The Always-Late Friend

It is an almost universal sentiment that the chronically late friend can irritate even those of us who are good natured and patient.
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It is an almost universal sentiment that the chronically late friend can irritate even those of us who are good natured and patient.

Women, in particular, are guilty as charged, or rattled by this kind of friend if they themselves are always on time. Some try to combat the unpunctual friend's habit by lying about the appointed hour to meet, others beseech the friend to not be late "just this once," and still others swear off someone who is constantly disrespectful, only to rescind such a plan. Certainly it wears you down, regardless of how close the friendship is, and often times, one ends up not choosing to invite this friend because of her tardiness. While this is an attempt to mitigate circumstances, what these women aren't willing to do, is take a real stand.

This means that in spite of the fact that this friend is inconveniencing you repeatedly, she is not ignored nor considered less of a friend. Instead the majority of women with whom I spoke described their disappointment in their friend, feeling a degree of annoyance with themselves for continually allowing this friend in, only for her to do it again and a commitment to remain friends. Thus, if the punctual friend suffers but doesn't give up and the tardy friend isn't educable or able to reform, it's an ongoing frustration. And, ironically, it's the punctual friend who becomes an acrobat, contorting to her unpunctual friend's schedule. As one woman told me, "It's not that I don't want to be with this friend, but that she misses a third of the movie, or I'm on the street waiting for her in the pouring rain for a half hour. Lately I've learned to pick and choose what we do together so I'm not in these situations anymore. I guess I've adjusted."

Another woman felt stressed by her late friend, mostly because she kept expecting this woman to be on time. "I would text my friend and she'd text back that she was on her way, not to worry. But she wasn't on her way, or there was some huge problem-- fire engines for a four alarm fire or half the highway was closed down--or she forgot the tickets and had to turn around -- that kept her from reaching me. It makes me very anxious." When asked why she tolerated this kind of treatment, the woman explained that she "needed" this friend, and counted on her in specific ways.

Other women concur that the friend who runs late usually provides something worthwhile in the friendship, including social connections, work connections, and companionship. Women of all ages rely on their female friends as a means of belonging - and this can be more riveting than any repeated inconvenience.

Of course, everyone hits their threshold, and self-delusion can wear thin. So while you might have been more accepting in the past, one episode can rupture the status quo. Consider a woman whose friend arrived late for her 9-year-old daughter's (the delayed woman's goddaughter's) piano recital. Apparently the daughter had asked if her godmother would be there and had been assured that she would be on time. "Because it had to do with my child, I couldn't stand it. There was my daughter, ready to play and looking around for my friend," the woman remarked. "Let her be late for me, sure, I'm fine with it. This was too much, it was painful and I distanced myself." But the friendship wasn't lost, and after a rocky period, the two women reconciled. This occurred although the tardy friend, had not changed her ways.

Ultimately, as long as the balance of a friend who is late and a friend who is on time works, the friendship survives. And for those of us who can't adapt to the tardy friend--as many women express, then it is sort of our own fault, isn't it? Because short of an earth shattering event, friends who run late, run late, and haven't the skills or wherewithal to alter their course.

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