real life

Since when did being late all the time become an acceptable thing to do?

This morning as I waited for my take-away coffee I couldn’t help but overhear a woman say something I have never heard before.

She was about 30, sitting by herself at a table staring at her iPhone. She was doing that thing where she continually looked up at nothing and then down at her phone. Then her friend came blustering in. Her hair, handbag and umbrella all going in different directions in her rush.

“Ooh. Sorry I’m late.”

I didn’t look up from the newspaper I was flicking through as I had heard that line so many times before.

“You’re always late.”

The friend wasn’t joking. The delivery was as steely as The Sydney Harbour bridge. I looked up. This was all going in an unexpected direction.

Holly Wainwright, Jessie Stephens and I argue about the politics of lateness on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

“Well, I’m really late today. Sorry.”

That”s not going to help, I thought. The late-comer seemed very busy organising herself as she sat down and that’s why she must have missed the tone in her friend’s voice, who spoke again.

“Yeah. You’re always late.”

What? The truth and no vodka in sight.

Here was someone right in front of me telling it straight to her friend. Someone who didn’t say, “That’s okay. I had to catch up on some emails anyway … YADA YADA SEETHE YADA BIG HUGE SEETHE. How are you anyway?”

There are two types of people in the world. Forget all the versions of two types you have heard. The other “Two Types” are amateurs, just playing at this “Two Types” game. This is the only “Two Types” that matter.

Type I: Those who are on time.

Type II: Those who are always late.

And here are some questions for Type II.

When you are late ALL THE TIME, why do you keep doing it? Do you not see you are doing it? Why don’t you try to stop doing it?

Is it because you think your time is more valuable than other people’s (hello Madonna in her Melbourne concert – two hours late)?

Is it because you don’t think it’s a big deal to make other people wait for you, they should just take a chill pill and watch Avengers on their phone, you’ll be there at some stage?

Is it because you think a sorry text or a sorry in person, for the 1000th time, makes up for it?

running late in friends
Image: Friends/Warner Bros.

In my 20s I had a very close friend whose boyfriend was consistently 1-2 hours late for every get-together. Not once, not twice, but every time. She confronted him about it and he apologised and kept doing it. I remember sitting at a cheap and cheerful restaurant waiting for him and I was burning up, let alone my friend who was burning up next to me – and embarrassed.

In the end they broke up and a factor in that was that he obviously didn’t respect or care for her if she was always being made to wait for him. But he just didn’t get it. He wanted her back and sent her gifts and did all these “loving” straight-out-of-the-movies moves, but he was late for their maybe make-up date.

He went on to marry and now his whole family is late. They’ve arrived at baby showers as everyone is leaving. I’m not kidding.

I’m guilty of being a born-again on-time person, which is worse than an on-time person as I am a bit holier than though, like ex-smokers.

I used to be, consistently, about 15 – 20 minutes late and would think that’s normal (caveat: it is normal and expected when you are going to someone’s house for dinner to be a bit late because no one likes on-time people for dinner parties).

My husband, who is an on-time person, has rubbed off on me. He thinks he is being rude if he makes someone wait for him. The possibility of running late for someone he knows is sitting in a bar or at a restaurant waiting for him is the only time, really, I see him lose his usual calm self. He likes to treat people like they matter. How sweet and old fashioned I say. It’s kind of like carrying a cloth hankie.

julie andrews queen is never late
Image: The Princess Diaries/ Buena Vista Pictures.

I have a few friends that are always late and when they apologise, as though the whole being late thing is a bolt out of the blue, my knee jerk response is, “No problem.” And then I go on to say something that makes them feel as though it was actually a good thing they were late because, I don’t know, I got to catch up on saving the world from a flesh eating virus and solving all the problems in the Middle East and none of this could have happened unless they were late.

What I was really doing as I sat by myself was deleting old emails and looking at the doorway to see if the next person walking in was them.

That’s why I admired the You’re always late woman in the cafe. She’d had it and she said something. Because why does her time not matter?

Scientists have researched chronically late people and they ended up very frustrated and there were a few fist fights that made those white lab coats really messy. According to Science Alert the most obvious and common reason people are late is that they misjudge how long a task will take. It’s called the planning fallacy where people consistently underestimate, by around 40 per cent, how long a task will take.


Researchers at San Diego State University found that there are personality differences that can also account for lateness. Type A individuals (fast paced, achievement orientated) tend to be more punctual. Type B individuals (laid-back) tend to be late.

“Type A individuals estimated that a minute passed in 58 seconds, compared with 77 seconds for Type B individuals. So if you have an 18-second gap…that difference can add up over time.” Dr Conte told The Wall Street Journal.

Researchers also found chronically late people tended to be multi-taskers and multi-tasking makes it harder to have awareness of what you are doing. Therefore, time gets away from you.

As my name was called and I gathered my coffee, I watched the You’re always late woman and the Always late woman begin to chat. Even to someone with a very low EQ it was pretty clear that You’re always late was annoyed. She’d even said it out loud. But that didn’t bother Always late. She was chatting away acting as though everything was completely normal.

I suppose it was. She was late again and that is how her world works. People have to wait for Always late – which no matter how you cut it, how determined you are not to change, how “just you” it is, how many excuses you have – is rude.

I don’t think You’re always late has time for that anymore. Time is precious. And now the friendship at that little table, I’m gathering, is less so.

Do you think frequently being late is rude? 

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

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