I come from a family who are notoriously relaxed about time-keeping. We were brought up overseas where, if invited to someone’s house for drinks at 7.30, arriving at 7.30 would be considered rude. Dinner invitations were no less fluid, and so we became used to time being a flexible concept.
Of course, my father worked in an office and once we returned to the UK, commuted to work by train. He was never late, for he was able to separate the two… yet the rest of my family struggled. I spent long years squeaking into work only just on time. To me, arriving early was a waste of time. What I never understood was the level of stress it added to my life when I allowed only just enough time to do anything or get anywhere. A life of missed trains and stressful car journeys was something I assumed everyone experienced.
But then I met Dave. He was the sort of man who was always early. And not just a little bit. He had a horror of being late and so always built in a lot of extra time, routinely taking something with him to do/entertain himself with while he waited. After months of eye rolling each time I rolled up late, he decided to have a chat.
He and I’d had some quite spectacular rows when we’d – briefly – dated, yet had moved beyond that to a solid friendship. As my friend, he asked me why I was always late. I did my usual waffle, until I caught his eye. Then I took a deep breath and thought about it: “I never leave enough time” I admitted. Nodding, he raised his eyebrows, a clear sign that he expected more. “I don’t think it through beforehand” I offered, and this time I didn’t need a facial cue from him to add “It’s because I don’t make a plan”.
Asking me if I found being early a waste of time, I cringed as I admitted to this train of thought, for it was the first time I realised what I’d actually been thinking all along was that it was a waste of my time. Yet every time I was late, I was wasting another person’s time expecting them to wait for me, and that simple fact had never occurred to me before. With firm kindness he explained that my behaviour was both rude and insulting, and he thought way better of me that to believe that was my intention. He was right, and I was never late meeting him again.
I’d like to say that I’m never late now with everyone, but that wouldn’t be true. I was in my fifties when I learned this important lesson, so there have been slip ups when I’ve not planned properly. But it is relatively rare, and I nip it in the bud as soon as I spot my mistake.
Himself is like Dave – always early – and he finds my family absolutely maddening. This is a behaviour which drives the better halves of my siblings crazy too, and even though I’ve shared with each of them what I learned from Dave – sadly it’s fallen onto stony ground.
I’m not sure why it clicked with me when it did, but I am glad it happened.
Where do you fall on the time keeping spectrum?
© Debra Carey, 2021