The trouble with being punctual is that nobody's there to appreciate it.
-- Franklin P. Jones
'This is unfuckingbelievable. Who shows up to a dinner party an hour late?" I had been making an effort to remain cool regardless of our dinner companion's tardiness, but could not physically contain my outrage for one more second. "I mean...I mean...who does that? I'm actually worried. She must have gotten in a car accident. In fact, she better have gotten in an accident, because at this point that is the only excusable thing I can think of. Uh, excuse me?" I waved at the suited man behind the bar and pointed to my glass, empty but for a small umbrella, a slice of pineapple, and the frothy residue of the chi chi I had downed in exasperation. "Could I please have another one of these?" "It's cool," said Lucy, placing her hand on my arm. "She's Latin, you know. Being late is a cultural thing."
"No, it's not cool," I said. "It's selfish. If she showed up an hour late for work, she'd be fired." The restaurant would not seat us until our entire party was present. I was tempted to tell them we were one short so we could get on with the fun, but it wasn't my party, and therefore not my right. By the time our straggling friend showed her face, I had worked myself into such a tizzy that I could not make eye contact with her for fear that I'd explode.
Friends have called me uptight. "Loosen up, Barb," they say, "it's just a party," or " just a show," or " just whatever." Sometimes they're right. If someone tells me a party starts at 7 p.m., like a dork, I'll arrive right on time -- when the host or hostess is still scrambling to put food on the table or light the candles. I have learned, through one awkward situation after another, that when a party is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., guests are not expected until 7:30 p.m. It has taken me a while to understand this, since my parties begin at their appointed hour. Recently, I scheduled a soiree for 4 p.m. At 3:45 I had everything ready and held my phone in anticipation of my first guest -- who didn't arrive until 4:30.
Though I'm trying to be more laid back about time, I still find that I am eager to reach events long before my friends. This is why I insist on meeting at the event, and not at another location ahead of time. Meeting ahead of time triggers my anxiety. If I have it in my head that I have to be someplace at a certain time, chances are that those who are meeting me "ahead of time" will have a more relaxed position than I do. When they are late, and they are always late, my heart rate quickens and my mood worsens.
David, poor David, has given up trying to talk me out of my frequent bouts because he has learned that accommodating my time requirements is more realistic than trying to change them. Case in point: one recent night David asked me, "What time do you want to leave ?" We were heading to the Movable Urban Mix being held at the Airport Lounge for yuppie networkers like myself. David knew not to ask me what time it started -- it didn't matter. What mattered was the arrival time my mind had locked onto. David also refrained from asking what time I wanted to get there -- even if it was 5 minutes away, I might want to allot 15 extra minutes for parking. According to plan, we entered the lounge at 5:30 p.m., our friend Nathan joined us by 6:30 p.m., and the place did not become packed until 8 p.m. Seated with my drink, I was content to observe the late arrivals.
I am no hypocrite when it comes to time -- I don't want people to waste my time by being late, and I would not want to waste their time by insisting they be early. For example, when going to see a movie, I usually have to arrive an hour and a half early (more than two if it's a new release). To spare my friends the boredom of waiting in the lobby (which for me is a welcome time to analyze others and let my mind wander), I always offer to go ahead and save their seats.
I don't expect people to be early, but I do expect them to be punctual. I believe that one's punctuality directly relates to one's respect for others. If I have plans to meet you and you are more than 20 minutes late without having phoned ahead to notify me (with special dispensation for the two people in San Diego who don't own a cell phone), I know five things: (1) You are self-centered; (2) You have no respect for my time; (3) You harbor a victim complex; (4) You are a poor planner; (5) You will not be given the opportunity to waste my time again.
By "victim complex," I mean you have no control in your life -- you are the type who, rather than take accountability for numbers 1, 2, and 4, will blame outside forces like bad traffic, faulty alarm clocks, and unexpected interruptions, like a phone call from your mother or a run-in with an old friend.
If I have an appointment with someone, whether it's meeting a friend for coffee or appearing on TV as Oprah's guest, I am early. Out of respect, I assume the other person's time is more valuable than my own. I would rather spend 20 minutes of my time waiting and assure my punctuality than presume, consciously or subconsciously, that I am somehow more important and therefore more worthy of being waited upon.
"Come on, Barb," you may say, "20 minutes? What's 20 minutes in the grand scheme of things?" But you will have proven my point with your question. To me, 20 minutes is enough time to communicate through your actions one of two things: either you give a shit about other people or you don't.