Why Some People Are Chronically Late

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We could split up the majority of the population into two main groups: those who are consistently punctual, and those who are always late to everything, whether it be work, meetings, appointments, family gatherings, or concerts. I am definitely in the first group, and make sure to be on time regardless of where I need to be. In addition, if some unforeseen circumstances arise, such as a traffic accident which puts a snag in my commute, I always let the person I am meeting know that I am in a rare situation in which I am running late. My father, in stark contrast, was always VERY late, like an hour or more. He would often show up to family gatherings 3 hours late, only to discover that dinner had already been served, and that some relatives were already heading back home for the evening. It got to the point where my siblings and I would tell my dad that a 4 pm family barbecue was taking place at 2 pm, just so that he would show up close to the designated start time. What was especially interesting was that he never seemed fazed by the fact that he was always showing up extremely tardy.

A Harvard study conducted in 2019 found that people who had a tendency to run late experienced less stress, had lower blood pressure as well as longer lifespans than individuals who were punctual. I wouldn’t say that this fit my dad’s demeanor, because he dealt with enormous amounts of stress, had high blood pressure, and died at the age of 85 after acquiring a laundry list of medical diagnoses (coronary artery disease with heart attack and bypass surgery, high cholesterol, gastric ulcers, degenerative disc disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes). However, I find the Harvard study findings quite interesting, and wonder if people who are always late have just resigned themselves to the fact that they will always be late.

As a punctual person, I honestly don’t understand why it is seemingly so difficult for someone to map out departure times in order to arrive at a destination at the designated time. It takes only a small amount of planning, as easy as mapping out a route on Waze or Google Maps and saving the route. I do this frequently and very rarely run into issues with getting to a meeting or appointment on time. Also, a person who is late to meetings and larger events such as weddings is often perceived as inconsiderate and rude. No one should ever expect an event start time to be delayed simply because someone shows up late, even if that person is the central focus of the event. Some folks would argue that such behavior reveals a sense of entitlement and a general lack of regard for other people’s time.

However, this article is not meant to bash people who struggle with the concept of showing up to appointments and events on time, but rather, to discern possible explanations for such behavior. One idea is that some individuals grapple with honoring other people’s expectations of them and may act out by arriving behind schedule for many or most events. Dr. Neel Burton in The Psychology of Lateness (Psychology Today) states, “Angry people who behave with almost exaggerated calm and courtesy might nevertheless express their anger through passive means, that is, through (conscious or unconscious) resistance to meeting the reasonable expectations of others.”

Another possible explanation for constant tardiness is that perhaps people who are late don’t value themselves highly enough, so they show up late, thinking that their presence doesn’t matter. The irony is that tardiness is often so disruptive that the person’s presence (or absence) becomes achingly prominent. Such individuals often struggle with depression and anxiety, and frequently procrastinate in many areas of their lives. Even if there are dire consequences for being late all the time, some individuals don’t heed the warning signs and continue to display the same behaviors.

There also appears to be some correlation between lateness and ADHD, since those who have ADHD can be impulsive, inattentive, and often completely unaware of the time. However, responsible adult behavior includes honoring time commitments, so regardless of whether someone has ADHD or not, a repatterning of habits seems to be in order. I am by no means picking on those with ADHD, especially since I have numerous close friends with the condition, but the majority of them somehow manage to show up on time. Repercussions for constant tardiness could eventually convince someone to change habits and utilize tools such as calendars, phone alarms, GPS mapping programs in an effort to practice punctuality as a learned skill.


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