Have you time?
Punctuality and being on time has always been a subject of interest to me. People fall into roughly two categories when it comes to casual coffee meetings - those that arrive late and those that arrive on time. Of course, there are people that arrive really early too, but I will content myself with the two categories I mentioned first of all.
Set against a background of ever busy working lives, we are all on a strict timetable for meetings, for arrival at work and leaving work. It is always noticed who is late, who is early, who takes long lunch breaks and who we can get hold of readily. We have doctor's appointments for which we are penalised if we arrive late and yet we cannot penalise doctors who run late as they are the ones in control. Their lateness in seeing us highlights their power and control over us. We need them, so we wait for them perhaps longer than we would wait for a business appointment. We need to arrive at airports two hours ahead of the flight, despite having to hang around for at least an hour waiting for the gate to open. We need to arrive on time for trains so punctuality becomes a way of life for us if we are to be respected as efficient and in control of our work. Culturally, Northern Europeans are the most punctual, with Southern Europeans given the label "scatty", "lackadaisical" or "laid back".
On a more personal note, we then come to the less work driven meetings, such as meeting a friend for coffee or lunch. Lateness to such meetings can be variously viewed; I have a set of friends who are usually on time and have the occasional lapse of memory and get the time wrong. I have another set of friends who are usually late and occasionally arrive on time. Both are meaningful and can be viewed in various ways. The 'late' friend is irritating because it means the conversation begins with an apology followed by an excuse. The excuse can take over the conversation. Their lateness can be viewed as needing to have attention or control. You, the person waiting, have them in your mind, you become worried about where they are, whether you have been forgotten, how important you are to them. It means they are on your mind. How long do you give them? Would you 'dare' to be late? Are you important enough to be waited for? If you find yourself always being the one who is waiting, what are you to do? Have a word with them? Make a joke about being late for the Queen? Once, when I said to a friend "what do you do when you have a plane to catch?", she said, "I have missed planes several times!".
If you are punctual, perhaps there is a feeling that you do not lead such a busy, hectic life as those who are late and that the meeting with them is the only thing in your diary. Maybe there is a feeling that you are kept waiting because your time is not as important as theirs.
The therapist is always the one waiting for the client. That time is special; it is kept aside specifically for that person every week and no-one is allowed to fill that space. Time is a precious commodity which we offer to the people we see. Coming in and going out is always timed but within that space, one can explore all meaningful behaviours. Turning up on time or arriving late can therefore be viewed and talked about.
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About Rose Driscoll
Normal every day behaviours can sometimes reveal quite complex meanings about people. Of course there are every day things which get in the way of our arrangements and these are not discussed here.