You know those people who show up “fashionably late” for every party? Don’t they irritate you?
My natural inclination is to arrive at my destination early if at all possible. But the phenomenon of being late seems to be growing more common, whether the result of poor planning, simply disregarding others’ time, or overbooking in a hectic, multitasking society.
An attempt to dismiss the transgression with a smile and an insincere “sorry,” presuming that covers it.
Once upon a time, I had a friend – another divorced mother – who was perpetually late. She made every excuse in the book: She worked on the other side of the city, traffic snarl-ups can happen to anyone, her most recent client had a new opportunity for her and she couldn’t get away when she hoped, she wasn’t feeling well and lost track of time.
When it came to reasons (um, excuses)… you name it, she used it.
Late to Meet Friends
Here’s the thing. She was late when there was a social event in the evening or a gathering on a weekend afternoon. She routinely inconvenienced other parents and caused them to be late because she left her children in their charge, showing up long past the agreed time to pick them up.
When she would arrive, her bubbly and charming personality often smoothed the ruffled feathers. But late to the party 80% of the time?
It wore thin. It was maddening. Most of us stopped accepting her excuses and her smile – especially those of us who were in a similar boat juggling kids, carpool, jobs. The fact is, I never did find out what was making her late so often. Didn’t she own a watch? Did she just not care?
We are, too many of us, late to the party – even figuratively speaking. We miss an opportunity to reassure a close friend, to ask a child the right questions when he or she needs us, to nab a new client. We all live times when we’re running late, guilty of overloading the proverbial plate. But chronic lateness? Isn’t that a sign of disrespect?
There are times we veer off track for excellent reasons. For example, a few weeks back I canned my usual schedule in order to embrace spontaneity, enjoy some walking, catch up with an old friend on the phone, and indulge in my first ever bathtub caulking experience!
Each of those activities was important in its own way, and the only one impacted by the weekend day’s detour was me. Maybe we should all deep six our routines occasionally, provided that we know nothing critical will slide in the process, and that someone who is relying on our presence isn’t inconvenienced.
A slight digression: What do you think of the service professional who makes an appearance two hours early because he’s in the neighborhood? Although admittedly rare, it happened to me not long ago. That one can be problematic when you work from a home office. And it’s surprising considering most repair people are late!
How Late is Fashionably (Acceptably) Late?
And that brings me back to being fashionably late, and whether the concept is legitimate. Some etiquette experts I’ve read say that you should arrive 15 minutes or so after the hour set for a dinner party. I find myself wondering where this practice originated. Is it a matter of no one wanting to be the first to arrive? Is it still considered acceptable manners? What about a half hour late or 45 minutes?
Is it a matter of the occasion? What is acceptable in our culture or location? The circles we travel in?
When I consider the perspective of the host or hostess, I can imagine being grateful for guests who don’t hit the doorbell at precisely the prescribed hour. Who doesn’t need a few extra minutes to stir a pot, zip up a a skirt, or wipe the floor where you’re pulling a Julia Child dusting off the appetizers you just spilled?
Late on a Date
During one of my online dating periods a few years ago, I recall a particular incident that went beyond a lack of punctuality. The “gentleman” kept me waiting about a half hour. When he finally arrived at the restaurant, our designated meeting place, his first words were something along the lines of “Wow, you look just like my ex-wife. She was a bitch.”
Let’s just say the evening went downhill from there.
Hello? Emily Post? What part of the aforementioned scenario isn’t outrageous?
I am also recalling squabbling on one of the Housewife franchises as the women were comparing lateness. Make that fussing, interrupting, and arguing with each other. Then of course I am reminded of the more egregious (jaw-dropping) interactions we see played out in pop culture and the media, which I suppose is why we watch. Tardiness, obviously, is the least of these singularly unfashionable behaviors.
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