My bosses in my first job while studying abroad always said to me, “You turn up too soon.” I’d be there before the person with the key to the office showed up. I was punctual, sometimes annoyingly to a fault. Often, I would take the earliest train possible to reach work, so I could wait and read newspapers at the reception while having a cup of coffee. To avoid the risk of arriving early and being an inconvenience, I’ve even gone into a close-by park or a café.
It’s a trait I’ve always had, just as some others I’ve known are perpetually or fashionably late. I mean, ‘IST’ to some does mean ‘Indian Stretched Time’. In life, I’ve had my share of friends who expect me to wait “just for five minutes” and end up showing up an hour later. Another standard excuse is “too much traffic”. Sometimes, they’d cut a sorry face and apologise or as if you are meant to understand and make peace with it, they’d say, “You know me; I can never be on time.” Like that was a virtue I needed to celebrate!
My relationships with people have changed over the years because of their lack of punctuality. When I’ve bent backwards to show up, valuing and prioritising their time, it can be frustrating to always be the one waiting and unnerving and to know they haven’t bothered to think of mine.
Vidya Singh, a wedding planner, shares similar emotions about these delays. “It’s very frustrating to wait around endlessly for an appointment that has been scheduled earlier. Alerting you in advance about the delay could help, so all parties involved can alter their schedules too. But when they keep saying ‘five, ten or twenty minutes’ and keep you waiting, it’s very unprofessional. I’ve stopped making plans with such people,” she adds.
While I’ve personalised the whole experience and regretted losing friends over it, I’m at a happier place with more options to focus my time on. But I am not alone; there are many who consider punctuality a topic of strife in a relationship. Any ‘ASK ME’ websites answering people’s questions are usually filled with questions on how to deal with friends who are always late.
Etiquette expert Kavita Modi talks about many of her clients who feel let down and want to know polite ways of telling friends or relatives to not keep them waiting constantly. “Imagine someone making plans to pick you up for a movie but get to your place only twenty-five minutes after the film starts. I always tell them to be direct and polite. But it’s essential to let the other person know that your time is of value too,” she says.
While people say you mustn’t have any expectations in friendship, I’ve always felt let down by those who have stood me up. Yes, guests show up late for dinner parties with a group of friends. However, if it’s a one-on-one coffee catch up or dinner with a friend, I really don’t want to be the one waiting around by myself.
Kavita Modi seems to have a solution. She says, “Don’t leave invitations open-ended. Don’t say ‘6 pm onwards’; instead specify ‘Dinner will be served at 7 pm’ or when you call, say, ‘Let’s make it an early dinner. Please come early.’” Otherwise, she adds, expecting a friend who is used to constantly showing up late will only add to you feeling let down because of their laxness towards your invite.
All about respect
Respect is the key in any relationship. I have found that someone regularly letting you down on premade plans repeatedly shows a little less respect for you and your time. This is true especially if the person showing up on time has to keep rescheduling their other plans, just waiting around for one person.
We all live our lives differently, including how we treat tardiness and punctuality. Some people are early, some are on time and some are regularly late. And just as some people seem to claim a right over being chronically late, others are justified to feel angry about it.
So, to make relationships work despite this, takes some give and take. It may also help if you send in a courtesy “I’m going to be late” text in advance or share a genuine apology to the one you have kept waiting.
It’s very frustrating to wait around endlessly for an appointment that has been scheduled earlier. Alerting you in advance about the delay could help, so all parties involved can alter their schedules too. But when they keep saying ‘five, ten or twenty minutes’ and keep you waiting, it’s very unprofessional.
— Vidya Singh, wedding planner
Don’t leave invitations open-ended. Don’t say ‘6 pm onwards’; instead specify ‘Dinner will be served at 7 pm’ or when you call, say, ‘Let’s make it an early dinner. Please come early.’ Expecting a friend who is used to constantly showing up late will only add to you feeling let down because of their laxness towards your invite.
— Kavita Modi, Etiquette expert