When Is It Okay To Be Late?


The Hairpin has raised an important question for debate: is it worse to be late or to be the kind of person who insists that other people’s lateness is a reflection upon their moral turpitude? The answers were surprising!

I had no idea so many people felt so strongly about the concept of punctuality, so I conducted a highly informal poll of the people who happened to be on Gchat at the time. For what it’s worth, there seemed to be about an even split of people self-identifying as “often late but trying to get better” and “always on time.” Most of their answers seemed to fall into one of three camps:

A: Time exists as a discrete series of points that make up our Courtesy System; every living person has a limited number of points that they can give or take away from others in any given social situation. If you are late to an agreed-upon event, you are taking my points away. This is an insult that I take personally, whether this happens in a social or a business setting.

B. Time is a big, disgusting pool we are all swimming in. “Not letting you drown in it” is a sufficient measure of respect. Everyone’s doing their best to get everywhere they have to be. Get here when you get here.

C. Timeliness is a force that exists outside of the human will, like gravity. When you leave your house, you implicitly cede your control over what befalls you to the Universe. You can no more determine in advance how long it will take you to travel from your house to the agreed-upon destination than you could announce to your friends and family exactly when you plan to achieve self-actualization. There is an infinite number of possible futures. Time is something that happens to you, not something you can arrange to use in advance.

Which one are you? This is the most important question you will answer all year, so think carefully. Watch this first; this might help.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]

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    • http://www.facebook.com/valerie.lines Valerie Lines

      So well-put! I used to be very solidly an A, but over the last ten years I’ve drifted over on the spectrum until I’m somewhere between B and C. I know I need to be places on time (dates, movies, the bus, work), but time is an artificial concept invented by human beings to measure a phenomenon we can barely wrap our glorified monkey brains around. So I’m five minutes late meeting you for coffee. It’s because I’m beyond time, mother*****rs, not because I got sidetracked by that Gloss article about punctuality.

      • mallelis

        INTERESTING. I should perhaps mention, of course, that the majority of the above refers to lateness in a social setting; obviously in Western business culture it’s pretty universally acknowledged lateness is not okay.

      • http://www.facebook.com/valerie.lines Valerie Lines

        Good point. My “time is a man-made construct” argument would not fly at my job, or any job I’ve ever had. Plus I’m a teacher, so it’s somewhat important that I show up at least by the time students are there to learn.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sven.erlandson Sven Erlandson

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      • mallelis

        OK but what if these cheating ladies showed up late to their cheating appointments, you gotta keep this on-topic Sven

      • http://twitter.com/JenAshleyWright Jennifer Wright

        Sven doesn’t even try anymore.

    • Flayer

      As a mother you really cannot always be somewhere exactly on time. Your kids spill a glass of milk just as you’re walking out the door, the service truck temporarily parks behind your car, the toilet backs up, your child falls scrapes her knee or has a bloody nose. When I make a date I understand that two o’clock means 2-ish. Any lengthy delays can be dealt with by a quick cell phone call. If you can’t deal with that – and I have friends, usually childless – then we don’t need to be friends because you are too rigid for me. I was NEVER lat for work unless there was an accident en route, or car trouble, but that is because I had help show up an hour before I needed to leave. But voluntary social gatherings? Nah, life is too short and the gatherings become too much like work, which defeats the purpose in the first place.

    • Kellilee

      Here’s an opposite question: When is it incredibly rude to be early? I hate when someone says they will be at the meeting place at a specific time and then is a half hour early. I also work with people who have set appointments, and have found people waiting for me to arrive to work, meaning that they are over an hour early for said appointments. The typical response I get is, “It’s better to be early than late.” Not really. On time is best. Early to me is just as imposing on someone than being late.