Ask Wendy

My Boyfriend is Always Late

Friday, January 13, 2017
woman waiting in cafe
Hey Wendy, 

I'm in a new relationship that’s an easy and harmonious fit in so many ways. I’m feeling safe because I'm choosing to trust him to act with the best intentions. I want to live by the "no one is ever in trouble" relationship model you and your partner share.

Having said that, there is one big difference between us. I'm a person who puts a high value on being on time. I'm not perfect but I am generally on time if not a bit early. I'm also a planner. My calendar is often booked a couple of weeks out and my life is highly scheduled.

He’s in the more-than-an-hour-late camp, and I’ve experienced that on multiple occasions. I've tried to set us up to win by doing things like not counting on him for a ride from the airport or, if I'm at home waiting for him, being honest with myself about the fact that he will likely not arrive until quite late. Also, he identifies himself as a spontaneous person and I leave very little room in my life for spontaneity.

He and I both are clear about these aspects of ourselves and each other. We don't want to shame or blame the other for operating our lives in the ways that work well for each of us.

I don't want this to be a source of constant frustration for us. How might we work together in harmony and not get bogged down in complaint, disappointment, and frustration over this issue?

Sonja K. — Oakland, CA

Hey Sonja,

This is a toughie.

I think it’s amazing that you’re taking on the perspective that these are two different styles of relating, and that two people with different styles shouldn’t try to change each other. Spontaneity is a great example — “Spontaneous” and “Planner” are two different yet equally valid ways of living life.

The lateness thing, though. Is that truly a part of being spontaneous, too? Or is it something else…

I think my partner and I can live by “no one’s ever in trouble” (NOEIT) as a best practice because we’re not an hour late for each other. You are super-kind. I’m not sure I could stop myself from flicking him in the forehead hard and saying, “RUDE!”

On the one hand, I’m all about not changing who people are. If they like how they operate then you either need to be down for how they are, too (making extra special requests when needed), or you agree to downgrade the relationship to the place where it fits for everybody. On the other hand, it’s important that each has a workable relationship that covers basic needs. Waiting over an hour for someone? Yeah, that’s not all that workable.

In my opinion, a person who’s perpetually late has one of two things going on. They either:

a) Care more about their own time than they do your time. They may never say this out loud but it’s what they’re showing you.


b) They haven’t learned how to practice the integrity they believe. They want to be on time but they haven’t mastered it yet. I get this. I can be in this camp as I’m overly optimistic about my speed and ability to arrive places, rendering me anywhere from barely making it on time to being five minutes late. I’m annoyed by it. I text with updates in advance. It’s something I’m actively working on improving.

One way to understand what’s happening is to ask yourself how they relate to time when you are not involved. Does he travel much? If so, does he always miss his flights? Or does he somehow manage to be on time when there’s consequences for him?

I love that you want to take on NOEIT like a best practice the way my partner and I do in our relationship. It’s an awesome way to live. That said, NOEIT only works when everyone treats each other with respect. Being consistently very late is not a sign of respect; it’s the opposite of that.

Are you both thinking of each other first? Dave and I aren’t perfect either, but with NOEIT comes a default, unspoken question: “How will what I do impact my beloved?” You can’t have NOEIT without a high level of integrity, and your attention on the other person; without those two things, it just won’t work.

So I’m sorry – I didn’t give you a solution, because in my book, there isn’t one past telling him to be-the-fuck-on-time-already. If that’s not an option and he’s going to continue to burn up the daylight in your life, I recommend stocking up on a bunch of good books on your Kindle and installing the Netflix app.


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