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Tired of friend's chronic tardiness

HI, CAROLYN: I've made one really great friend in my new city, but he has been, without fail, late to everything we've ever planned. Sometimes, I wait an hour and politely ask, "What's your ETA?" and he replies with "Sorry, I'm just going to do my hair and 15 other things and I'll be on my way!"

Recently, we were at his apartment and I got hungry, so I said, "I'm going to go to the store, I'll be back in five." I would have been, except he wanted to join. First, he had to change his contact lenses and fix his hair, and then he started telling me this story about his mom that I didn't pay much attention to because I was annoyed. About 10 more things and 25 minutes later, we finally left his place. At the store, he spent about 30 minutes trying to decide on a snack. I'm trying to be respectful of his idiosyncrasies, but I'm a very structured person and need him to try to follow a schedule. He apologizes ALL the time — every other word is "sorry" — and he is aware his tardiness is a problem. I'm just not sure if he's working on it. I'd really like to avoid conflict, since he's is one of my closest friends here. Advice?

Trying

TRYING: You "need him to try to follow a schedule," or else what?

I'd pose this question regardless of the details. Whenever you declare what you need from someone else, you hand them control of the situation — unless you also have a consequence in mind of their not coming through. "I need him to follow a schedule, or else this friendship is more stressful than it's worth." For example.

This is an internal consequence, not to be confused with an ultimatum, one spoken out loud as a threat. Threatening people is transactional and disrespectful. However, you can say out loud that his tardiness frays your nerves — and invite him to help you reconcile this: "You're a great friend. How can we compromise here?"

This is only when an "or else" looms on your friendship's horizon. If not — if instead you plan to keep this friend regardless, and just really want him to stop driving you nuts — then you need to assume the burden of change yourself instead of putting it on him.

It belongs with you anyway. Even though there's no defense for chronic tardiness, you're the one who's dissatisfied with the terms of your friendship, so you're the one who needs to make whatever changes are necessary to satisfy yourself.

This can also be achievable, cheerfully and with compassion — his chaos and apologies hint at the need for it — through limits and consequences in miniature. You won't flee the friendship, but you will ... leave for the store in exactly five minutes, for example, "with you or without you, though I hope it's with." And if he isn't ready, then go get your snack. Smile, rinse, repeat.

Short version, respect his idiosyncrasies and your own. Leave room for him to be late when you have that room to spare, but also grant yourself license to be prompt when you must: when the bus leaves in 5, the show starts at 8 or you're too hungry to wait on his hair.

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