Motivations for Lateness

Other types of late people are actively motivated to be late. They feel positive emotions when they imagine being late. The idea of being punctual may also trigger negative emotions.

Power Games

Some people feel powerful when they imagine walking in late. They see making efforts to arrive on time as a shameful sign of subservience.

Like the consequence-immune, masters believe that their social status puts them above the rules. However, instead of simply not experiencing negative emotions about being late, masters feel an empowering, self-esteem enhancing sense of superiority when they imagine others willingly waiting for them. If people they keep waiting for them object, masters consider them presumptuous and get angry.

Masters feel outraged when they imagine waiting for others who they consider inferior to them. If they are travelling to meet others, they make sure that they will be the last to arrive.

Top dogs see themselves as winners of a dog eat dog struggle for power. They feel a sadistic sense of dominance when they imagine others resenting their lateness but feeling powerless do anything about it. They saunter in with a smug smile on their face, implicitly daring anyone to object. In their minds, being punctual indicates shameful subjugation—arriving early even more so.

Servants are disempowered passsive-agressive people who feel a sadistic sense of power when they imagine people who have power over them helplessly waiting. They enjoy making those in power feel as disempowered as they usually do, if only briefly.

In order to avoid punishment, servants typically make excuses or offer insincere apologies: they feel proud when they imagine outwitting the person in charge.

Rebels recognize that others may rebuke or punish them, but refuse to be intimidated by the threat of consequences. For them, lateness is an empowering demonstration of their self-determination. Rebels consider others’ angry reactions satisfying proof that they have got the message. They never apologize and take pride in being overtly defiant.

Some rebels are nonconformists who see themselves as superior to the mindless “drones” who compliantly show up to work on time. Creatives are likely to become rebels if they grow up in environments that don’t appreciate and/or punish them for their natural way of thinking and acting.

Victims keep others waiting in order to “get even” for perceived wrongs and offenses. Like servants, victims feel empowering sadistic pleasure when they imagine those they keep waiting feeling angry and disempowered.

No matter the original cause of lateness, late people may take a victim stance when they are punished or rebuked for lateness. They shift the blame onto their punishers by labeling them as authoritarian, irrational and/or unempathic. In this way they replace feelings of guilt, incompetence, or powerlessness with a self-esteem boosting sense of moral superiority. Victim anger then reinforces their original motivation for lateness.

People who consciously want to be on time, but are late as a result of other factors, (e.g. creative, shouldist or mastery seeking thinking patterns, competing or impeding motives, attention issues) are particularly likely to feel victimized: they believe that they shouldn’t be blamed for something that they are actively trying not to do, but are unable to stop doing.

People who play power games are likely to have learned these behaviors by imitating parents or peers when they were growing up. They may have been actively encouraged to adopt top dog or rebel attitudes. Alternately or additionally, top dogs and rebels may be reacting against parents who were slavishly compliant.

Rebels and servants may have resented authoritarian caretakers and school systems that ignored, possibly even invalidated, their needs and wants. If they were micromanaged by controlling authority figures, refusing to plan for themselves and rejecting imposed routines represented empowering resistances to oppressive authority. Being told that it was time to eat when they weren’t hungry, time for bed when they weren’t sleepy and having to change classes at the ring of a bell may have lead them to consider clocks and watches to be instruments of the oppressor. They may “take their own sweet time” and may refuse to wear a watch.

On the other hand, masters and top dogs may not wear watches to demonstrate that they don’t have to worry about being on time. Or they may wear watches to make the point that they know they are late and don’t care—expensive ones that symbolize their superior status.

Servant and/or victim lateness are norms in some oppressed groups, ways of creating feelings of power without risking the consequences of open defiance. It has been suggested that the lateness known as “colored people’s time” springs at least partly from a history of slavery and oppression in the US and from colonial oppression in other countries.

Love Games

Instead of feeling guilty about making others wait, the love-entitled tardy expect that others will react to their lateness in a way that makes them feel valued and cared about. They may believe that others should be eagerly waiting for them and then be happy to see them when they finally arrive. They may feel loved when they imagine others being worried about them or selflessly understanding that there was something that “they just had to do.”

The love-entitled tardy expect others to drop everything the minute they arrive. If they suspect that this won’t happen, the indignation they feel motivates them to plan to arrive extra late.

Some love-entitled people are narcissists who feel personally entitled; some believe that disabilities or the burden of numerous responsibilities make them deserving of others’ concern and/or forgiveness. People pleasers may believe that others owe them for how they have catered to their needs and wants. When they have the option of engaging in a pleasurable activity they may think, “After all I’ve done for her, she can wait for a few minutes!”

Needless to say, the love-entitled tardy rarely get the reactions they expect and also come to be motivated by victim resentment.

It is possible that some narcissists were “spoiled” children who were used to getting their way without having to think about others. In my experience just the opposite is usually the case. Narcissists became self-centered when they realized that their narcissistic parents weren’t going to consider their needs. They unconsciously expect others to provide them with the loving care that their parents did not.

Because they resent the idea that they should alter their behavior to coordinate with others, narcissists may resent clocks—though they may wear watches as jewelry and/or status symbols. They also resent the fact that objective clock time doesn’t correspond with their subjective sense of time. Indeed, at times the clock seems determined to spite them. When they are bored and ready to move on, the clock seems to slow down; when they are enjoying themselves, the clock seems to speed up, demanding that they stop well before they are ready to.

Love-testers are motivated to be late by feelings triggered by doubt about whether others care about them. When they entertain the idea that others don’t care, they are motivated to be late by retaliatory victim anger. When they imagine arriving late to find that others were worried, the happiness and relief that they feel makes them look forward to arriving late; this relief overshadows any guilt they may feel about making someone who cares wait for them. Furthermore, the prospect of knowing one way or the other creates relief from uncomfortable ambivalence.

Even when others have previously responded with concern, love-testers with low-self esteem may find it hard to believe that others really care about them. They continue to be late; eventually, others lose patience, the love-tester feels vindicated in his or her suspicions, and adopts a victim stance.

For attention-getters the prospect of being noticed when they arrive late is gratifying no matter of how others respond: for them, any attention is better than being just another face in the crowd. Arriving late to social events ensures that there are more people around to notice their arrival.

Attention-getters may have developed a habit of breaking the rules as a way of engaging otherwise neglectful parents. Being seen as “bad” was better than feeling invisible. They interpreted their parents’ anger as a sign of caring, an attempt to make them be good.

Self-Sabotage and Self-Handicapping

At the same time as destination avoiders are dragging their feet as a result of specific negative feelings about the destination, they may be worried about professional and social repercussions of lateness: for example, they may dislike their work environment but want to keep the job for the income it provides.

However, this isn’t always the case: when self-saboteurs think about doing something that will make them late, the idea that they might lose jobs or relationships that make them feel unpleasant feelings creates feelings of relief that motivate them to be late.

For instrumental self-saboteurs, lateness is a way of provoking consequences that they want to happen but don’t want to take responsibility for. People who dislike their jobs may be reluctant to quit because they fear that they might later regret it or will be criticized by others. However, when destination aversion makes them drag their feet, thinking about being fired for lateness produces a sense of relief that keeps them lingering just a bit longer.

Preemptive self-saboteurs look forward to ending the fear of rejection by “getting it over with.” People who feel undeserving of jobs or relationships live in ever-increasing fear of rejection. When this fear repeatedly makes them postpone departure, the thought of others rejecting them because they are persistently late creates a sense of relief.

Rather than helplessly waiting for what they believe is inevitable, preemptive self-saboteurs feel empowered by taking matters into their own hands. Not only that, the prospect of being rejected for a minor failure like being late, triggers far less shame than the prospect of being exposed as, and rejected for, being inherently incompetent or unlovable: lateness-provoked rejection preempts more hurtful personal rejection.

For self-handicappers, lateness enhances and preserves self-esteem.They feel proud when they think of passing tests, landing jobs and impressing others despite being late. If they do happen to fail, they know that they can blame it on lateness. In effect, they use lateness to hedge their bets.

Summary of lack of motives, and active motives for, lateness

These motives often play out without the person being aware of them: Subconscious Motives for Lateness