOU ARE NOT A BAD PERSON FOR NOT READING A DISTANT MIRROR AFTER CARRYING IT AROUND IN YOUR SUITCASE FOR TWO AND A HALF YEARS JUST SELL THE DAMN THING AND BUY YOU SOME ELMORE LEONARD. GOD.

        • M'fly said:

          Sparkly stickers are definitely helpful for lots of people! I’ve made a point of carrying a few little squares of happy face and gold star stickers in my wallet at all times, both to use in my daytimer for completed tasks, and to give to other people whenever possible. When I was working as a waitress I put them on the bills before I gave them to customers and they were a big hit. Everyone loves happy faces and stars!

          • Karen said:

            I am hugging myself with glee over this. When I was the TA for a statistics class I started putting stickers on people’s homework. I felt a little sheepish about it, but I decided to just go for it. I cannot even begin tell you the positive feedback I got.

            And these were graduate students to boot.

        • Elsajeni said:

          I don’t do well with stickers (I lose them), but my ability to actually complete my to-do lists shot way up when I started putting little boxes next to each item, so I could check the boxes instead of just crossing stuff out. Brains are weird.

        • Kathryn said:

          Screw normal people, sparkly stickers rock.

          But then, I have a tiara that I will wear on bad days. (Some days the choices are in to work on time with a tiara or not in to work at all.)

          The thing that changed me from being a chronically late person to being a reformed late person was a sentiment from The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing (which is a very sweet book, it turns out) that being late tells the people you care about that they aren’t important to you. When I’m not so good at caring for myself, I’m still pretty good at caring about other people. So I show up on time, in a tiara and a snarky t-shirt possibly while brushing my hair, but on time.

          • Jinian said:

            You sound like a great friend!

            I have a sentimental attachment to plain foil star stickers myself (green for taking care of plants; gold for reading a scientific paper that day), but the appeal of the sparkly ones is also great.

      • Liennae said:

        That sounds like my budget – when you’re writting it out it seems completely plausible that you buy an entire new wardrobe of awesome retro clothing, and that tatoo you wanted needs to be on there, then of course you need to pay off your credit card which is dangerously close to it’s limit, and btw self, didn’t you wan’t to put aside money for a downpayment on a mansion? Nevermind putting silly things like rent, food and hydro on there. And all of it has to be accomplished with this week’s paycheck or you are a failure.

        A big thanks though for the emphatic request that people not try to suggest routines, etc. It drives me up the wall when people assume that by adulthood you haven’t attempted to mitigate lateness by laying out your clothes ahead of time. I get “helpful” suggestions like this all the time and you know the person is trying to help, but really you just want to yell at them to stop treating you like a 5yo.

        • Very closely related to the “Have you tried diet and exercise?!?!?” “advice” to fat people.

          • Oh gods yes.

          • Liennae said:

            Exactly. That is not a particular problem for me, but for some reason I attract a lot of mother hen types. Especially since I do request advice from time to time, and genuinely like asking questions for the sake of learning. But the honest truth is that 90% (maybe closer to 80% *shrugs*) of the time I am capable of doing the normal things an adult is capable of, and doing them well. So WHYYYYYY do people have to assume that because I don’t know X, Y, Z fact about some (not obtuse) topic, that I need to learn the whole alphabet? (Like IT people asking if your computer is plugged in) ¬_¬

        • Ldubs said:

          Oh, me too. Like, really? I could just get up 30 minutes earlier? I had not thought of that.

          I can’t remember where I heard this, but it works to help me be nicer to myself: I take a deep breath, tell myself “If you could have done better, you would have” and move on.

        • M'fly said:

          Yeah, seconded. I’m a recovering Chronically Late Person as well, and believe me, I have tried EVERY strategy anyone could suggest, and then some. I have probably read just about every time management book ever written, I’ve set all my clocks ahead, put my clothes out the night before, everything. It. Doesn’t. Work. The only thing that works (for me, not necessarily everyone else) is picturing how upset and angry other people will be if I’m late. And even that doesn’t always work, especially if the reason I’m having trouble leaving the house is due to some sort of fear instead of just plain ol’ depression, ADHD, and laziness.

  4. Christen said:

    First, I am also a recovering chronically late person AND I have a few really flaky friends and those relationships stress me out. (I’m better at being on time for social engagements than I am for work stuff — but also, most of my friends also depend on public transit and I live in a city where people are pretty flexible about time stuff in general.) I have my own set of hacks for it, but then of course if I’m feeling sad or just lazy and immature, I just choose not to do them. (Or forget.) One piece of advice I read a while back that made a difference was this: failures at time management are almost always failures of metacognition. So I force myself to do 750words.com now at least a couple of times a week, and man, thinking about the big picture of my life on a regular basis — and dealing with whatever emotional weirdness is floating around my head and leading me to distract myself with cat videos when I should be working — really does result in me making better choices and being more efficient.

    As far as dealing with flakiness in friends, my rule is to speak up about it sincerely, once, and then back off and shut up. Both times I can think of that I confronted someone about their flakiness, it was a situation where things were really bad and I ended up with badly hurt feelings, bad enough that telling myself “That’s just how X is” didn’t work for me anymore. (Both times were situations where the other person just flat out flaked with no communication about it — I’m really understanding about lateness or having to cancel plans sometimes, but waiting for someone and not knowing sucks.)

    The friend I had this conversation with more recently sometimes goes through cycles of guilt and avoidance (and paranoia), and I can relate to that and didn’t want to make her feel WORSE (and maybe also make the issue worse). But…what happened just wasn’t OK with me. What I said to her was pretty much: “I know you don’t mean any harm, but when you did x it really hurt my feelings. I know you can be really hard on yourself, and I don’t want to see that, but I also don’t think it’s fair to pretend I’m OK with behavior that upsets me so much. I hope you can work on it.” Right now I am in a “don’t make plans with her that put me out too much” mode (after a period of non-engagement) and it’s working out OK. Also, my relationship with the friend I had a similar talk with years ago has really improved — she took it to heart and has become much more reliable, but there was a long period where we didn’t hang out much or make plans that would put her out a whole lot.

    • Huh, that’s a really interesting point about time management and metacognition. I’ve recently rediscovered my motivation after burning out a bit (I’m a grad student and my adviser doesn’t micromanage), partly with “I’m in grad school and theoretically want this PhD, maybe I should act on that if I really do want it.”

  5. Ethyl said:

    “Stop being surprised when she acts like this. Treat it like the status quo that it is.”

    This is so true for so many relationships. I should carry it in my wallet. It is seriously so hard to let go of “ought,” though, so I’d encourage the LW to be gentle with hirself if zie gets mad or whatever at first — the key is how you act. This is what journals are good for :)

  6. Kathleen said:

    “19 is too old for this kind of behavior”
    Unfortunately, it’s not. The part of the brain that controls planning and consequences ( the pre fontal cortex) doesn’t finish growing until people are about 24. Which means they should really change the minimum age for some things. But hey, maybe she’ll grow out of it…

    http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html

    • JenniferP said:

      SCIENCE!

      Thanks so much. That is something to look forward to, LW – she might just age out of this altogether, so take the long view.

      • Jane said:

        Yeah, that was what I was thinking when I read this. . . I was a reasonably mature 19-year-old, but I simply HAD NOT LEARNED any kind of time management skills at that point. (Also was completely overwhelmed by school and moderately depressed at that point, but that’s another story.)

        When you’re 19, you’ve had at most two years to be in charge of organizing your own time. Some people are great at it, and some people (me!) have no natural talent for this at all. What I’m saying is that even for many relatively neurotypical people, having your shit together enough to be on time regularly takes practice.

        • commanderlogic said:

          OO! OO! Analogy time!

          When you’re just out of school, it’s totally normal to be both used to a set schedule, but also be completely crap at organizing an independent schedule of your own. Why? Because school and activities and such have gotten you so used to an outside force organizing your time for you.

          This is similar to my personal experience with running. I started running on treadmills, and all experiments with self-paced running out in the real world have fallen apart because I never learned to self-pace. I get out there and I’m like “am I going fast? too fast? too slow? how far?” and even if I have fancy apps and stuff, it’s still not helping me because I never learned to self-pace in the first place.

          Could I figure it out eventually? Sure, but why do that when I have a handy treadmill in a temperature and precipitation controlled environment?

          • yes!

            This is also why a lot of girls with ADD get diagnosed in college or right out of college. We tend to be less disruptive in school and muddle along when people set our schedules for us, but then create all kinds of disasters when we have to suddenly make our own.

          • staranise said:

            Jennygadget, hell yes. I am not alone in my grad school class as being one of the girls who just got diagnosed with ADHD in the last couple years. We’re all trying to figure out how the hell this works, and what’s ADHD and what’s just a character flaw.

    • Alice said:

      Yeah, I’ve got to agree. I’ve always been known for being the Late One (partly depression and stuff playing in but it’s an issue any way) and 19 is definitely not too old for it, at least in my experience. I’m 21 now, and it has definitely got better over the last few years. Honestly, if I were you, LW, I’d be resigned to a certain amount of waiting for your sister to grow out of it or learn better ways to be on time. Not that you shouldn’t also do the above stuff, but maybe it’ll help to know she may just get better over time anyway?

    • As a former neurological researcher under the age of 24 I am perfectly happy to agree with this! Although I will argue that the sister’s flakiness is probably due in large part to societal conditioning, her developing independence and personality, and her evolving understanding of other people’s desires – not necessarily her physiological maturity and number of neuronal connections! (Biological Reductionism ‘Splainin All Social Behavior is something I tend to want to throw several grains of salt on when I see it; sorry.)

      • General Judgment said:

        Thanks for this. Coming from a birth family that regularly used “your brain isn’t as developed as mine, so you’re inherently my /inferior/ and everything you say is more or less hysterical babble” bio-reductionism as an abuse tactic, I was really surprised to see it here.

        • I do think, though, that there’s some extent to which acknowledging differences can be done in a kind, supportive, and understanding way. There’s been some fascinating research lately on ways in which the teenage brain is wonderfully adaptive for being a teenager, rather than being an inferior, incomplete version of the adult brain. Teenagers have to do big, scary, momentous things, like set out into the world away from (what’s supposed to be) the safety and shelter of their families. Children’s and teenagers’ brains are amazing.

          I say this as someone whose students are usually about 19 or 20. When I remind myself that mine isn’t the only class that they’re taking, that instead they’re learning at this level in three or four additional subjects, it’s staggering. Their “Learning New Things” mental muscles (so to speak) are well-developed and strong from use. And their “Executive Function” mental muscles are less developed and haven’t had as much exercise, because until very recently they’ve had other people making most of their decisions for them.

          I’m sorry that your family of origin used your beautiful, wonderful childhood differences to demean and belittle you. That really sucks.

        • To be honest, I was on the other side of this argument not too long ago where I distinctly recall saying that “maturity is different at every age, and it isn’t OMG AGE DISCRIMINATION to point out that you aren’t a mature individual.” but yeah, bio reductionism is pretty offensive and ignorant even with the best intentions, because actual biologists are too critically minded to peddle it! “have you tried diet and exercise? Have you tried not being sad? Have you tried not being black? You know, women are biologically weaker so men should get higher wages! The skulls of POCs more closely resemble the skulls of monkeys than Nordic skulls do. Homosexuality is unnatural! Have you tried developing your prefrontal cortex?”

          Of course, I was quite pleased as a preteen, sitting a college psychology exam where one of the questions was “at what age do children gain the ability to think abstractly rather than concretely” and the answer from the textbook was “a few years older than Baby Elodie” so I thought about it and wrote “the concrete answer is Y, but I am X years old and may have disproved this in the abstract by answering this question”

          Tl;dr I am drunk but bioreductionism and evopsych can go suck eggs and I’m sorry your family sucked so much, that is never okay

          The eggs are made out of racism

          • JenniferP said:

            SORRY, elodie, this got caught in Spam filter!

            I confess I didn’t read the link, just agreed with the statement that 19-year old brains are still developing. I teach college freshmen. Yeah, they are still developing in amazing ways and also learning time management and expectations and boundaries.

  7. Chay said:

    Can I just take a moment to marvel at the hilarious brilliance of equating over-praise for sister showing up on time as “Look who finally made a poo-poo in the Big Girl Potty!“

    I love you, Captain Awkward.

    MEANWHILE, also agreeing with everything else said. I don’t have plan-flakers but I’ve got visit-threateners. I live across the country from my (sole) parent, who would call and do things like say “I’m coming over next week. I’ll probably stay a few weeks.” – Cue me + Husband going into a massive tizzy, cleaning house, making up spare bedroom, getting carpets cleaned, generally mentally preparing (love him, but he is Hard Work and only ever visits when his emotional baggage gets so bad he needs to “get out of dodge” (actual quote)).

    Then the week will pass…in silence. Two weeks later I’ll call and ask when he’s flying in – “Oh, no I can’t make it. I’m sick / I’ve got too much on at work / I’m reorganising my stamp collection”. Me + Husband then spend the next two weeks decompressing from imminent-parent stress, only to have the same phone call – “I’ll be there next week” – three weeks later and the cycle starts again.

    So I disengaged completely. Now the answer is “Great! Let me know when you’ve booked your tickets. We don’t get paid until after the 15th of each month, so if you could make sure you arrive after the 15th then that would be best for us.” and then I proceed with not giving any fucks. The house remains at standard level clean. The spare bed remains covered in spare bicycle parts and computer equipment. The weeds grow joyously through the courtyard pavers. Life just CONTINUES.

    Also, if you loosen the leash a little I wonder if that won’t encourage her to step up a bit more herself, rather than feeling pressured to perform all the time. As much as 19 is old enough to know better, it’s also still pretty young – you have a lot of time to have a relationship with her, she doesn’t have to have all her shit together JUST yet. If you back off and let your life continue she’ll probably come back into it by herself :)

    • Christen said:

      Ugh. My father does this too. He lives in a neighboring state, about a seven- or eight-hour drive, so it’s more like, “I might drive over tomorrow, or maybe in a couple of weeks?” And it’s like “Aughhhhh I’m busy! Need to plan ahead! What makes you think I can just drop everything to entertain you?” After rearranging my schedule a couple of times and being disappointed, I stopped. He finally made it out here a few weeks ago and it went just fine.

  8. This is an excellent letter, and something I want to time travel back 5 years and read. There was a friend in my life who was very difficult to get along with because she was flaky. I wish I had known more about how mental and health issues can affect someone because she was dealing with serious problems, and her erratic behavior was just a symptom of a larger problem.

    On a different note, I’m also the type of person who can get so absorbed in what I’m doing that I lose track of time. No, I didn’t realize two hours passed instead of one because, as much as I try, I neglect things like ‘time’ when I’m working and absorbed in a project; I want to squeeze out the last possible moment with what I’m doing. I think there is a cultural emphasis on promptness. What did we ever do before clocks? Sundials and compasses just don’t invoke that ‘on time is late’ philosophy.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ah, I forgot to write about total absorption in a task….like….blogging, or my bitch goddess Final Cut Pro.

  9. Jessica said:

    I too have always had a hard time being on time for things (or remembering appointments at all). I just don’t do clocks and calendars well. And like others commenters here, I experienced the societal expectation that everyone should be able to manage clocks and calendars if they are “normal” and “responsible” as a huge anxiety/shame/guilt-producing burden, which made the whole thing vastly more difficult for me. And the thing is, I am VERY reliable in general, the kind of loyal friend that would have someone’s back for life. And I am very responsible, very mindful of things that are important – it just took me a long time to consider things like dentist appointments at X day & time to be important.

    So what I realized is that my lateness was not due to any personal failings, except for not being good at managing my life around a clock. And I have since realized that THAT is not actually a normal skill at all, but a unique requirement of our very unique modern way of life. For 99.9% of humanity’s existence on Earth, being at X place at Y time was just not how things worked (and we certainly never had clocks dividing a day into hours and minutes).

    And even in many places where people do live modern lives, people don’t pattern their lives after the unnatural rigidity of clocks. On Salt Spring island for example (where I live), it is considered completely normal to show up a couple hours later than the time planned on, because hey, that’s life (and people don’t have a NEED for plans to be at exactly the right time, because they don’t organize their lives that way – with the one big exception of making the ferry).

    I made a choice a long time ago to change my life to better fit my natural way of being (rather than the other way around), and now on the rare occasion when I do really have to be at a certain place at a certain time, I have a much easier time doing it. And my life in general is WAY less stressful.

  10. I have TONS of flaky friends, and I have started to do this thing where I go to a bar or somewhere nice by myself with a book, and send a text “I will be [place] from [time] to [time].” And that is it! No “please come!” “would you like to come?” – nothing! And they tend to drop in, when they are free, more reliably than when I actually invite them, and I think it might have something to do with the fact that I am not electronically hovering and depending on them, because I do the thing assuming I will be alone (reading the Hobbit in bars is also apparently a good way to meet new people!)

    Also, for the LW’s sister and possibly others: I noticed that I would force myself to keep appointments with friends and family even when I wanted to sink into the earth and die because I extended myself socially too much, and I either go, and hate my life, or pretend I forgot and stay home, all turtled up, because I think they will hate me for not coming, even if I gave them advance warning, so why contact them?
    Then I started reading Captain Awkward and realized that my emotional needs are important, and legitimate reasons to cancel low-pressure events with people who love me, and I’ve had great feedback from it (“Hey friend, I am feeling overextended and stressed, and I need some time to myself. Is it okay if we do [thing] another time?”), including “Wow, it’s really great you know that about yourself. Yes, let’s reschedule for next week!”

    So if invalidation of self’s feelings of “urgh, do not want to do this thing now, even though I totally did when I made the plan” are contributing to no-contact flakiness, like it did for me, realize that recognizing your emotional needs and asking others to accomodate you reasonably is total legitimate and necessary, and most people will respect you for it.

    • Britt said:

      … recognizing your emotional needs and asking others to accomodate you reasonably is total legitimate and necessary, and most people will respect you for it.

      As someone who is obsessively on-time and frequently got into huge fights with an ex about timeliness/schedule keeping, I am agreeing SO HARD with this. I don’t mind someone needing to reschedule/cancel/adjust plans if they’re exhausted/stretched too thin/unexpected stuff comes up/whatever, the thing that caused the conflict was the avoidance and the lack of communication. People who care about you, even those of us who are in the annoyingly punctual and schedule driven category, will understand if you’re low on spoons, as long as you don’t leave us sitting at the coffee shop for an hour wondering where the hell you are or something.

      • Annoyed (LW) said:

        Yes! It’s not so much the canceling as the not telling me about canceling that’s a problem.

        • Yes, but so often we express this as “OH MY FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER, WHY COULDN’T YOU JUST CALL ME AND TELL ME YOU WEREN’T COMING, YOU ARE TEH WORSTEST!!” (or that is how they (I used to) hear it. It’s a very different thing to say, at a time when you are just chatting and the person has not flaked out on you recently, “Hey, you know that I care about you, and if you need time to yourself or you don’t have enough energy to keep the plans that we made, I will totally understand and I think that’s a really great and brave thing, if you take care of yourself that way. So if you haven’t been calling me to cancel plans because you’re afraid I’ll be disappointed or angry, that is totally not the case – I would respect you for knowing your needs and telling me directly what they are, so I can help make your life less stressful.”

          That’s not to say this is why LW’s sister doesn’t do this, of course. But I imagine LW’s sister is getting messages she interprets as “LW THINKS I AM THE WORST!” and I imagine that probably contributes to the not-notifying.

          • Britt said:

            It just creates a not-ideal situation for all concerned, because LW is understandably frustrated at the lack of concern and respect that the always and forever being late or blowing off plans sister is showing, but sister can then end up feeling scolded/like a screw-up. There’s sometimes an undercurrent of that to begin with with sibling dynamics anyway.

            As the Captain said in her response, it can get both parties into this unfortunate cycle of always being the late/irresponsible one and the scolding/frustrated/domineering one.

          • Annoyed (LW) said:

            I’m probably doing that, which I guess isn’t really helping either one of us.

      • Yan said:

        I had SO VERY MANY circular conversations with an ex about this. He’d show up in a pissy, cave-needing mood, or make up excuses to be late, or back out very last minute for things.

        I’m a plan-ahead kind of person which is how I manage balance my introversion with my human need for socialization — if I know I have plans Friday, I can sort of play out my spoons accordingly for the week. But I get the need for the alone-time cave! I wanted him to find the stones to tell me that he needed time for himself rather than taking his cranky out on me, I wanted him to understand that being disappointed that we weren’t getting together wasn’t the same as being angry or upset, and I wanted him mostly to understand that there was a way to respect my time and my needs as well as his own (mainly through communication.

        That said, I’m chronically early at this point in my life, partly to make up for being otherwise chronically late, and partly because I get lost a lot (and almost always only when I’ve not given myself enough time for it.)

        • xenu01 said:

          Sometimes, I think it’s even harder for us chronically-early-because-I-used-to-be-late-rs, because we had a problem and we fixed it, why can’t you, darn it?! And that maybe we’re a little bit more grumpy with those who flake or are always late to meet up with us. Kind of like those people who lost thirty pounds on Diet who tell you earnestly that they did it and so can you if you just run marathons and eat squid hearts or whatever.

      • Vicki said:

        I have sometimes found it useful to tell people “I need not to make plans in advance for this Saturday. If you happen to be in my neighborhood then, call and see if I’m up to hanging out.” That way neither of us is committed to anything, so there isn’t the same “but s/he flaked on me” reaction, but my friend(s) also know that I am going to be around and maybe available that day if they just want to hang out, maybe drink tea or walk in the park. But they also know they shouldn’t make plans that depend on my being there, or buy us tickets for a show.

        Part of the trick was to recognize that “don’t make plans to go out/ahead of time” was different for me than “pull a hole in after myself next weekend.” (I also sometimes put “alone time” on my calendar. If I’ve done that, I’ll turn down even open-ended invitations.)

        • Britt said:

          That makes total sense to me, and I can see how it would avoid a lot of potential hurt feelings because no one’s having expectations not met.

      • With significant others, I’ve come to realize this is completely inexcusable. They’re sending the message, “My time is more valuable than yours, thus you have nothing better to do than wait for me.” To which I say: The fuck I don’t.

        • Britt said:

          Yeah, it eventually became inexcusable in my case. There’s definitely a different standard significant others are held to (and I think rightfully!) than friends.

    • Agreeing so hard with your last paragraph. For me, I try to make a habit of consciously flipping the scenario in my head: “If Friend texted me and said ‘I have a splitting headache [or whatever], can we do this next week instead,’ I would in no way be mad at her.” Then I realize that Friend is unlikely to be mad at me.

  11. Annoyed (LW) said:

    Thanks for the advice! I think a lot of my sisters behavior is caused by problems with saying no (sometimes she’ll give people vague answers about maybe showing up later at a party while getting ready to go to bed), so I think letting her initiate all plans might be really helpful.

    With friends who are chronically late, I tend to just assume they’ll be late and make sure that our plans involves meeting at my home, at a coffee shop or somewhere else where I won’t really mind being alone. I hadn’t really thought about doing that in this situation though, since it’s not so much a matter of when she’ll show up, but if she’ll show up. I will try to follow your suggestion and see what happens!

  12. Mary said:

    Thinking about it, I think a really nice thing about the Captain’s techniques is that they work for staying in contact with over-scheduled people too. Over-scheduled people* are somewhat different in the details, but the end result can be similar: you can spend a lot of time rearranging your plans around their schedule crises.

    * I completely realise that over-scheduling is not always, or even often, a free choice, any more than struggling with getting out the door is. To pick one example, parents are often temporarily or permanently in a state of “oh gods, I’m down to the minute here and I hope the traffic is damned good today!”

  13. A few years ago, a good friend of mine started standing me up when we made plans. He was on a weird sleep schedule, a couple of times slept through whatever we were going to do, and had something against setting alarm clocks. It infuriated me. He didn’t see what the big deal was.

    On the one hand, he was a good friend in all other respects. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to achieve some kind of zen acceptance about being stood up. So, what to do? I decided to bypass the issue by never making plans with him. I don’t mean I dropped him as a friend. I mean I never made plans in advance. If I had a spontaneous urge to go out and do something social right then, I’d give him a call.

    Worked great. He often couldn’t make it, or I wouldn’t catch him in, but he wasn’t going to piss me off by merely being unavailable.

    Months later, he made some joke about how we never got together because I only ever called him at the last minute. Only then did I tell him why.

    These days we make plans, and the plans hold up just fine.

    • Annoyed (LW) said:

      That seems like a pretty good tactic.

    • JenniferP said:

      Really good call: Sometimes I get frankly overwhelmed by the amount of stuff my awesome friends plan when combined with making art and being a person, and the advance plans can feel stressful while the “Are you free later today, I’m in the neighborhood?” plans are a delight.

      • I hate drop-ins. When I’m at home doing whatever—usually working—I don’t bother to have my hair or my clothes or my make-up in order for a social occasion. So even if I could say “yes” in theory, in practice I pretty much never can.

        • Drop-ins are different. They involve actually showing up at somebody’s place. The alternative is to call and ask if they want to do something that night. So if you need an hour or more to get ready, it’s easily done.

  14. 4. Think twice about involving others. It will end with you and whoever else you invite being stressed out about whether you should just go ahead and make it a party of two so you can order.

    Actually, I am going to agree with the other commenter who sort of disagreed with this. One way to reduce the stress and strain of waiting for the late person is to make it a group event–obviously subject to the other people liking/getting along with the sister and vice versa. Then you can say: “Oh, yeah drinks and a bite to eat would be great. I’m meeting Bill and Susie and Steve and Laura at Grigg’s Pub at 7PM on Thursday. It would be great if you could make it.”

    Then, if she shows, she shows. If not, you are at Grigg’s Pub drinking and eating and having a good time with your friends.

    And if you do this, but you are at a restaurant with a more formal ordering schedule, then just tell the sister ahead of time: “Yeah, we’d love to have you join us. We have a policy that we wait fifteen minutes for latecomers, and then we go ahead and order.” And then, if she doesn’t show within the fifteen minute window, just go ahead and order.

    Side note: Especially when it comes to social appointments, people in some other countries–I have experienced this in southern Europe–tend to have a much lower setpoint for expecting punctuality than we tend to here in the US.

    • Oh, and I should add that this strategy only works if the LW is willing and able to genuinely not worry or care if the sister does or doesn’t make it to these engagements. And I would also add that it is possible that by making the engagement less fraught with an expectation of punctuality, the sister might end up being *more* likely to make it on time, because human nature.

    • JenniferP said:

      Really good idea from you and the other commenter who suggested larger groups and communicating the 15-minute rule. And yeah, cultural differences abound for sure.

      My friend from Cameroon said “Americans worship two gods: Time and money.”

  15. Eli said:

    I wish this had been around a few ears ago when I was dealing with lateness with my now ex. We were both dependent on public transport, so it’d be, “meet you at central station at 6″ and there I’d be at 6 and I’d get a message at 6:15 saying he was on his way. Annoying!.

    And he’d be like, “I got caught up in work!” which I didn’t down.

    And I tried to be zen about it, but finding myself twiddling my thumbs at the one dodgy pub near the station just waiting for him, if there was a pub, or just chilling outside with the panhandlers if there wasn’t.

    I tried to get him to text me before I left work when he was running late, so I could stay in the place with Internet access and heat and not only was he so busy working that he couldn’t meet me on time, he was just too gosh-darned focused to send me an email. And would ignore emails and texts of me trying to confirm if he was going to be on time. That’s when the rage came.

    Lots of commiseration for the LW.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ugh, so sorry, that sucks.

      The LW’s sister IS totally rude (whatever the reasons) and her expectations are reasonable. The Ex WAS totally rude (whatever his reasons). He was sending you a very clear message actually: “I’m not thinking about you and your comfort right now.” The reason he is an Ex is very obvious (and deserved!)

      Nothing about the above post is about denying that or giving late people a pass because: reasons.Inconveniencing people and making them worry about you is rude! It’s more about resetting the expectations and way you interact in an upsetting relationship – provided that you want to maintain that relationship – for a brief period of time to see if you get a different result.

    • I had an Ex who was also chronically late. We were in college and I was the one with a car so I would often pick him up. I would call and say I was leaving and would be there in about 10 minutes. Then I would arrive and call again saying I was outside (or text.) He would then emerge 10 to 15 minutes later.

      We talked about it a bunch, but he apparently never understood that 10 minutes was not enough time to start playing a video game and find a save point or something. Eventually I just started telling him that I was outside when I left to pick him up. But then one day he actually got outside in a reasonable amount of time and was really pissed.

      He often blamed his “italian” family. I blamed the fact that even when we were one or two minutes from walking out the door he would sit down and start an activity. It was a very weird pattern of behavior. You’d tell him you were getting ready to leave, and he’d sit down and start doing something that took way longer than the amount of time you had designated before leaving would commence. I imagine it’s better now that he can just play games on his cell phone and walk at the same time.

      • Ambivalent Academic said:

        OMG, my dad does this stuff CONSTANTLY. Drives the entire family absolutely batshit nuts.

        “Dad, we’re planning on leaving in 20 minutes. Are you going to be ready?”

        “Yeah, sure, I just gotta do this thing that will take 15 minutes, and then put on my shoes. I’m starting now.”

        20 minutes later…dad has done the 15 minute task and then started another 10 minute taks. WTF?

        “Dad, we’re all getting in the car now – let’s go.”

        “OK! I’ll be right down!”

        Everyone gets in the car…twiddles thumbs for 5 minutes…elects someone to go find him. Dad is invariably on the shitter.

        • Britt said:

          We clearly have the same father. It’s a running gag in my family that everyone will stand up to leave for lunch or whatever and turn around and Dad, who was there not five minutes earlier seemingly ready to go, will have disappeared to the back of the house (as you said, almost invariably on the shitter).

          • Ambivalent Academic said:

            I’m glad (I think?) that this is not an isolated case. I’d feel bad if this were a case of the Old Man Bowels. But it’s not. He’s been doing this for as long as I can remember. It’s as if the imminent departure is the only thing that gets things moving. It;s definitely become a running joke in our family too – “Dad, we’re leaving in an hour. Any chance you might want to take your departure dump now?”

          • Britt said:

            Same with my father. He’s just barely 50 and has been doing this for basically my whole life. Such an odd little quirk, but thankfully the family mostly takes it with good humor.

          • GirlInAGreenDress said:

            My Mum does this too, and I have only recently learnt that there is a medical reason behind it. She has something related to irritable bowel syndrome which makes going out of the house slightly stressful because there is always a possibility that she will really need the bathroom when there isn’t one nearby.
            Understanding that there is a reason behind it has meant that I no longer stress out when my Mum chooses the moment when everyone else is actually walking out of the door to go to the loo.
            Maybe there is a related issue for your fathers too?

          • Britt said:

            Huh, my dad is generally pretty healthy so I never even thought of anything like that. Worth mentioning to have him check with our family doctor.

          • GirlInAGreenDress said:

            I wasn’t trying to do internet diagnosis, sorry if it came across that way. I think what I wanted to say is what this whole thread has been about: Sometimes when people behave in ways (big or small) that seem inconsiderate and like your time has no value to them, actually they are just doing the things they need to do to get by.

        • Eek. I’ve been THAT person. “Oh, let me just finish this e-mail …” Somehow I don’t think it will take as long as it does.

          Must run in the family, though. My parents tell a story about how they were going to see a movie with my grandmother and specifically warned her not to get deep into some activity before they were to embark. When it came time for everyone to pile into the car, my grandmother was in the kitchen. “Oh, I was just going to devein 20 shrimp.” They had to drag her out. :)

          • JenniferP said:

            My grandmother was like that, too. 15 minutes before leaving the house her to-do list rose and ate her! Every time. And my dad will disappear just before mealtimes. We’d tell him “Dinner in 20 minutes” and find him out in the woods behind the house revving up a chainsaw.

      • As an Italian-American woman, I cannot even begin to express how much bullshit that statement is. “I’m late because I’m Italian.” WHATEVER. And I know from Italian-American cultural bullshit. (You may not be American, admittedly. But it’s still a bs excuse.)

      • Eli said:

        It’s kinda funny how often I’ve heard or experienced something like this – Chronically Late Larry keeps you waiting all the time, but you rock up late once and they’re pissed!

        And it’s like, you waited 10 minutes once, Larry, multiply that by the 60 times I’ve waited for you and tell me who’s wasting whose time.

        It’s like in their head, when you do it to them, you’re wasting their precious time, but when they do it to you, it should totally be cool because they’re late for reasons.

        • TR said:

          I had a suitemate like that – I’d say, we’re leaving at 6 and she’d start getting ready (10 minute process) at 6. So I started to give her and her roommate a 10 minute warning – and I’d come in 10 minutes later and she hadn’t moved. So finally, I just said, “It’s 6 and I’m leaving” and left whether she was ready or not. She didn’t have a car, so the once or twice I did it, she got ready a whole lot quicker than normal and managed to catch up with me right before I drove off.

          The thing that really got to me was the semester we had work at the same part of campus and same time – 6 pm – and she’d invite me to dinner at 5, which I would decline politely (“No thanks, I have to be at work at 6″ in a very neutral tone) because I couldn’t get food at the dining hall and make it to work on time.
          She’d get really offended – but she was nearly always 10 or 15 minutes late to work (which meant the person working before her had to stay 10 or 15 minutes late to cover, so even though she’d stay late to make up the time, it didn’t really help). My job didn’t allow me to be late and often I had to be 10 or 15 minutes early for prep, so it got really annoying when I was given dirty looks for declining every Monday night.

        • It’s like in their head, when you do it to them, you’re wasting their precious time, but when they do it to you, it should totally be cool because they’re late for reasons.

          Chronically Late Larry has fallen under the spell of the fundamental attribution error. His reasons are important because he knows exactly what they are.

      • The fact that he threw a fit when you called his bluff shows it was a power trip. He was trying to keep the upper hand with you by making you wait on him like a good submissive girlfriend. I had to deal with that. Glad he’s your ex!

  16. Thank you, I have just recently had a few people drop out of my life for reasons that are unclear to me at the moment. And while I really want to find out what happened, the main motivation of it right now is to find out why so the next step can be change the situation.

    Fortunately, it is very easy to change your own life and might suit LW better to focus on their self instead. Tend to your own needs and schedule because if someone else is not giving you the desired result, it is probably time to do something different.

  17. One of my best friends is chronically late. She’s not going to change. I mean, she could? But not without major work on many areas of her life that contribute to her state of near-constant anxiety and her obsessive need for perfectionism.

    The thing is, she’s a valued friend, and I love her. So my choices are either to accept her for who she is, or to cut off contact with her because she can’t be chronically early like I am. (Seriously, there’s a reason I bring a notebook and a book and a knitting project everywhere I go, and it’s not my pack rat tendencies.)

    We make plans that rely, for the most part, on her not being anywhere at any specific time. If we plan to meet up someplace other than my house, I wait whatever I consider to be an appropriate amount of time, and then I text her that it’s been too long I’m leaving. (She conveniently “doesn’t receive” and therefore is not required to reply to any texts prior to ultimatum texts.) I’m not actually trying to provoke a response; I’m just keeping her apprised of my actions because we’ve had the conversation where we both agreed that waiting too long for someone running late just kind of sucks. (She apologized a million times and I said that was the other reason I brought multiple things to do along.)

    My stress is greatly reduced by this. I’m not sure hers is? But I can’t control her stress levels, only mine. I try to be as accepting of her as possible. God knows, she puts up with my flaws too. In case I wasn’t clear, this is not me putting up with someone who is terribly imposing and difficult to deal with. (She’s not.) This is me and my friend working out our dynamic and accepting each other the way we are.

    • John said:

      Out of all of the responses so far, yours seem the most logical and reasoned. If it is something that both of you accept, then I fail to see that there is a problem.

  18. Elle said:

    Hmmm. I am a chronically late person. I’ve basically managed to get it down to about 15 min so now I basically run 15 min late no matter what. Partly due to over committing, partly due to Magical Thinking, and partly due to avoidance based procrastination. I recognize myself in this email definitely but unlike the other posters, I don’t feel particularly ashamed or bad about this trait. I’m not a particularly “needy” friend. I don’t make my friends run around and do things for me. I don’t get into depressive states and need lots of care. I’m not a fussy eater, I’m not cheap or mean. I’m not slow to warm up to people (translation: cold to people I don’t know and overly invested in “the group”). I’m not super introverted. I’m generally pretty upbeat and low key or high energy as appropriate. I’m funny and kind and up for adventures. I’m a generous friend. Honestly, I’m a great person. I’m not perfect because nobody is but I’m perfectly happy, thank you very much. The price of admission for my friendship is to get over it, frankly. I’m not going to run around stressing about someone else’s internalization of my own behavior. I don’t bow and scrape and make elaborate excuses. I’m not gonna self flagellate over this. I don’t care – I’m late and I choose to be late. If you don’t like it, then let’s not hang out. Bye. For me this means all of my friends are either also generally late or pretty laid back about it. I’m not short of friends or unhappy. Friendships with people who are (a) pathologically early (b) tightly wound or (c) emotionally manipulative (wielding guilt like a sword) would generally end anyway so it’s not something I worry about.

    And CA is right about priorities. I will never prioritize someone high enough that I’m going to twist myself up into a pretzel to change myself over something that I don’t think is a big deal. I’m not going to reconstruct my entire way of functioning because *gosh* it’s annoying for someone else to wait 15 min in a restaurant! I have had two (newish) friends try to give me the Big Dramatic Talk over my lateness and I dropped them both immediately. Life = too short. I bit back from asking them if they were as rigorous in finding and eliminating all of their own faults. And, to me, this advice seems a touch manipulative. If I found out that someone didn’t want to be friends with me or was angry because I was always late, I wouldn’t mind. If someone only scheduled certain events with me because of my lateness – not an issue. But I found out that someone was trying to work me with “strategies” and then try and manipulate me into this big emotional guilt trip, our relationship would be done.

    So my warning is to the LW is this. I have two older sisters. You don’t say if you are older or younger but honestly, the period of college –> working life can be a transition period for siblings. Be careful not to create distance which then can’t be overcome in later years cos I’m guessing that you would look back on it and really regret it. When family is great, it’s really not worth messing with. I am pretty close to my sisters but I have plenty of friends who are not and it’s often due to a general loosening of ties due to lots of resentment and disappointment championed by the sibling with Expections.

    (Also, you may be wasting your time. My older sister used to nag me all the time about my room being messy. I used to blow up about it. These arguments would go on and on until finally we just stopped (we both grew up somewhat). Now in my late 20s, my room is tidy. People may just change.)

    • Oftentimes, people will read lateness as a lack of caring about the person you’ve planned a social engagement with. (For good reason, quite often. I can’t count the number of people who were late because they just didn’t care. As opposed to the people who were late for other reasons.)

      The fact that they bring up the lateness is potentially code for “do you care enough about me and our plans and can you please demonstrate that?” That’s not emotional manipulation; that’s unstated cultural expectations coming to the forefront. A lot of people don’t know enough about those expectations to be able to divorce them from the issue of being on time to specifically discuss them.

      The fact that you’ve dropped those people who care about your lateness is just confirming to them that you don’t care about them.

      I’m glad (no, seriously) that you’re happy with your group of friends. Everyone should accept each other as they are. All the time! Which means that we all need to do some talking about feelings when making plans with people who aren’t just like us. That might help mitigate this idea of thinking people are being overly uptight or manipulative. Maybe they just want to know that you care about them, and they honestly don’t know how to ask that.

      • YES SO TRUE. I used to (still sometimes) do this with my flaky friends. “If you really gave a shit, you’d call me and let me know what’s going on! If you really gave a shit, you’d not expect me to wait half an hour for you to show!” – But at least now I get that it’s my interpretation and therefore my issue. They definitely love me, and I have had to reconcile that with the fact that they are total flakes. What I’d really LIKE is for them to go “Oh gosh! You’re right, that is disrespectful, and hurtful, and I’m sorry! I love you and I do not want to make you feel like I don’t care!” and never be late again…buuuuut that’s never going to happen.

        Not being frustrated with someone when you do hang out also makes your interactions with them more loving and genuine (because you don’t want to yell at them for being inconsiderate and disrespectful of your time – which being late essentially is, and that’s a legit frustration, but it’s not one that’s going to be fixed by annoyance).

        Also though, sometimes it genuinely is a priorities issue, and you (I) just have to accept that many of the people I know often put me on a lower priority than Episode 9173894573498 of Battlestar Galactica. They are on time and excited to go meet a new love interest, or a job interview, or whatever, because that is First Priority OMG Excitement Time. I am apparently just not that exciting to them. And those people are on the “Friend” list, instead of the “BEST FRIENDS VERGING ON PLATONIC LIFE PARTNERS” list.

        Such is life.

      • M'fly said:

        You took the words right out of my mouth.

        My musician dad (who I admire greatly for his victory in overcoming chronic tardiness, among other things) once explained his view on lateness after complaining about another musician constantly arriving late to rehearsals for their group. He said, “when you’re late, you’re telling me that your time is more important than mine, and your excuses for being late are more important than the circumstances that could have potentially made me late, but didn’t.” Quite honestly, I think my dad has more valid excuses for being a flake than anyone else I know – he’s a full time university student in a difficult music program, he runs two small businesses, does 2 hours of yoga a day, practices and teaches music about 8 hours a day, in involved in several extra credit groups, and has a variety of hobbies and tons of friends. But he never flakes.

        I realize his position is a fairly hard line, but I see where he’s coming from. I think that ex-tardy people often have the same vehement opposition to lateness that ex-smokers have towards cigarettes.

        Oh and for the record, no judgement to tardy people from me – when I was in grade 3 the school actually created a new “most tardy” award just for me (they already had the standard “best attendance” awards for each grade). I’ve improved since then, but time management still doesn’t come easily for me.

        • xenu01 said:

          Haha, so true! I’m an ex-tardy, and now it drives me nuts when someone is always late to meet me and leaves me waiting, because I know when it was me it was because I couldn’t find an outfit or was really sad and just wanted to say home or said yes when I meant no or just lacked time management skills or what have you.

      • Britt said:

        This this this. Fifteen minutes isn’t a huge deal and unless the plans are such that you HAVE to be there by x time, a general window of fifteen minutes feels pretty standard to me, but not showing up, not communicating, being later than that or late in situations where it’s going to be detrimental (dinner reservations at that restaurant that won’t seat you until the whole party is there and won’t hold your table if you’re late, missing the beginning of a movie, etc.) sends the message that your magical thinking or lack of planning or concern is more important than anything else in the situation and like you frankly don’t care if a lot of your friend’s time is wasted.

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes, you’re correct – that kind of behavior is way outside the norm and is a strong indication to me that something is off kilter in the sister’s Executive Function, ability to set priorities, feelings about family & family events, boundaries, etc. No argument.

          Also to clarify, this is how Magical Thinking + pubtrans works for me:

          “Once upon a time, I got from point A to point B in x amount of time one magical day when the weather was good, all trains were running on time, and I made every connection without a hitch or a lot of wait/transfer time in between, and there was no construction or traffic issues. Therefore x is the Amount of Time that that trip takes…anything else is a horrible aberration because I am unlucky and the universe is fucking with me. If it is a route I have never traveled before, whatever it says on the Trip Planner on Google Maps shall be The Correct Amount of Time.”

          Yes. I know it’s a fallacy and I should allot extra time and strive to be sparklingly early and leave myself a buffer. But everything DOES work enough of the time that I feel entitled to leaving That Amount of Time as the Amount of Time. It works until it doesn’t. Cue SHAME SPIRAL.

          • Britt said:

            When you explain it that way, it makes a lot of sense to me and I can see some of my own “areas of opportunity” as my old boss would say in that “it works until it doesn’t” cycle.

            I think one of the sort of sticky wickets with this for me (and I suspect for other people as well) is sorting out the people who are late or bail on plans because they’re just unfeeling jerks or utter egotists (at least one ex and one close family member fall into this category) from the people who are more deserving of having some slack cut and maybe just adjusting expectations and the ways I make plans with them.

    • I can’t even imagine being mad at a friend who made me wait for 15 minutes. I guess that is part of living in the city where things happen all the time to make hundreds of people 15 minutes to an hour late through no fault of their own. (Which I actually kindof love.) Sometimes there’s an accident, sometimes the el breaks, sometimes traffic sucks, and sometimes you just don’t get out of the house fast enough. Who cares.

      • Jenny said:

        Yeah, I just assume there’s a 15 minute cushion around most “let’s met at X” times. Or at least I assume that for other people. I still try to be on time (to varying degrees of success).

    • Lontra Canadensis said:

      I suspect that LW would probably have adapted (and not written the letter) if sister was a chronic X-minutes person – I read it as chronically 15 minutes behind would be a big improvement, because then people would know that, yes, sister is actually going to show up, and they’d have a pretty good idea when.

      Running on “fannish standard time” is one thing, I’ve got several friends where that’s normal for them, no big deal. Chronic no-showing without letting the other people know or telling lies about where you are is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

      • Annoyed (LW) said:

        Well, yes. I have friends who are always late and that’s okay because I can plan around that. It’s harder to plan around someone who might show up on time but might just as well not show up at all, or call 45 minutes after you’re supposed to meet and say they won’t be able to do the thing you planned the same day.

        • xenu01 said:

          My goodness, but that would be annoying! I really like the idea of spontaneous meetups for your sister and yourself. As in, “Hey, I’m in your neighborhood- wanna grab a bite?” And if she isn’t free, she isn’t. And don’t think you have to meet with her every ______, either. What if you try and meet her at her place for some coffee once a month or so for a while? Give you both some space to miss the other?

          I know everyone has different issues with their siblings, and different ways of being. For my sister and I, adulthood meant we had to work through a whole morass of issues stemming from an anxiety that we had to be BFF always, no matter what (this meant sweeping things under the rug, pretending everything was fine when it wasn’t, and a great deal of other unhealthy behaviors in the name of Keeping the Peace). Then we went through a period where we just couldn’t take it anymore, and things were strained and distant.

          Now, in our mid and late twenties, we have finally let things organically reach a comfortable place. We aren’t friends. We have other friends to meet those needs. We don’t even live on the same sides of the country these days. What we are is sisters, allies against unhealthy behavior of our other family members and keepers of childhood secrets. And we like each other just fine.

          This is a TL;DR way of saying, don’t force your relationship with your sister too much. It may be that this is the time when she needs to forge her own identity outside the bonds of the family, and that she might need a little bit of space. You don’t say whether you are older or younger, but I’m going to guess older? Give her that space, let her develop, let her seek YOU out. I promise you, she will eventually. And all that good sister stuff you might be worried about losing? It will change form, it will ripen, and it will grow alongside you both.

          • Annoyed (LW) said:

            I like this advice, although it’s not very good timing for me. Until very recently, we both lived with our parents. I just moved out and she’s been expressing a lot of anxiety about us losing touch and never see each other any more, so I don’t think just seeing each other once a month would be a great idea right now. I will remember it for later, though.

            Also, I don’t think this is really a thing about identity outside of family or needing space, because she seems to do this with everyone, not just family members.

    • Magical Thinking is a BIG reason why I’m late to things — many, many things. I hate when I get lectured for being 10 minutes late. Do you know what a struggle it was not to be 30 minutes late? Being late less has helped me not to be stressed out, so that’s the main reason I try and work on it, but Magical Thinking comes into play: when I allot myself more time to get somewhere, I try to add something else into that bracket because hey! I have more time. It’s an issue with micro-managing, and since the LW sister is in her college years, I guarantee she’s micro-managing her time. To her, making the LW wait half and hour/fifteen minutes may not be a big deal; it was really common to plan coffee with friends in college, and I would be 15 minutes late and they would be 20 minutes late. I don’t think a lot of us young people realized how this could be perceived as rude. There’s a good chance the sister doesn’t realize what she’d done or how the LW feels, too.

    • alphakitty said:

      Wow. That’s a lot of “I” in a couple of paragraphs. And a lot of hostility towards anyone who dares to have a pretty reasonable expectation of you as a friend — that you’d at least TRY to be on time. While yeah, I’m pretty easygoing — my best friend is at least 15 minutes late more often than not (45 isn’t rare, and we don’t have traffic or public transit delays as excuses), and I really don’t care and would never lay guilt on her (I always have a book and am secretly glad for an excuse to read while waiting) — it does matter to me that she is trying to be on time, even if she is hopeless at it!

      Consistently being late (*and not trying not to be*) is disrespectful, ’cause you’re saying “my time is more valuable than yours.” “Better you should wait for me every darned time than that I should make the kind of effort it would take to get there on time, or (gasp!) risk me getting there early and having to wait for you!” There’s nothing uptight, intolerant, or controlling about having that get seriously old. Letting you know it feels like crap to have a “friend” consistently act like your time is worth less than hers is not manipulative, it’s communication. ‘Cause your friend has a right to have needs and feelings, too, and to tell you what they are.

      I am happy for you that you have lots of friends who are willing to be friends on your terms. If that ever ceases to be true, you might want to consider how good a friend you are to them.

      • CL said:

        I agree with you. It’s fine to say “I’m not going to beat myself up for my failings in this area.” That’s probably healthy. Nobody is a “terrible person” because of lateness.

        But to say “I don’t care – I’m late and I choose to be late. If you don’t like it, then let’s not hang out.” This does bother me. I think this attitude is disrespectful. If we have plans at 7:00, I want my friend to make an effort to be there by seven. If she’s secretly going to make an effort to be there by 7:15, she should say 7:15. I won’t be angry if some delay, even just losing track of time, made her 15 minutes late. But the attitude that if someone wants to be your friend, they have to sit around waiting every time you hang out because that’s just how you prefer to operate, is disrespectful.

        Waiting for 15 minutes in a restaurant is annoying. It’s not the end of the world, but I would prefer to spend those 15 minutes on other things just like everyone. And I actually feel self-conscious and uncomfortable when I’m occupying a table alone, especially when the restaurant is crowded. I also feel uncomfortable when I’m stuck at some types of bars alone for a significant length of time — I mean, it’s not unbearable. I pretend I’m interested in my phone. But I am relieved when my friend shows up, and I’d really hate to think that while I was feeling awkward and anxious, she wasn’t even trying to come at the time we agreed on.

        I’m sympathetic to procrastinators and people who chronically fail to allow enough time. I’ve been 5-15 minutes late plenty of times in my life. But I’m at least making an effort. I don’t start out thinking “She said 7, so I’ll just get some things done & leave late while she waits for me until about 7:15.” I consider that rude. I wouldn’t end a friendship over it — chances are, I wouldn’t even say anything, because I don’t like to be confrontational over 15 minutes. But I’d feel disrespected if the friend seemed to have this attitude about it.

      • Elle said:

        But this is exactly my point. Me being late isn’t saying “my time is more valuable than yours”. That’s on you. It’s saying “This is who I am. Like me for me or else don’t bother.” I am a late person. It’s not a personal insult and if you are such a good friend, why are you asking me to change? In fact, why don’t you stop personalizing other people’s behavior? Seriously, the world doesn’t revolve around you and isn’t out to get you. I’m not doing this AT you.

        Other people are not you. They have different motivations, desires and quirks. In life, instead of continuously trying to pressure people (with your Needs) to accommodate yours, why not just accept other people are different and move on? I’ve sat through Friend Who Chooses Abusive Boyfriends, Friend Who Drops Friends For Boyfriend, Friend With Depression Who Needs Lots of Attention and Care, Friend With Annoying Boyfriend, Friend With Slightly Racist Political Views, and on and on. They are all wonderful people (really). No one is doing this stuff AT me. I draw my own boundaries and own my own feelings.

        For me, I find friends who like to have “sitdowns” about stuff like this are more generally quite needy and a bit immature. They make friendships about bean counting and “titles” and “Best Friends Forever” and all this crap. “If you loved me, you’d blah, blah, blah. That’s very high school to me. And I just feel like, I’m an adult. This isn’t a chick lit novel. I don’t need to listen to all this whining. You have a life, I have a life. We both choose to spend time together. Nobody has chained us together. Nobody is doping us with “friend potion”. If the benefits > negatives, then your choice is made. If not, your choice is also made. Free will is your friend.

        As a 90’s comedian would say: I’m late a lot. Build a bridge and get over it.

        • alphakitty said:

          Oh, I assure you I get that its all about you.

          • JenniferP said:

            I don’t want to read or moderate a shitfight, people.

            This isn’t specifically for alphakitty, this is for everyone:

            Part of what Elle is saying is “I accept my friends’ quirks and they accept mine. Running 15 minutes late is my quirk. I value being accepting of other people’s quirks and being accepted in return, and I don’t try to perfect my relationships or my friends. I look for what’s good about them and try to ignore the rest. People who don’t value that probably shouldn’t be my friend.

            I understand why her delivery rubs people the wrong way. But I also want to remind everyone that the LW’s sister is HUGELY CHRONICALLY LATE and doesn’t communicate about it, not 15 minutes, so this is apples & oranges as far as the OP is concerned.

            I certainly don’t think that people who try to honestly bring up their feelings with their friends are “immature,” “needy,” or “high school”, and I certainly don’t live my life in a perfectly frictionless state of acceptance of others, but I do find myself agreeing strongly that people who find Elle’s unapologetic 15 minute quirk appalling should not be friends with her, and, since you’re not friends, maybe don’t call her the many, many names that I’ve sent to my spam folder this morning! We’re having a rare honest constructive conversation between the Perfectly Punctual and the Recovering Tardies in this thread, I’d hate to shut it down.

            I suggest that if you disagree strongly with Elle to the point that you feel compelled to post personal insults, you say “I disagree strongly with that opinion and would never want to hang out with her” quietly three times in your head and then go watch this video of my very cute cat cleaning herself. It doesn’t mean that we all agree and that she shall not be challenged, it just means…how likely do you think that you will convince her that your opinion is correct? How much time do you want to devote to that? How much time do you want me to devote to reading and moderating that? Let this excellent response be the last word.

            Elle, I’m also cutting you off in this particular thread, because probably you don’t want to read a bunch of lectures from strangers about how you live your life incorrectly. Appreciate your understanding.

          • alphakitty said:

            I do apologize for the non-constructive comment. I was offended. Substantively. But I respect that having yielded to the temptation of snarkiness, I forfeited the right to speak those substantive concerns, lest it should seem like justification of the snark — which was not appropriate to the forum.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thanks for the apology. Fortunately other posters were able to get at the substance.

        • secretrebel said:

          I’m not sure how we get from lateness should not be a big deal to racists can be wonderful people!

          I’d dump that person ahead of the late lady.

          • Awkward Niece said:

            Yes! What an awesome comment :-)

        • Liennae said:

          I think the point trying to be made (at least from my reading of it) is that you take an almost hostile approach to anyone who would dare say “Hey, I actually find it super uncool that you are constantly late.” Everyone has their faults, but you’ve practically made your and your friends faults into some sort of bizarre anti-super power. I sure hope that if they’re ever late, your response isn’t “See, it’s not so easy as it looks!”

          I don’t think sit downs are immature; sometimes you need to have important conversations about how a person’s behavior affects you. Quite often I find that if you never bring up that there’s a problem, then how can it be fixed? I wouldn’t be irritated at anyone for being 15 minutes late, even if they do it constantly. If there’s a show or a reservation made, I plan to meet up early with people so that if there’s an issue with a missing sock, or public transportation etc, it has time to be resolved and still have us arrive on time. However, I do have different issues with people in my life and while I generally have a zen approach to my friends’ annoying behaviors, it does happen that they do something to push their behavior into the “This is no longer Okay with me zone.” I know some annoying behaviors can’t be changed, and I give myself space from that person to stop being annoyed. But if I thought that bringing up an issue might achieve a positive result, I would totally do it. How is it needy and immature to discuss a best possible result for each party?

          I understand that for you it is a source of extreme annoyance for people to expect you to constantly shame dance over something you can’t change. But there has to be some level of compromise, or owning of a bad behavior that actually does affect other people. I’ve stopped doing the shame dance myself about a lot of things – when it comes to lateness (usually for work) I work my ass off and make sure that my hours are completed because I know that it’s not acceptable for me to be late on a semi-regular basis.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thanks, this is an awesome way of responding and will be the last word in this particular Elle vs. The Internet discussion.

    • You’re not doing much to dissuade me of the belief that chronically late people are just trying to establish that they are more important than the people they make wait. How dare the plebes think their time is valuable!

  19. remi said:

    One of my dearest friends is much like the LW’s sister. I mean, I’m not very good at time management myself, but I’m better than my friend haha. For a while I would put up with how I’d be left waiting somewhere for hours because she missed the bus then lost her bus fare then missed the next bus because she wanted to check her email before she left again, or whatever the story would be that day. When it got too annoying to want to deal with, I changed how we made plans. Now, when we want to hang out, I’ll meet her. Go to her house or meet her as she gets off work, whatever. Or we’ll meet as a group, which actually works out great because then, the friend who has a car can just go and pick her up so we don’t have to wait an hour and miss our movie or whatever because she’s waiting for the bus and hadn’t bothered to check the schedule before leaving. If I can’t meet her, or if we can’t make it a group thing, I’ll arrange it so that it won’t matter if she’s late, for example a movie night at my house. She’ll plan to be there for seven, show up at nine thirty, and spend the night. There are lots of ways for the LW to be able to hang out with her sister without having to stress out about whether she’ll be late or something. It might take a bit of forethought or planning on her part, but getting to see your sister (or my friend) without having to freak out over the time is worth it.

    • xenu01 said:

      I love this comment. You saw a problem, but wanted to stay good friends, you solved the problem. Terrific!

      I need to take a note from you. I have one Always Late friend who is kind of like your friend (like, I missed this train and then I was on the wrong platform and I missed the other and then) and it makes things very stressful when we do hang out because I’m trying not to be annoyed and failing, and she isn’t an idiot, I’m sure she knows. I think I need to take a note out of your book, so thanks.

  20. I just want to throw in that I had and still have problems with “flakiness” due to a developmental disability that causes problems with organization and planning (dyspraxia), and it was absolutely anguishing to have people accuse me of being passive-aggressive or uncaring when I flaked.

    Things that helped me get better organized:
    -Talking about it with my occupational therapist
    -Establishing rigid anti-disorganization habits (keys and wallet go in the “DON’T LOSE THESE” box the instant I come home, don’t come out until the instant before I leave)
    -Using organizational aids (day planners in Ye Olde Days, Google Calendar with alerts now)
    -Planning for my lack of planning, and scheduling to start getting ready for things way before I think I need to
    -Plain old practice and experience–I have my shit a lot more together at 26 than I did at 19

    Things that did NOT help me get better organized:
    -People telling me that my disorganization was a decision and that if I cared about them I would make better decisions

    I don’t want to Internet Diagnose the sister and anyway dyspraxia usually comes with a bunch of physical issues too, but I do want to point out that you shouldn’t attribute to “won’t” something that may be a matter of “can’t.”

    This isn’t an excuse for LW to let the sister continue inconveniencing and frustrating her, but it is a reason to consider refocusing the discussion from “what does it mean for our relationship that you’re making these decisions?” to “what strategies would help you keep your commitments?”

    • purple said:

      Yeah, I have an executive function problem that has gotten better with age, but when I was younger (and I mean here a younger adult, let alone when I was a child) could actually result in me standing in the middle of my living room turning in a circle for five minutes because I couldn’t find my keys. And also my wallet. And also my other shoe. And if I went for my keys I might make finding my wallet worse and I might set down my other shoe and lose it so round and round I would go like a top. Combine that with a case of social anxiety and transition problems and I would usually just wind up calling and canceling. At the same time, my anxiety makes me the kind of person who tends to jump from “loved one is late” to “loved one isn’t picking up” to “loved one EATEN by BEAR begin planning eulogy, mentally fretting about who will take her cat”, so I sympathize with people who are trying to stay out of that situation from the other end.

  21. Lys said:

    Wow! This question has really touched a nerve with me. I’m one of those obsessively punctual people, and as I was reading LW’s question and some of the follow-up comments, I felt my blood pressure rising. For me, being on time to mutually-agreed-upon plans is a basic issue of respect: I show up on time because I value your time, and expect my friends to do the same for me. It sends the message that you think your time–whether you’re making art or napping or solving world hunger–is more important than my time. It feels like you don’t care about me, and haven’t really thought about me or taken me into consideration. That said, if someone is running late and lets me know, I don’t mind at all. Then I can revise my plans, go on a walk, pick up a snack rather than just waiting around. It’s the thoughtfulness and communication that matter, not the lateness itself.

    I will say that this question–and comments–has caused me to question my equation of timeliness and respect, since it seems that not only do people have various reasons for not being on time (not as attuned to the clock as I am, struggling with mental blocks, experiencing social anxiety), but also don’t see lateness within the same framework and may not even realize a. that they’re late and b. that it bothers the person they have plans with. I do have a few friends who are chronically late, and this has given me a better understanding of what might be going through their heads. It sounds like there’s a lot of frustration on both sides of the punctual/late divide, since punctual people are like “Why don’t you respect my time?” and the late people are all “What’s the big deal? If you’re my friend, you’ll understand.”

    I like the suggestions about dealing with late people, and have already started meeting people at places I don’t mind waiting, or having them stop by my house instead of meeting them on a street corner. But it’s a major mental shift, and I have to keep catching myself as I start to get angry to remind myself that oftentimes it has nothing to do with me or how someone values my friendship. And if I get consistently annoyed with a friend for being late, not notifying me, and leaving me stranded, I might be less interested in making plans with that friend in the future.

    • miss_chevious said:

      Oh yeah, I am right there with you. I do try to be understanding, and I do try to mitigate my anger by making plans that aren’t time-dependent/don’t cause me undue inconvenience–the Captain’s advice is awesome in this regard. But a person who is chronically late (especially erratically late as opposed to consistently 10-15 minutes late) is much less likely to be welcomed into my friend zone in the first place. When we’re in the inital phases of friendship, this is something that matters to me and people who are consistently late have a higher bar because that is not the type of person I am. I suspect this runs both ways.

      (True story: an ex-boyfriend was chronically late, like 45 minutes to an hour. Multiple conversations didn’t work. So I started doing the plans we had–movie, dinner with friends, going to party–without him and leaving him to catch up. I don’t know that it reduced his lateness, but I did stop bothering me so much because I was doing fun stuff.)

      I do have friends who are chronically late, even erratically late, and I love them. They are good people. But someone who shows up late to the first few plans we have is less likely to be getting an invite from me in the future.

    • Kate said:

      I too am a punctual person and I also put value on mine and other’s time. Part of this may stem from the experiences of my mom making me wait for hour in 30-below-zero weather while she brush her teeth, wash her face, read a magazine and then would she take the 10 minute drive to pick me up. She did this all through my childhood and I learned early on I was of little or no value to her, so if there is anything within my power to demonstrate to others that I value them as friends or just decent human beings, the very least I can do for them is show up on time.

      So reading through the comments is interesting to say the least, for the most part I can’t buy into the explanations behind the chronic late comers. I have couple flakey friends but they nearly always make it within the 15 minute friend-margin, barring horrendous traffic problems or family dramas.

      But I’ve never berated people for being late because I know I personally would hate to be verbally scolded and it wouldn’t change my behavior that offended the other person. Maybe it’s passive-aggressive but my method with chronic-late-comers-who-don’t-notify-me is to carry on with the said activities without them, which for some was shocking, “wow, you actually started dinner at 7:00 when you said it starts at 7:00 and I’m only now arriving at 9:00? But….but…. why didn’t you wait for me????” Sometimes that’s enough to get some of them into showing up next time within the 15 minute friend-margin.

    • Yan said:

      Lys — I am with you. And mostly, I don’t make plans where someone else flaking out strands me. That may be a function of transportation in my area. I admit — if you tell me you’re running late, I know how to deal. Otherwise?

      Oh, and one more complicating factor — I rarely carry my cell phone. I’m on time, and often cannot be reached by someone running late. I’m kind of old school about plans — I don’t want to make them and reconfirm them every 5 minutes with a running update.

    • Swoozie said:

      This resonated for me.

      I grew up with a father who really didn’t believe that my time, or that of my brother or mother, was as important as his.

      Every Sunday morning, we would go to church. All four of us sang in the choir. Choir practice was at 9:15, church was at 10. We were 50 miles away from church, so we really needed to plan for a 50 to 60 minute drive.

      Virtually every Sunday of my childhood, we would be waiting on my father to come flying out of the house at 8:30 or later. If he was really pushing it (still zipping pants, no socks yet, etc), my mom would drive. If he was down to “the tie’s not tied yet”, he’s yell from the door for her to move over to the passenger seat and he would slide in and take off. We would arrive 5 to 15 minutes late for choir, much to the eye-rolling dismay of the choir master and other members of the choir.

      I can’t remember my dad ever apologizing to any of us for making us late.

      This left me virtually phobic about lateness. It was virtually pounded into my brain by the experience that it was beyond rude to not conform to the schedule set for the entire group, that if you couldn’t conform, your responsibility was to excuse yourself from the group activity. In college, I’d skip class rather than risk interrupting if I were coming in late.

      I’m less rigid about this now, after a lot of years. I still am adamant about making meetings at work 5 minutes early, and I always apologize if I can’t be on time. If someone else makes me late, how unhappy I am about it depends on what caused it, has it happened before and does it affect the rest of my day. If it is a regular occurrence? We’re going to have a conversation, and it may not be pleasant. Did it throw off the rest of my day and make me late for the half a dozen other meetings I probably have scheduled? We’re really going to have a conversation.

      My time management issues are mine. Your issues are yours. I work hard to not have my issues affect other people, and I appreciate the same courtesy.

      • JenniferP said:

        Sorry, Swoozie, this was stuck in moderation for a bit, sorry!

        Your dad sounds like a nightmare.

        You said: “My time management issues are mine. Your issues are yours. I work hard to not have my issues affect other people, and I appreciate the same courtesy.”

        I think that everyone (all the punctual people!) are totally within rights to be annoyed at being inconvenienced and stand up for their needs! Before I got my chronic lateness under control (definitely mostly within that 10-15 minute window of urban travel uncertainty these days, and early for anything to do with work — the reason I spent money on all those cabs was total panic about being late), I was sometimes fired from jobs, even though the quality of my work was very good — DESERVEDLY. I had some friends have difficult conversations with me –DESERVEDLY. I’m sure it affected how people saw me and their willingness to work with and spend time with me –DESERVEDLY.

        Just to clarify response to the LW was, okay, you’ve spoken up about your needs and had the difficult conversations, and things still aren’t changing (because you can’t actually control how other people will act). What are some things that might help you have the relationship you want with your sister with less friction? Could you try them out over a defined, temporary amount of time to see how they work?

        Definitely not “LATENESS NO BIGGIE, LIGHTEN UP EVERYONE.” If the LW had written about a romantic partner, the answer might be “If you can’t live without this being a source of friction FOREVER (even if the partner does make some significant changes), break up.

        If a boss were writing about an employee, the answer would be “Warn, write up, fire.”

        The LW was very clear she wanted to have a good relationship with her sister and that she loves her very much, so the suggestion was “Your sister obviously handles and values this differently from you, so change your frame and see what happens.”

      • Martine said:

        In college, I’d skip class rather than risk interrupting if I were coming in late.

        THANK YOU. I remember one of my classes where this particular guy would come in half an hour late or so every. single. day. And, since the classroom door locked, every time there was this stupid little dance of him peeking in the window (of the door) and knocking and someone getting up to let him in. And then of him going to his seat and getting out his stuff and all that. I think he did the same damn thing the next semester, too. Once or twice would not have been a big deal (stuff happens! Everybody is unavoidably late on occasion!), but it was pretty shitty and irritating to have this little disruption every time we had that class.

    • The refusal to give an honest assessment through text message is a big red flag of a power trip, imo. Everyone has cell phones, and if you’re running late, you almost always have a good idea of how late. I’ve had the subway get stalled, and even then, I just texted as soon as I hit air with an explanation.

      I’ve had the urge to run late a lot in my life, but I stifle it because I know that it comes from a dark place in my soul that is disrespectful. We all have this, but the temporary ego boost of making someone wait for me just doesn’t balance out the guilt of doing that to them.

      • solecism said:

        Sorry, no Not everyone has cell phones, and not everyone texts. Certainly most people have and do both, but it is by no means universal. Sometimes these lacks are personal choices and sometimes they are financial or whatever. I have the right to not be available 24 hours, as some people seem to assume that owning a cell phone implies. And yes, this means that sometimes I am unable to reach someone the moment something comes up, since it is getting harder and harder to find public phones. In fact, I do own a cell phone, but it is currently dead, and I was getting tired of people calling me on it despite my explicit instructions to use another number, as I used it only while travelling or to call long distance, so I am in no rush to replace it.

        And while some delays can be estimated, others really cannot. We don’t have subways where I live, but one good crash, and our highway gets shut down right fast. How long it takes to clear depends on the time of day, the severity of the incident, whether helicopter medivac is involved, etc. Winter snowstorm and power outages? Again, sometimes delays can be predicted, other times not so much. And depending on the nature of the crisis, communications may not be available either. Yes, I get that I am describing rare, worst case scenarios. But blanket statements such as failing to text revised ETA as categorically being disrespectful automatically makes me think of various exceptions.

        • Rosa said:

          Also? Making plans with the assumption that everyone has a cell phone leads to groups just ALL randomly not showing up where they said they would, with no explanation to the not-phone-having person, because of a text loop. Sucks to be the friend whose phone got stolen/died/doesn’t work in this area, much less the person trying to live light or having other priorities than Total Gadgetyness.

          I did finally get a cell phone (though even then nobody would answer my calls because people with cell phones don’t answer unknown numbers, so it didn’t really help for like a year) and I STILL don’t make plans with people because I got stranded one too many times by the texting hive mind. Not to mention the folks who think “I am supposed to meet X at Y time I will text and make sure she’s really there – oh she’s not answering the phone so I will go do something else.”

  22. liyyspoon said:

    OMG is this timely! I’m currently in relationship counselling with my best friend and art collaborator for an art project and last week in therapy we hit the big-time iceberg in our friendship. TIMEKEEPING.

    My friend is awfully, chronically late. And it drives me crazy, I find it really upsetting, especially as there’s the ‘friend’ times when she’s late which are hard but not insurmountable but the ‘work’ related lateness is killer.

    I will be showing her this thread and implementing some of the suggestions herein – thanks Captain – but here are a few things we’ve developed that may also help.

    Talking about my feeling re the lateness doesn’t really help as that adds to her whole shame-spiral as detailed above, but I’ve taken to asking her for certain concrete things for me. She now calls me *once she’s left the house and is on route to me* and so I never leave until i get that call. Saves me waiting on the street or allows me to work on other things when it’s a really bad time day and she will be more than an hour late. She also, on days she’s doing something else before meeting up with me, sets an alarm to go off an hour before so she will be forced to stop and evaluate the time she has left – is she really engaged in her current task? Does she have enough travel-time to actually get to me without being late? Does she still want to meet or would she prefer to reschedule? Then she calls me and we discuss whatever she’s decided. This is to specifically stop the thing where she cancels right *at* the moment we were supposed to meet. This way I have enough time to not leave to meet her/go do something else/ re-arrange my day etc.

    Anyway, it was great to read about what might be going on for her, it helps me remember she’s not being late *at* me, to hurt or abandon me, it;s just a thing she is struggling with.

  23. Steph said:

    I am a chronically late person as well. I’ve almost been fired from every job I’ve ever had for consistent tardiness. I totally relate to the sister with the making up of stories and lying about where she is. In my experience when I’ve done this it’s not because I’m a dishonest person but i feel like I have to have a good explanation to justify me being late so whoever is waiting for me doesn’t just think I’m lazy or rude. I feel ashamed to think the person waiting for me is thinking “Again, seriously?!!” that is my biggest fear is showing up and having the person upset at me or not making plans with me in the future because of it. If this wasn’t written by the sister of the offender (I have no sisters) I would have believed it was someone I knew writing about me because it described me so perfectly.

    • Kate said:

      I nearly fired someone who, though not necessarily a chronically tardy employee, was obviously lying to me about why he was late for his shift. The thing is if he OWNED it instead of making up stories I would be alot less annoyed with him and go, “okay, what can we do to make this work, is there something going on in your life on why you have trouble showing up on time?” But one can’t do that if you’re lying and hence can’t work out a feasible solution based on problems whose causation are lies.

  24. xenu01 said:

    It’s funny, because I have actually been Chronically late/flaking out at the last minute person in my past life. The reason was because I was living in a bottomless pit of chronic depression, and I didn’t want to do anything but go to work and come home and eat spaghetti and watch movies with the cat and sleep and rinse, repeat. Of course, I kept making plans like an idiot because I thought well, That Is What Normal People Do, so Do It. And then I’d come home from work and think about getting showered and putting on makeup and taking the subway across town to go drink and be social and make sure everyone was having a good time (did I mention I also suffer from chronic hostess syndrome?) and I’d flake out and piss my friends off. I think I’m really lucky that they kept me anyhow.

    • xenu01 said:

      I should also mention that if someone in your life is suffering through something like this and they are also an introvert working in the service industry, have some compassion. It can really wipe you out when you are low on spoons to begin with and you’re required to dole them out as part of your job.

      • Eli said:

        Word. I’m an introvert and working in a customer service-y library job, AND lucky me, I get to sit at the desk that’s right near the front counter, thus making me the de facto front desk person. Also, I am depressed.

        Any time I have plans, even plans I’ve made, even plans I really want to do, I think of all the things I have to do, and I just want to hibernate.

  25. AmyJ said:

    Ok, so I do have a tip, but it’s not about not curing chronic lateness (I am Chronically Late myself), but it’s about the portion where the LW says, “A few times she has claimed that she’s on her way home and then doesn’t show up and doesn’t answer her phone, which of course means we get worried.”

    And that tip is for sister to install Circle of 6 on her smartphone (assuming she has a smartphone, etc). http://www.circleof6app.com/about.html is the website — the app is designed/marketed as a sexual assault prevention tool for young people, and I think it would work for that — but I think it’s also a very handy emergency notification app in a more general way. It will, amongst a couple of other things, send a text to 6 pre-selected people with a request for a ride and a GPS location.

    It’s not foolproof, of course, but it does seem like a good thing to have in your pocket (figuratively and literally), and it might give LW some peace of mind to know that she’d receive a text from her sister if she was truly in an emergency situation.

    • Annoyed (LW) said:

      I kind of like that idea. I have this fear that something will actually happen to her and no one will bother trying to look for her because we’ll all just assume that she lied about being on her way and that she’s fine.

  26. I’m a must-be-on-timer living with a will-always-be-later. One coping tactic I use when we both need to arrive somewhere at the same time (traveling together) is to adjust the expected travel/arrival time. Thus, if we are supposed to be somewhere at 1pm, I tell him we need to be there by 12:45, or if we need to leave by 4 to pick someone up at the airport, I will tell him 3:30. He’s focusing on an earlier time and I’m not stressing because I know I have built in some delay.

    Also, we generally swap gender roles when it comes to speed of getting readiness. It’ll take me 15 mins tops to prepare to go anywhere. Him, well, at least it is this side of forever. So to keep from clock watching and fuming as I wait, I read a book while he is getting ready (I may occasionally provide time reminders), but I don’t start getting ready until he begins to put his shoes on. (Because that is invariably not the actual last thing he will do before leaving, but it is close enough for me to start getting ready.)

    I love the suggestions for meeting with always-late friends in large groups that your day isn’t ruined if they can’t make it. I’ll have to try that. Up to now I’ve been doing more mental time adjustment for myself. If we are agreeing to meet somewhere at X:00, I tell myself that the actual arrival time is later. It causes me some mental stress to behave this way, but it’s not too bad if I remind myself that I am adjusting for chronic late person and I’m not really going to be late. Or I bring a book or have them meet me at work so I can fill time while waiting. Only once has the “don’t plan to arrive for an extra 20 mins even though we said we’d meet at 2″ back fired on me. And when it did, the other person didn’t even really notice!

    • Rio said:

      Mine’s the same way–but while he’s getting ready (and I’m doing my thing), he’ll pester me every two minutes about whether I’m going to start getting ready.

      And it seriously takes him at least 5 minutes to put on his shoes. Sometimes longer.

    • Kat said:

      This is my first post and it’s a long one. I have two pertinent-feeling examples, one related to the comment above:

      I had the same issue with an ex. Sometimes he would sweetly offer to drive me to work so I didn’t have to take the bus, and I would accept (foolishly!) and end up at work several minutes late (and I am a definite chronically-early-arriver). I tried the ‘tell him it takes longer than it really does to get there’ method, which only worked the first time, because then he said “Hey! it only took us six minutes to get there, so we only need to be ready to go by 8:54!” I finally gave up and just thanked him for the offer and took the bus. In other situations (like social events) I tried the method of telling him it was important for me not to be late, so I was leaving at X time and he could go later if he wasn’t ready then. That made him sad, so I just was late to everything for a while. But after many episodes of me freaking out at him, and us being late anyway, I realized that the lateness was a deal-breaker for me. The real bigness of the issue was that his lateness was a philosophical choice: He strove to be EXACTLY on time to things. He would rather be five minutes late to any event than five minutes early, so he wouldn’t ever be wasting time waiting for something to start. Even when he was ready early, he would just sit around on the couch until the last possible minute. Neither of us was willing to adjust and I couldn’t handle it. Those of you with loved ones who have different ideas about timing, I wish you better patience and luck than I had with that (otherwise mostly delightful) guy.

      And, another anecdote:

      I have a friend who is chronically late, and when she noticed my change in timing post-breakup (see above story), I talked with her about her own lateness. She told me that she wished she could change and at first I didn’t believe her (I wish I had been reading Captain Awkward then, because these wonderful posts and comments educate me about how different people think differently in ways I never considered before!). But! One day I was at this friend’s house as she was preparing for a weekend trip we were taking together. I was amazed watching my smart, capable friend sprinting around the house trying to find clothes and toothbrush, just remembering to print a map, almost forgetting her laptop, then her laptop charger, berating herself for not having her shit together. She got so flustered that she made mistakes like going upstairs to find something, finding it, getting distracted and forgetting it again, which started the ‘I’m a terrible person, I am a failure, I’ll never be on time for anything’ type cycle again! Seeing this behavior has made me more understanding, and now I really do appreciate it when she is just a few minutes late, because wow, it probably took a lot of work!

      So, LW, I offer these as possible reasons people are late to everything. I am tempted to offer the suggestion that you could make plans to pick your sister up, and actually knock on her door and go in when you do so, because that might give you some understanding of what she goes through when she is running late (Maybe after the recommended three months, if conditions do not improve?). But, I also see the value in the advice of other comments indicating that it may not matter why she’s late, it’s just something you need to handle in the way that works best for you. Regardless of all of the stuff I’ve written, I think the advice from CA and the other commenters seems pretty excellent. I hope that in time you (and I too) find it easier to accept lateness from our loved ones, and that your sister grows out of this, or at least steps up to the plate with a little more communication. Good luck!

  27. One half of my family (biological and urban) is Chronically Late and the other half is Painfully Punctual. The strategy that the PP’s have adopted is if the thing starts at 7, tell the CL’s that it starts at 6:30 (your algorithm of displaced time may vary). Then, when the CL’s roll in as always “late” at 6:58, the PP’s weren’t expecting them anyway until 7, CLs and PPs don’t miss anything, and everyone gets to commence the good times at 7.
    Full disclosure: I am a PP. The longest fake time delta I ever had to give someone was 1 hour and 15 minutes, and they were still 10 minutes later than the start time. But they were “only” 10 minutes late, which was within normal parameters of traffic issues in this overcrowded freeway-dependent city.
    I hope everything works out!

    • stickyrice said:

      I need to tell you of my admiration for the term “time delta”!

    • Kristy said:

      I once convinced a roommate the midnight movie started at 11:30pm.

    • CPALady said:

      As a Painfully Punctual person my personal problem with the time delta is that I feel anxious that they will show up “on time” (fake time) and I should be there so that they aren’t alone, thus I end up showing up a half hour early and waiting anyway. *sigh*

      It does however work with my husband, since I’m leaving with him so we’ll be together anyway “we need to leave for dinner at 6:30″ Means we will hopefully get out the door by 7:00.

  28. Tosca said:

    I, too, am a recovering Tardy. I am mostly early or on time nowadays, and in my 30s. I’m not really sure what changed…perhaps just chronological maturity? Dealing with years of consequences from jobs and friends and family? Being married to a Very Punctual Person and having a child I don’t want to let down due to my flakiness? I don’t know, but now, I am most rigid and anxious about being ON TIME WHY AREN’T YOU READY YET ARRRG. I keep it mostly inside, though, and try not to blast others with it. Because I SO UNDERSTAND what it’s like to be a Tardy!

    I think it might be karma from my previously-late-days, because it seems that almost all of my current friends are Flakes. The biggest offender will no-show to stuff, or will be late when I am counting on her to be there on time. Like one time she was going to house sit for me, and I told her to be at my house at 2pm so I could leave the house in her hands while on vacation. 2pm was the “early dummy time”; secretly she could have gotten there between 3 and 4. I did this because she’s always late. She strolls in at just after 4. I was quite annoyed. That’s 2 HOURS late, as far as she knew. And if I text her, it’s always “omg I am sooo slow I haven’t even showered yet LOL”. I don’t care if it’s just us getting drinks or whatever, but what if I had to catch a plane? Luckily things worked out, but her “who cares” attitude really got to me. This person is not only a friend, but a family member (not blood related). I love her, but I really can’t depend on her.,

    It’s more of a tapestry of things in the relationship with the Hardcore Flake: the fact that you never seem to be their priority. I have watched my Flaky Friend move mountains if it’s something she really, really wants, and she certainly isn’t late for THAT stuff. She also has a habit of making vague plans with me, but dropping them if something (or someone!) cooler or more fun comes up. Tosca will always be there, right? It’s the feeling of being consistently taken for granted, I think, that bothers the Punctual Friend.

    But CA is absolutely right; you MUST adjust your expectations about what people are willing to give you to maintain your sanity. I know my Flaky Friend just CAN’T give me a certain level of dependability, and my demanding it is just setting hr up for failure and me up for disappointment. And that’s ok, it’s still fun to hang out with her when I can. But nor will I wait for her to call or pester her. I get on with my life. If she wants to see me badly enough, she’s got my number and knows where I live!

  29. Leah Jaclyn said:

    I have a few friends, whom I love to bits that can be like this, calling last minute to cancel, running late all the time (something that I am guilty of myself) just being super flaky in general, the way that I dealt with it was/is to, in my head treat all the plans that I make with these people to be tenuous. My brain script is something like this “Friend wants to do go out for coffee on sunday, she might cancel though because friend, has a kid/social anxiety/just a little flaky, so if that happens boyfriend and I will stay in bed and watch stupid youtube clips/ make out/ sleep. Basically file that person away in your flaky friends file and don’t plan on doing any thing that is super important to you with them.

    • Yes, but then, if your Flaky Friends are like mine, they complain because you don’t ask them to do things with you anymore.

      • JenniferP said:

        At which point you say “I got tired of making plans and having you not show up. Why don’t you make the plans for a while? I do like spending time with you, but I don’t like waiting in restaurants.”

  30. Utter East said:

    Oh wow, there are a lot of feelings about lateness in this thread. I am actually simultaneously both Ser Punctilious and a CLP; if there is something Very Important starting at a certain time, I have to restrain myself from getting there half an hour early and then jittering to pieces waiting at the doors, but if it’s something with friends or involves getting up early-ish but there’s no set time, then all of a sudden I’m lingering in front of the computer, taking twenty minutes to get my going-out-kit ready, forgetting things and taking the elevator back up to retrieve them, etc.

    I get a little annoyed when people are late but I expect it from certain friends, the doctor, etc. and have entertainments with me at all times or deliberately show up a little late as well.

    The only time lateness really sets me off (and I would be horrified if I did this to another person) is when that lateness is keeping me hostage. My male parent used to do this constantly; at first I think it was just loldad like above, but over time it turned into this weird power game with my mom. We’d all be in the car ready to go for 6 AM to go on a trip and he would be just getting up, not packed at all, and stagger into the bathroom to get lit. We’d get going at 9:30 and he’d sleep in the front seat for half the drive. Or he’d tell me not to take the bus home since he was picking me up, then leave me sitting on the deserted school steps for an hour. Or tell us to wait, he was coming swimming, make us wait 20 minutes then get mad when we weren’t all ready to go when he was ready. One of my sisters does this as well, now, as an adult.

    As a result, I’m a little bit ruthless when it comes to my activities: You’re late for the movie? I’m inside, find a seat and we’ll chat afterward. You’re late for dinner? I gave you 20 minutes but now I’m eating, come for dessert. The plane’s leaving in two hours but you’re not packed? See you in a week. (Luckily that last one has never happened.)

    It sounds a bit dramatic but there do exist people who demonstrate that you’re really not that important to them by their lateness; one of my friends recently invited me to coffee but was an hour late because she had to make herself lunch and go buy something at the drugstore. Needless to say I will not be leaving work to try to meet with her in future; she can come to me and then we’ll go at my leisure.

  31. Camilla said:

    My chronically late husband is much more likely to appear promptly if I call him and demand that he fetch me a pint of ice cream, than if I simply request his company or offer him dinner. If I send him to the store, he walks in the door pleased with himself for buying me something, and expecting me to be happy, rather than worrying about the “late” issue.

    It may be worth thinking through whether there’s a type of favor your sister would like to perform for you, and if asking for it would re-balance the relationship, and pull the focus away from “all I want is for you to show up on time”. I think it’s manipulative and wrong to engineer it too hard, or to act helpless when you aren’t, but there’s totally room to straightforwardly ask someone who’s already pretty close to run an errand that would make you happier.

    • Annoyed (LW) said:

      But, well, all I want for her isn’t to be on time. “Late” isn’t really the issue. What I want is for her to show up at all and let me know when she won’t, preferably before we’re actually supposed to meet and definitely not an hour later. It seems like a good advice for dealing with someone who’s jut late, but I don’t really think it would work in my situation.

      • Seph said:

        My sympathies LW, that must be very annoying. This may be barking up the wrong tree, but has anyone ever told your sister it’s OK to say no to things? I mean, not necessarily to your plans, but just in general.

        I see my students often suffering from Young People Social Fallacy: Always Say Yes. These young adults believe that they should never decline a social engagement (can’t risk looking like a boring, stay-at-home loner), or wait a few minutes to return a text (who cares about paying attention to your class, it’s rude to make your friend wait more than a microsecond for a reply about dinner next weekend).

        I think this also has more than a dash of it’s-rude-to-say-no girl training in the mix too.

        • Annoyed (LW) said:

          I have and I know my parents have too, but I do think problem with saying no to things is a big part of this. And well, I think she’s building a bad circle around it. She doesn’t like saying no and think people will be disappointed and mad at her, so she says yes or give vaguely positive answers to everything. When she doesn’t actually follow through with this, people do get disappointed or mad at her, because it messes up their plans and time. Which I guess acts like a conformation for her that saying no to things results in people being upset.

          There’s probably more stuff behind her behavior, but I think this is part of it.

  32. You’re way more tolerant of flakiness than I am. I see it as a power trip, however well-intentioned. You hint at this in the post, but the make-people-wait-on-you-self-effacing-apology-followed-by-reassurance cycle is very much about getting other people to work really hard for you. Maybe it’s motivated by low self-esteem or high drama, but I have no patience for it. Probably because I have a decent-sized ego myself and don’t feel like I have to wait for people.

    Your advice is really good, and a lot of it is really, I think, aimed at taking the knees off the power trip of the flaky person. They want you to wait, they want to know they’re so important that you’ll ruin your good time for them, etc. If you don’t give them satisfaction, they often get bored trying to play games with you.

    I realize some flakes are people with mental health problems, but I tend to believe those are easy enough to suss out. Mostly they just see relationships through a power-struggle lens. If someone flakes on me, it’s often a sign to me that we’re never going to be good friends.

  33. jess said:

    I really relate to this, because I am a chronically EARLY person. I have friends who are always, always, ALWAYS 20 minutes late to EVERYTHING, and so if I am meeting them, it would make sense for me to just be 20 minutes late as well, right? We both know that 5:30 really means 6, so why can’t I just show up at 6? But I can’t. If the plan was 5:30, I will be there at 5:15, and then be even more annoyed when friend shows up at 6. In fact I have a lot of the same feelings around my earliness that the Captain describes around her lateness – shame, anxiety, etc. The thought of being late makes me so horrified that I must be early, but then waiting for others to show up makes me furious at them as well as at myself. Luckily, I’ve developed some strategies for managing my own expectations around time + dealing with the way that most of the social universe treats time (more casually than me.) For example, I have one friend who is a chronically late person. The reason for it seems to be: extreme trouble waking up + magical thinking around how long things will take + enjoyment of the present moment and a reluctance towards moving on to the next thing. With this friend, if we’re meeting somewhere in the morning, I will often ask her if she wants a wakeup call, and often she says yes. I wake her up; she doesn’t snooze the alarm; everybody wins. Then, if we’re meeting somewhere in a few hours, and I get any indication from her that she’s not sure how long it will take her to get there and is just throwing out times at random to satisfy me, (i.e. “Yeah, I’m in some place far away, doing an engrossing activity, so I will see you for dinner at 5:30, I think I can definitely make it back by then.”) I have started refusing to take her time as an answer, and will actually talk her through all of the things she wants to get done before she meets me, + discuss where she is and how she should get to where we’re meeting, and then come up with a reasonable strategy for what order she should do things in and what time we should actually meet. Because I understand how long things will take, and she doesn’t. I find that she is grateful for my assistance, and more likely to be on time + if she’s late, I at least know where she is and why, so I get less annoyed. And finally, I try to appreciate her ability to live in the moment, and let her lateness have a positive impact on my natural uptightness. I am constantly thinking about “what’s next”, vs. she is much more likely to be engrossed with where we’re at Right Now. If I’m waiting on her, that can be annoying, but if I’m WITH her, that can be really freeing. Instead of rushing out of the restaurant the second we pay the check, I’ll sip on my wine with her and keep chatting, trying not to check the time, since after all, we’ve already met up with each other and really have no where important that we need to go.

  34. solecism said:

    More points for consideration. My mother is chronically late. It was the source of endless embarrassment and frustration in childhood, as we were ever missing the beginning of the movie, or arriving just after the food was served. However, she had medical problems that went undiagnosed for decades that would send her to the bathroom for 20 minutes or more just as we were ready to walk out the door. And she also had some eccentric habits, such as stopping en route to harvest edible mushrooms from a stranger’s yard, another source of teenage mortification.

    I am an inherently flaky person, but I mostly have learned to compensate for it. As others have mentioned, I have no real sense of time, tend to get immersed in something and lose track of time, am easily distractable and lose track of what I am doing and endless small, misplaceable objects, and on and on. I am able to lose something while sitting still in one place and spend a half hour desperately searching for it wondering how the hell it happened because I just had it 5 minutes ago, literally. I forget things that aren’t written down and sometimes manage to double-book myself or just forget an important appointment if I don’t have my calendar with me and remember to consult it at the right time. Plus I am a procrastinator and sometimes engage in magical thinking about squeezing in just one small errand/task before leaving/on the way, and discover that I was quite wrong about how quick that detour would be. It is endlessly frustrating. I have also slowed down in my old age and now have a 2 hour morning routine before going to work.

    Like other commenters, I rely on various strategies to help me overcome these personal challenges. Keys and books and other necessities need to be set down in predetermined locations only. I have designated staging areas for things that are leaving the house for different purposes. I start staging items well in advance to prepare for travel. I make endless lists. I use multiple calendars, both physical and electronic to provide redundancy, and have started relying increasingly on automated reminders. I generally have a good sense of travel time and budget some buffer time when projecting my ETA. I rarely provide an exact ETA but more of an arrival window–usually 15 minutes, but sometimes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the number of variables and level of uncertainty. All of these things have helped me but don’t really change my fundamental nature, and sometimes I am still late. I have also worked on notifying affected parties as soon as I determine that we can’t follow the original schedule, which as many have pointed out, helps allay negative feelings about my inconsistency.

    My partner is notoriously late, with a reputation for showing up days or weeks late sometimes, not just an hour, and rarely checking in with others in the process. Hir friends have learned to accept it. But zie has tried hard to be on time and reliable when zie has specific responsibilities. Zie has struggled with chronic depression, which makes it hard for hir to leave the house or follow through with social activities. I have employed the delta time strategy with hir, as well as giving hir wake-up calls or otherwise checking in to remind hir of appointments or tasks later in the day, since hir memory is as bad as mine. I think zie has some social anxiety too, which makes hir unwilling to do much planning, and lists are anathema to hir. Moreover, apparently our lateness factor is synergistic as a couple, multiplied rather than being additive, which has caused my time budgeting to be unsuccessful on occasion, though I think it’s getting better over time. However, it is hard to find a balance between being helpful and nagging, and I have no interest in parenting hir, because zie is full-grown, and it’s not my job to manage hir (I also have zero interest in such a dynamic).

    So I tend to be understanding when others are not as punctual as they would perhaps like. I agree about the problem sometimes being due to lack of respect or consideration. I have gotten angry at someone, who when told of my arrival time to pick hir up, didn’t start actually getting ready until I was at the door. And I have gotten angry at my partner’s magical thinking and inability to extrapolate from previous experience. For example, when we have a planned activity, and just before it is to commence, zie calls someone who invariably talks to hir for over an hour, thus effectively abandoning our plans for the evening. As if that outcome wasn’t completely predictable based on the nature of their relationship and usual interaction style. We’ve had a few firm talks about that, and zie does seem to be getting better at figuring that out, if only because I point out that very consistent pattern between them, and zie is forced to agree with the obvious. When this happens, I go ahead and move on to something else, since I always have various projects and activities at various stages of development, and there’s always a good book waiting, rather than sitting and waiting while steaming or pining or whatever.

    As a general policy, I am all about taking care of myself and making things easy for me. So when possible, I try to encourage people to meet at my house (where I can keep myself occupied indefinitely), or at their house so that they have similar options, or some other venue where I don’t mind hanging out. And I am perfectly fine with proceeding with my plans despite a no-show, or just working on whatever portable activity I have brought along (I manage myself like a perpetual toddler, with a bag of activities, food, water, etc).

    Because self-care is important, I try to extend this to my friends as well. I don’t want a date with me to be a source of stress, jerkbrain admonishments, shame dances, or any other negativity. Especially when we are meeting at my house on weekends, I encourage people to come over within a very rough timeframe, such as anytime after 1, without worrying about the exact arrival time, so that our time together can be enjoyed with minimal inconvenience or disruption/accommodation, given that most people seem to have very tight schedules and long lists of appointments and errands. The gift I try to give my friends is flexibility. They are welcome to stop at a store along the way if it’s conveniently on the way to my house, or whatever. I am all about bundling such things when it works out and try to do the same on my own outings, which can impact my timeliness, but such efficiencies are important to me, particularly as I travel less and therefore have fewer opportunities to visit both friends and establishments distant from my home.

    Someday, when we have our “housewarming” party (we’ve been here 2 years now, but we’re very slow), my plan is to have an open house weekend. People can drop by anytime between Friday night and Sunday night. We’ll have a keg, and the barbecue and slow cookers going, so it’ll be kinda like an ongoing buffet all weekend long. We have a large house and a large yard, so long-distance visitors can crash or camp out as appropriate. This way people can drop in when it’s convenient for them, and more people are likely to make it work, rather than trying to find some 2-hour window that accommodates the most people while inevitably excluding a large proportion of them. And also, I am not a big fan of large crowds and vastly prefer an ongoing trickle of guests for 72 hours than a mob for 2 hours. That way I get to spend more quality time with each person and am much less stressed with being in host/ess mode. Plus, the guest list will likely be in the hundreds, given my partner’s extensive social circle, my multiple social circles from a wide range of activities and professions, and our extended families and current and former neighbors. We might bring in some live music too. It may be the only party I ever organize, but I think it’ll be fun to do once. I tend to prefer small, intimate dinner parties.

    I also tell friends that we have an open door policy, and they are welcome to drop in without a preexisting appointment, since we are homebodies and frequently are here evenings and weekends. Sadly, very few people are comfortable with these open parameters. They often call me with multiple updates when they can’t arrive at the previously arranged time, as if it makes any difference to me as I go about my household tasks, as long as they arrive sometime today. It’s also an exceedingly rare person who won’t call before stopping by. It makes sense to make sure someone is home, but I think people are truly uncomfortable with dropping in without warning, despite express invitations to do exactly that. Instead, they leave my part of town without stopping in to say hello because they thought it was poor manners to do so without an appointment and then tell me after the fact. That’s like those people who tell you what a lovely gift they bought you then forgot to bring–I would prefer not to know about the treat I missed.

  35. staranise said:

    I used to be chronically late. (Now I’m just intermittently late.) I think it’s partly because my mom was always super-set on being early; she was adopted at age 3 after a few foster homes, and her foster parents would say, “Come on, hurry up! If you’re not there on time we’ll leave you behind!” and it took years for her to figure out they didn’t actually mean they’d abandon her. So she is always punctual or early, for everything. Meanwhile my dad’s always late, and it pisses my mom off to no end; family outings were always leaving the house behind schedule and racing to be there “on time” (read: early). So I learned to equate punctuality with screaming anxiety, and when I had the ability to choose for myself, I avoided that anxiety as much as possible by doing the bare minimum to get myself places on time.

    Weirdly, what helped me kick the lateness habit was learning to be selfish. By asking people for more time slack than I needed. I realized that I deserved to be able to meander, if I wanted. My choices were not between gut-busting sprinting and sloping in late.

    There’s some magical thinking around time management that changed first. If I miss the ferry that takes me to school, the next one comes in 15 minutes, and docks on the far side exactly when my class begins. If I flat-out sprint, I can get to school in 5-10 minutes, and if I just walk briskly, it’s 10-12. But finally I learned that being 15 minutes late isn’t the end of the world; I would just text ahead when I missed my ferry (30-15 minutes before class began), say I was running late and would be there at quarter-past, Then I can walk normally, and arrive at class a few minutes before quarter past, therefore not proving myself a liar.

    That turned into making my morning commute more pleasant. i learned if I showed up early, I could chat with classmates and nurture my nascent social life. I could stop at a bakery on my way to school, or make myself tea in the student lounge. I could show my friends that cute YouTube video I saw on my laptop. Being early was suddenly about relaxation and ease, not martinet-like adherence to schedules. And that made it easier.

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