I am late to lots of things.
Some of it is due to optimism about how long the trip (and any tasks I need to perform before it) will take.
Some of it is due to being easily distracted.
Some of it is due to the fact that I would really rather be doing the thing I'm doing than the thing I'm supposed to be doing (eg, reading my book instead of going to a social gathering predominantly peopled with a bunch of folk I only tangentially know).
The point is this.
If you react with surprise, jokes, or sarcasm any time I turn up on time or early, I will stop trying to.
I will straight up give up on turning up on time because it's not worth the hassle.
I am already struggling against my natural tendency to think that the drive will be smooth and my low-level anxiety that I've left something important behind or might have forgotten the address.
If you add in making a big deal of any time I successfully combat and defeat these obstacles like I'm a sabre-tooth tiger that has spontaneously announced that actually it's a vegan, that's not helping.
I have years of trying to break this shitty habit behind me, years of that little voice whispering 'you're going to be late anyway, why put yourself through this stress?', and every time I manage to push past it in my attempt to be 'not that guy' everyone rewards me by pointing out that this is out of character because I am 'that guy'.
If you have a friend who is always late here is my advice:
- If they turn up on time or early just act pleased to see them.Seriously. You have no idea how useful this would be and how far it would go towards helping reinforce this behaviour and letting them break their habit. Try not to act surprised if you can but if your eyebrows go up anyway just keep the urge to comment on their earliness locked inside. Making people feel self-conscious is not helpful.
The only circumstance that this wouldn't be good advice is if your friend thrives on attention and lavishing them with praise will ping the 'reward' button in their brain.
- Give them something to do.
This may not be universal but if you give me a task which will help you then I am so much more likely to turn up on time. Ask me to get the ice for the BBQ and I will be there before the drinks have time to get warm.
- Do NOT tell them a different time to everyone else.If you tell me that the party is at 6pm and it turns out I manage to turn up at 6pm to find you going 'oh wow, the party isn't until 6:30pm/7pm, I just said 6pm so you'd turn up on time' I will not only feel embarrassed I will be pissed off.
If you tell me 6pm for a party that's actually at 6:30pm and I turn up at 6:30pm and you tell everyone there what you did and they all have a jolly laugh about it I will not only be embarrassed I will be fucking furious. And I will actively start turning up later to things you host. Instead of being half an hour late due to bad time management I will probably be an hour late due to bad time management and also spite because fuck you.
- Do not just sound resigned when they apologise.I know this one is hard because if someone is always apologising for something but they keep doing it, you get over it after a certain point. But just like calling attention to the fact that someone has turned up early reinforces the idea that their habit is a given, going 'yeah, we know, we're used to it' confirms that this is the way everyone sees them and that trying to change themselves could conceivably lead to everyone still acting surprised every single time they turn up on time for years into the future so why bother?
If the apologising drives you crazy just have a private conversation with them at some point and say 'Look, you're late to a lot of stuff and I know you aren't doing it to be a dick but apologising every time doesn't make either of us feel better. If you're working on it that's great but for now how about just stop apologising.' I can't guarantee that conversation will go smoothly, it could be hella awkward but the thing about apologies is they're supposed to be for isolated incidences, they're supposed to indicate you regret your behaviour and you'll strive to change it in the future. If you just use apologies like bandaids instead of trying to fix the problem you might as well stop apologising and just own the fact that you're routinely late.
- Don't be passive/aggressive about it.If you can't look someone directly in the eye and say 'it really hurt my feelings that you were late' or 'It's really important to me that you're on time for this one' then don't be passive-aggressive about it instead because passive-aggression has solved very little in the history of humanity. If you've told them it's important and they're still late, then tell them you're disappointed, they need to know. If you can't be honest about these things then your friendship will deteriorate.
- Don't baby them.Being late is a shitty annoying habit. I am not going to beat about the bush, it is goddamn annoying.
It's annoying when people do it to you, it is bloody frustrating as hell when you do it to other people.
But the point is this: a person who is always late to shit is a grown up who is managing their time poorly, they are not - unless they've experienced a brain injury or are neurodiverse* - like this for a special reason that requires you to tip toe around them.
Yelling at them or being a shit-hole to them won't change their behaviour any more than it makes fat people thin or smokers quit but ignoring the problem or their behaviour won't do them or you any favours.
In summary, don't be a dick or a doormat.
You as the friend of a perennially late person deserve the respect and consideration that them doing their level best to turn up on time entails and they deserve the chance to change their shitty habit without being made to feel like they're a freakshow attraction every time they put the effort in.
Disclaimer: My lateness tends to be situation specific.
If it's something to do with an appointment (eg, the doctor or a dinner reservation) I will turn up just before, just on time or a handful of minutes late.
If it's something to do with a flight or a train or a museum exhibition that has a timed entry I will be aggressively early because the idea of missing my flight/train/museum time is hella stressful.
If it's something that is being held at someone's house and is probably going to run all day, I will probably be late.
*In this situation neurodiversity would refer to someone who has a neurological condition that makes telling time or keeping track of the passage of time difficult, or alternatively someone who experiences anxiety or OCD or another condition that would make it difficult to be on time/leave the house/be keen to interact socially comfortably.