I come from a family of early people. And I don’t even mean that we are always on time, I mean that we are (97% of the time anyway), early for things. I have vivid memories of preparing for road trips as a kid and my Dad would tell us that we’d be leaving at 5:30am tomorrow morning to beat the crowds, so we must please all be ready by that time.
As the new day dawned and we rushed around trying to ensure we all got our teeth brushed and located any missing socks, the clock would be sitting at 5:10am and my Dad would be in the car with the engine running, asking where we all were. We’d still be bleary-eyed and he’d be clean and fed and ready to go – and expecting you to do the same.
Fast forward to us as adults and this is something that all three of his kids have inherited. Ask any of us to catch a flight or come over for tea, and we’ll often be at the airport hours before we need to be, or we’ll be standing outside your house 10 minutes before we’re expected, ringing your doorbell (I’m aware this isn’t ideal either!).
It’s interesting to me how this translates in relationships: when early people end up marrying late people or when two late people end up together. Sometimes the early partner ends up influencing the late partner but often this doesn’t happen and I’ve seen the biggest couple blowouts because of people’s different attitudes towards time keeping.
I find the fact that very bright (and kind and considerate) people cannot measure time accurately a bit bewildering. This has been highlighted in Cape Town where everyone is fashionably late. I am an ex-Joburger (and a Blomfield) so even though I live in the town of eternal tardiness I simply cannot bring myself to be more than 10 minutes late for things. When I’m running late I start getting all sweaty and hyperventilating and snapping at my family, because I’m terrified of inconveniencing people.
But it’s clear that many of my friends don’t think like that at all, and I don’t think it’s because they’re inconsiderate, it must go deeper than that. I once waited over an hour for my best friend and her husband to arrive at the restaurant in London that we’d picked for dinner and I don’t even think there was a clear reason why (also, I got hungry with all that waiting!). Melissa Volker who writes at Miss Melissa Writes sent me this interesting article on time keeping which is an excellent read, as it’s all about the psychology of lateness. It identifies four different types of late people plus the reasons why, and I can see many truths in these among people I know.
It also gives tips on how to combat lateness, including overestimating how long things will take. i.e I never say “it will take me 23 minutes to get there”, I always estimate 30 minutes and round it up, so that I nearly always have time to spare. Late people apparently “engage in magical thinking”, imagining they can do far more in a time period than they actually can, which means they often end up falling short. I like the idea of ‘magical thinking’ and I’ve also heard it said that tardy people are true optimists because they think they can achieve anything, whereas people like me that are always on time are realists (which sounds a lot more boring, albeit practical).
It seems to get people hot under the collar, this topic, especially those of us who always try to be on time. I am empathetic to the fact that getting kids out of the house can delay you slightly, or traffic can be surprising, but while this makes sense in exceptional circumstances, I think that nearly all of these things can be anticipated and planned for. Know that you have a whiny 18-month old who doesn’t like breakfast? Wake up a tiny bit earlier. Is there a big concert or sporting match happening in town today? Allocate an extra 20 minutes to your trip so you get to that lunch on time.
Luckily I’m married to an even earlier person than I am. I say ‘luckily” but this has led to some slightly awkward occasions where we’re the only ones at a party for the first hour and I end up helping out the hostess with making all the snacks and putting up the decorations (who I am kidding? I LOVE making snacks!).
What do you think – is timekeeping something you can learn? Are perennially late people rude or simply absent minded? And which one are you?
Have wonderful weeks,