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Thursday, May 30, 2013 12:01 pm

Time is on her slide

My girlfriend is constantly late, which is annoying, but what’s more annoying is that there’s always an excuse: She had to do one more thing at work; traffic was horrible; her dog wouldn’t pee, so she had to walk him longer; she couldn’t get somebody off the phone. She always apologizes and is always late the next time. I don’t take her lateness as a sign she doesn’t care enough about me, but it doesn’t exactly feel great, either.  –Waiting

She has to be at your place in 10 minutes? Well, that should be just enough time to retranslate the Gutenberg Bible, reorganize her closets and then get that ship into that very tiny bottle.

It’s hard for the punctual to understand how anyone can treat time like it’s stretchy. (It’s not as if an hour will ever go by more slowly because Time went out drinking with its friends Mass and Distance and woke up with a nasty hangover.) But the chronically late aren’t necessarily the disrespectful, power-tripping jerks who those always sitting waiting for them in restaurants sometimes suspect them to be. Julie Morgenstern writes in Time Management from the Inside Out that if someone’s late by varying amounts of time – 20 minutes here, 12 there – their lateness is probably “technical,” involving errors like underestimating how long things take, rather than psychological (as in, “I’ll show you who’s queen!”).

Morgenstern advises the chronically tardy to avoid the temptation to cram in “just one more thing” by viewing time as we do space – seeing an hour as a finite container, which can only fit so many activities. Over a week, she suggests jotting down how long tasks actually take, including hidden time costs (such as travel time, cleanup time, interruption time, and dog bladder cooperativeness). And because life tends to have more snags than a bad girl’s tights, she advises building in “cushion time” – an extra 20 percent on top of the time you think a task will take.

Chronic inconsideration, even when it isn’t intentional, chips away at a relationship. (The way to your heart is not through your girlfriend’s last-minute to-do list.) Explain that you understand that her chronic lateness isn’t an attack on you, but if there is “one more thing” she could squeeze in, perhaps it could be the thought of how you feel sitting all alone in a restaurant, keeping busy by searching for coded messages woven into the tablecloth.

Give her Morgenstern’s book, and tell her it would mean a lot to you if, for the next three weeks, she’d make a serious effort to show up when she says she will. (Of course, three weeks is just a start, but that sounds less daunting than “Change your deeply ingrained habit right now!”) Praise any efforts and improvements you see, and don’t expect perfection. Just hope for a day when “the most unbelievable thing…!” is her on-time arrival – as opposed to another eight-car pileup on her suburban cul-de-sac, making her even later than she already was, thanks to her dog’s insisting on watching the rest of “Days Of Our Lives.”
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