Dear Miriam

How do you deal with a friend who is always late?

I have a very good friend since my school days. She is the best in the world in so many ways, but she has always been a bit “scatty” and she is really just terrible at time-keeping. It’s been a joke in our circle of friends for a long time- if you were going on a girls’ holiday, you would have to tell her the flight was an hour or two earlier than it actually was. That sort of thing. I can’t imagine that she is like that in her professional life though: she is a teacher, so she has to be in school on time.

I’ve always put up with it and just accepted that it comes as part of the package of our friendship; but these days, I’m time-pressed myself. I have two small children, I work full-time and I’m living on a busy dairy farm. Time out or time to myself is a rarity and when I do get it, I don’t want to waste half of it waiting around for somebody who is constantly late.

I think it just really got to me last week. I had an hour to myself in town before an appointment and we had agreed to meet for coffee. I had told my friend that I had this appointment, so she knew that my time was limited. After 20 minutes of sitting on my own, I texted her. “On my way, five minutes!” she responded. Miriam, she was another 20 minutes; which meant that I had about 10 minutes left before I had to leave. There was no big apology or anything like that from her, just “Oh sorry you have to leave so soon!” Driving away afterwards, I was actually fuming!

My husband says myself and my other friends have left her away with it for so long that we are partially to blame! But what do you say to someone in this case? I hate confrontation and I don’t want to cause a fall out. But I’m just getting sick of it.

What would your advice be?

Siobhan, Cork

Dear Siobhan

I confess: I feel your frustration. I too have been that soldier, waiting in a coffee shop for that friend who is “running late”… yet again. We all understand that people are delayed for genuine reasons from time to time; but when it’s all of the time? Well, that irks.

I suppose for me, it’s an issue of respect. Time is precious and if somebody is consistently- and inconsiderately- late, I think it does show a lack of respect for my time, personally. I’m sure it’s not deliberate on their part; i.e. they are not arriving late on purpose to annoy me! But I think sometimes- especially in long-running friendships or relationships- people can take the other person (and their patience) a bit for granted. I’m sure your friend did not set out to be 40 minutes late for your coffee date; but from what you say, she didn’t seem all that contrite either! So, no wonder you were fuming.

I understand that you don’t like confrontation, but if nothing changes, well, nothing changes. It does not have to be adversarial. If you want to take the gentlest approach, perhaps next time you are arranging a meet up, you could say, “Last time we were supposed to meet, we only ended up having 10 minutes together, which was a pity; are you sure X o’clock works for both of us to meet this time?”

Hopefully, the message lands, but if she continues to be late thereafter, I think it’s fair to have a more frank conversation about how you feel: that while you really value your friendship, the time-keeping is taking its toll and you want to try and find a solution to the problem together. Allow her to have her say too; perhaps there is something more going on with her right now. To be fair to her also, if nobody has ever really made an issue of it before, maybe she honestly doesn’t realise that it has become a problem.

I know you want to avoid a fall out, but a strong friendship should be able to withstand this sort of conversation. At the end of the day, you want to spend your precious time with the people who respect and appreciate it. Hopefully your friend sees that.

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