Health & Wellness

'Be there in 5!' Dealing with your chronically late friends

It’s Friday night and the only thing that’s buoyed you through your long week has been the promise of two blissful hours in the dark with Brad Pitt. Unfortunately, your chronically late friend has left you standing outside the theater yet again. Brad is 30 minutes into chasing zombies and you’re ready to clean your friend’s clock.

Sound familiar?

We all have a friend, family member or colleague who never seems to be able to arrive anywhere on time. This morning, TODAY show hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie asked experts, What on earth is wrong with these people?!

“Actually, there has been some research that shows that people who are more anxious, who tend to be procrastinators, actually do have a problem getting places on time,” says New York psychologist Jennifer Hartstein. “They’re anxious that they’re forgetting to do something. They’re anxious about being on time, so it actually makes them late. Or there are people who think they can do that ‘one thing more.’”

But not everyone is an anxious procrastinator or bad at time management. There are also people, she adds, who “just think their time is more important than your time.”

Do we dump them? Confront them? Buy them the world’s biggest watch?

“Sometimes we’ve just got to say, ‘You’re not taking care of me. You’re not treating me right. You’re turning up 15, 10 minutes late and it’s a big problem,’” says Philip Galanes of The New York Times’ Social Qs column. “It’s excruciating to say it. But it’s much better than letting it eat away at your relationship.”

Galanes says strategies like “fighting fire with fire” – i.e., making your chronically late friend wait around for you – might work, although that can be difficult for chronically punctual people.

Fake deadlines – telling your buddy the movie starts at 8 when it actually starts at 8:30 -- can also be effective but only for a short time.

“The problem is they catch on so now they know that’s not the right time,” says Hartstein, who encourages having a conversation – not a confrontation – about how lateness impacts your relationship.

“[Tell them] how you find them unreliable,” she says. “How you don’t feel that you can trust them. And how you don’t want to spend time with them because you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs while they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s unfair.”

If that doesn’t work, you might try taking the advice of Galanes’ mother.

“My mom … dealt with an old friend this way,” he says. “She would say, ‘Whoever is late is picking up the tab. That woman never showed up late again.’”