There are lots of things — such as having your phone turned off for not paying the bill and deciding not to shave your pits because you love nature — that are sort of cute when you’re young and adorable and become increasingly grotesque as you age. There’s a life cycle on hapless damsel-in-distress behavior — even Sandra Bullock has outlived her ability to play a winsome, helpless idiot in our nation’s romantic comedy industry.
So, now that it’s late January and our New Years Resolutions have likely been shed like so much dead skin on the loofah of our discontent, I’ll throw something new out there — if you are habitually late, how about a late-January resolution to cut it out?
I find that late people often have no idea just how much other people hate them. The prettier the late girl, the more oblivious she often is. And we all grow less pretty with time, so growing less late would probably be a good plan. The nature of lateness, of course, is that the part during which the other person is angriest at you is inherently the part you’re not there for. If you’re late to meet multiple people, that gave them a chance to bond over being angry at you, and then to subtly bond again when you arrive and they glance at each other like, “What an asshole, but watch how good I am at being professional and glossing over it!” and then they smile at you like it’s not a big deal but make eye contact with each other because they have a secret with each other, and that secret is that you’re an asshole and they’re showing off being magnanimous.
I wrote in Social Class in the Office about things that might be holding you back that you’re not aware of. On the topic of lateness — everyone knows not to be late to an interview or something that is explicitly a business meeting, but I’ve also written before about how networking isn’t so much about finding people more powerful than you and getting them on your side; it’s more about making actual, normal friends, who, around the age of 28, start to have really bitchin’ cool jobs. All the sudden you run into someone from college, and you’re like, “Alli! How are you? Still showing your crotch at frat parties, you big slut?” And then she hands you a card that says ‘Director of New Programming’ at MTV or something. So, being late to meet even regular people your own age is risking an unnecessary amount of bridge-burning.
Once, I made a lunch date with an entrepreneur I knew from Facebook but hadn’t gotten to spend much time with. It was Monday when we spoke; lunch was Wednesday. Wednesday at 1, and then 1:30… and she never shows. Fortunately, I had suggested a place near my apartment where I eat alone regularly, and the strip steak was delicious.
The next day, a message rolls in: “I’m so sorry! I was working on something in my apartment and just completely forgot! My friends know I’m totally oblivious to time — they know they have to call and remind me every time they want me to go somewhere.”
Nope, that’s not a thing. There’s no person who is innately oblivious to time, as though it were a genetic disorder. We all have values; if someone is perpetually late, she’s getting something out of it — feeling more important than other people, advertising herself as an artsy free spirit, denying her own mortality by refusing to acknowledge the linear march of time, marking her territory like a dog who pisses on clocks.
I used to be late a lot. I’d say I was late more than 50% of the time between 2001 and 2005. I analyzed the problem and have since reduced my lateness by at least 90%. One thing that should clue you in that lateness is harming you — remember the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf? If you’ve ever been legitimately, beyond-your-control late because your train was stopped underground for an hour with no air conditioning and you’re sweaty and thirsty and, after the first 50 minutes, you considered publicly peeing in a Snapple bottle, wondering if the old ladies sitting on either side of you would agree to hold up a wall of sweaters for you to pee behind — and when you tell this story to those you are late to meet, they just shrug? Yes, that’s probably because you’ve made up some late train stories before. When you’ve used up all your late-credit, no one believes you when you are legitimately late.