- KATY MCLAUGHLIN
“Who should we invite this weekend?” I said to Alejandro.
For my husband and me, who both spent years working at least on Saturday, and sometimes Sunday, too, having our weekends free is the ultimate luxury. And since we moved into our new house, which has a pool, we prize our weekends even more. We love to invite at least one other family over for swimming, grilling, hot sun and cold beer, which our family considers the perfect way to spend the day.
There was a pause in the air before Alejandro answered, “I don’t know,” and left the room.
I knew just what that moment meant, and it made me sad: Alejandro has a long list of people he’d love to invite. But we know what would happen: By the time they arrived, hours late, the boys would be bored and whiny, we’d all be starving, and I would be spitting mad.
We have a roster of friends in the “chronically late” category. We love their company, but when they make us spend our valuable leisure time waiting around for them, I cannot help but feel that they are stealing from us what we prize the most.
I hope I don’t offend readers when I say that many, though not all, of our latecomer friends are, like Alejandro, South American. I realize not all South Americans are tardy, but in our circle, it’s a common trait. Americans, I have learned, are unusual in the value many of us place on punctuality. For my part, I find it excruciating to run late, and go into near panic in order to arrive at places exactly when I said I would.
Alejandro’s attitude about lateness reflects both his culture and his even-keeled personality: He doesn’t love waiting for people, but doesn’t consider it an impediment to a good relationship or a good time.
I have a very different reaction: Lateness, especially the two- and three-hour kind some of our friends have subjected us to, makes me angry, bitter and, as Alejandro has pointed out a few times, borderline hysterical.
When I was single and friendships were one-on-one relationships, I was free to deal with late friends the way I saw fit. I recall a friend during my youth in New York who came late, stood me up or changed plans at the last minute a few too many times. When she called me one day, I informed her I would no longer be making any plans with her. It was, of course, the end of our friendship, which was a loss, but then, it was my friendship to lose.
Now that I am part of a family, I can’t let my righteous indignation sever ties like that. But I also can’t enjoy socializing when I feel stepped on.
For one family, who countless times have kept us waiting at home for hours, we decided to implement a strategy of only returning to our house when they have called to say they are in our driveway. Then, and only then, we’ll come back from the park or errands and open our front door. This is, in my mind, stunningly rude behavior on our part, but in fact, they seem relieved by the lack of pressure.
For other friends, we vowed to meet them only in places where we can entertain ourselves while we wait, such as a public park, a self-serve restaurant or the beach. We also never tell our 5- and 6-year-old boys anymore that we are getting together with certain people. Instead, they are just pleasantly surprised if and when they show up.
Still others, who have just been too late too many times, are people Alejandro has to see on his own. If we run into them, I’m happy, because I really like them. But I can’t subject myself to their lateness any more.