Tales of the chronically late and neurotically early

Jen and Alyssa give us a glimpse of life in someone else's shoes, and offer food for thought if you or anyone who know is a hyper-early or hyper-late person.
Jen on her commute. Late and feeling forever apologetical.
Jen on her commute. Late, flustered and haggard — despite the watch that’s always on her left wrist.

What it’s really like to be a chronically late person

I am one of those people who’s always late. I’m sorry. I promise I’m not trying to be rude, or to keep you waiting.

It’s just that I couldn’t find my keys or phone or chapstick or winter hat or book (to read on the subway). Or I realized I should clean up my kids’ breakfast mess and load the dishwasher. Or I spilled something on my shirt at the last minute. Or, on my way out the door, I noticed a stray curl that had escaped the wrath of my straightening iron. Then I had to wait for said straightening iron to heat back up to fix it. Or simply that, despite being surrounded by clocks (watch, computer, phone), I completely lost track of time. (As in, maybe it’s 2 p.m. or maybe it’s 5 p.m. and I just have zero ability to tell.) Typically, it’s some combination of these things.

And then, before I knew it, I was running late. And stressing about it.

It’s like I have this weird biological force within me, fucking up my ability to be on time, even when I want or need to. I sabotage myself somehow, every time.

Then: while I ride the subway (which is always delayed when I’m already running late, by the way), I stand or sit there stressing about my lateness, beating myself up over it, and trying to come up with a good excuse to send you. And then, because I’ve spent so long fretting about it, I don’t end up sending the apology text message I’m working on until the exact moment we were supposed to meet up. And the text message doesn’t go through, because I’m underground on the subway. I hit “send” again and again in the hopes that I’ll get a signal at the next station. And then, on the days the universe is really trying to fuck with me, my phone dies.

And I get there, to our meeting place, red-faced and full of fluster and apologies. I waste the first 10 minutes apologizing and feeling like an asshole. And maybe you forgive me or maybe you think I’m unbelievably rude.

I just hope we can get past it.

What it’s really like to be a neurotically early person

Early bird catches the crab? Alyssa is always trying to be on the early side of anything.
Early bird catches the crab? Alyssa is always trying to be on the early side of anything.

If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you run.

This, or some variation of it, has been drilled into me over the years by various athletic coaches (“run” in this context means laps — a lot of them). While my fear of running has slightly subsided over the years, my fear of being late has not.

I plan out my routes the day before to determine how long it will take me to get from point A to point B, with enough buffer time to pee, get a snack, grab a tea, pee again, deal with a delayed train, or all those other things Jen mentions that cause her to be late.

When I sleep in (most days), I don’t bother blow drying my hair, or washing it if it’s cold out. I’ll grab a granola bar for breakfast or take my tea to go. I’ll put on a scarf to cover a stain from my morning tea (rather than change my shirt). Anything not to be late.

In part, I do all these things because I don’t want to disrespect other people’s time. In part, I do them out of fear that my college field hockey coach (thank you, Pam!) might jump out of my closet and tell me to run. But mainly, I’m just a little neurotic, and I’m OK with that. To me, being a few minutes early is bliss. I can take a breath, think about my intentions for whatever I’m about to do, and (try to) be more present.

I’ll admit, there was a time when it infuriated me if someone showed up 30 minutes late. I assumed that person didn’t value my time. But two things have helped me shift my perspective.

First, some brilliant person once asked me: “Why? Why does our society assume being on time is right and being late is wrong? And why does being late disrespect other people’s time? Do you truly believe that person doesn’t respect you?” It forced me to think of plenty of times when this wasn’t the case. My logic was proven wrong.

Second, I listened to Tom Friedman speak about his book, “Thank You For Being Late, where he recounts a time when his breakfast date was late, and it gave him an unexpected moment to think (watch the first couple minutes of the talk here). Instead of being annoyed that his companion was late, he saw it as an opportunity — hence, the title of the book.

Now, if I’m early (and the other person is really late), I’m overjoyed. I finish reading an article I started earlier in the day but never seemed able to finish. I send a message to a loved one. I obsessively plan my schedule for the rest of the week (just because they’re late doesn’t mean I want to be).

Alyssa was early. Jen was late. Alyssa didn't even realize Jen was late because she was lost in thought.
Alyssa was early. Jen was late. Alyssa didn’t even realize Jen was late because she was lost in thought.

From Jen to Alyssa (and other neurotically early people): 

I think you’re amazing. Possibly an alien because the things you do are so foreign to me (or maybe you’re normal and I’m the alien). But amazing nonetheless. 

Regardless, I’ll say it again: I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be rude. It’s not about you. It’s me. I’m a disaster. Forgive me.

From Alyssa to Jen (and other chronically late people):

You have blessed me with unexpected (and often delightful) thoughts when you’ve been late. Sometimes, I am so caught up in them that I don’t even realize you are late. Thank you.


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1 thought on “Tales of the chronically late and neurotically early

  1. Really appreciate y’all’s candor on your personal preferences for and struggles with time. I’m hardwired like Alyssa is but increasingly find myself in Jen’s shoes, so I’m basically in a perpetual state of annoyance with myself and/or others. 😉 Thanks for helping me: (1) step back consider why I feel the way I do in these situations, and (2) be more empathetic towards both the person sitting across the table from me and myself.

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