To recap The Pedant’s and my conversation about his chronic lateness so far (with updates, because more has happened):
- I texted him saying that there are two things he could do that would make me exponentially happier in our relationship: fix his lateness issue, and in the meantime carry his copy of my keys on him at all times so if he’s late getting here he can just let himself in.
- He responded saying that he’s terrified of losing my keys but if I got new ones cut for him (so he wouldn’t have to have the pink leopard motif ones on his keychain) he’d carry them with him. And that he’s “working on” his lateness but if it bothers me that much I should be warned that it probably won’t change anytime soon.
- I was like yeeeeah, no, it’s not my fault you won’t use the perfectly good keys I gave you. YOU can cut new ones. And I explained why it was important to me – that when he’s hours late I end up feeling like I have to sit by the phone so I don’t miss the text that he’s here, since my door doesn’t have a buzzer. And I asked what he’s doing to work on his lateness.
- He said fine, he’ll get keys copied. And that for the record he’s never seen arriving on time as a virtue, and has looked down on some of his exes for being early to things. And added that what he’s doing to fix his lateness so far (“you’re not going to like it”) is stay in and sleep rather than make plans.
- I said that TBH I feel like his whole “being on time isn’t a virtue” thing is a rationalization and a defense mechanism – trying to make like being late makes him one of the cool kids or some shit when in fact it demonstrably fucks with all areas of his life. And I said that duh, it had already occurred to me that part of the problem might be overscheduling himself so it’s really no surprise that seeing me less might be part of the solution.* And I asked him what other measures he’ll be taking to get on top of this.
- I then sent an addendum reassuring him that I know change will take a long time and I’m not looking for an instant 180 from him, just sincere effort, one step at a time. [What I didn’t say was: historically, he has demonstrated that he wants to make me happy. I assume he does now, too. But I can tell that the lateness thing is a big source of anxiety for him, and by poking that bear I assume I’m gonna wake up a whole lot of fear and defensiveness. This is me trying to pre-emptively reassure him.]
- The Pedant conceded (amazingly): “It would help if I remedied my tardiness, yes.” But then: “Knowing that someone gets annoyed by said tardiness does not do anything to help – instead, it inspires contempt. With that in mind, I’m going to limit my future plans and commitments to things I know are easily accomplished.”
I’m incredibly pissed off at this. First off, I’ve been putting up with his lateness for years and barely said anything about it. I intuited early on that it’s something he can’t just “snap out of” – like my anxiety – and so yelling at him or giving him an ultimatum would probably just freak him out. Instead I tried to deal with it as best I could. I refused to meet him at any outside location (because he’s stranded me in public places for 45 min or more, waiting for his dumb ass while random dudes hit on me and random vagrants asked me for money or told me I was tall or told me what colour my hair was); our plans always involved him coming over here. The last time we did have to meet in a public place, I flat-out told him I would not even put pants on until he texted me that he had left the house (his response: “fair.”). I gave him keys to my apartment so he could let himself in instead of me feeling like I had to be hypervigilant waiting for him (and we know how that turned out…”Oooops I forgot your keys again, you’re gonna have to let me in” ad infinitum). Hell, even now I didn’t say I was annoyed with him or scream LEARN HOW TO ADULT PROPERLY GODDAMMIT BECAUSE THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS, even though I wanted to. I simply said it would make me happy if he worked on this issue. But even that is too much for his fragile little ego.
Secondly, I get sick of his weird, oblique, passive-aggressive jabs. He thinks of himself as a rational and straightforward person but he communicates like a fucking catty thirteen year old girl (“I didn’t say you were a bitch, I said you were acting like a bitch LOL”). Telling me he “feels contempt” for people who dislike his lateness. Bitch, if you have something to say to me, fucking say it. Tell me outright that you feel contemptuous of me, specifically. But no. He’ll just toss out the idea that if I persist with my line of thought, he’ll end up hating me.
Thirdly, the gaslighting. He consistently acts like his lateness is no big deal and it’s petty for anyone to be irritated by it (worthy of contempt, even). And that’s bullshit because first off it’s just rude as fuck to be late all the time but secondly we’re not talking about five or ten minutes here. He’s hours later than he says he’ll be, almost every single time we get together. For a while there he was regularly telling me “Hey I’ll take you out to dinner when I get there!” and then half an hour after he was supposed to be here, I’d get a text saying “thirty more minutes.” And then another one half an hour later. And then another one half an hour later. While I sat there ravenous and not eating anything because I thought we would do all-you-can-eat sushi any minute. On at least one occasion he arrived so late that the restaurant (or at least the all-you-can-eat option) was closed by the time he got here.
Fourthly, his whole “I’m going to limit my plans to things that can be easily accomplished” thing sounds like a veiled threat. “Oh, you’re calling me out on my bullshit behaviour? Well now I hate you and I’m gonna punish you by not coming over anymore and pretending I’m doing it because that’s what you asked for.” Or maybe he actually thinks this is a valid step in not being late anymore, but it sounds like avoiding the problem to me, not addressing it.
This was last night that I got this email from him. I spent an hour or so seething and writing, then deleting, a few different responses, most of them absolutely scathing. Finally – reminding myself that he was probably just feeling stupid for being such a fuckup and reacting with fear and defensiveness, I settled on:
The “contempt” is that you’re angry with me because I’ve forced you to confront a thing you don’t like about yourself, and that’s uncomfortable for you. So I suppose either you’re punishing me by seeing me less or you want to see me less because you now have a Pavlovian association between seeing me and feeling bad about yourself. Whatever. It’ll pass. I can wait.
But let’s be clear: I don’t have disparaging thoughts about you for your chronic lateness. I don’t see it as laziness or uncaring or some kind of moral failing. I suspect that my calling you out on the lateness has triggered you to have those thoughts about YOURSELF, but that’s all you. I see it as a bug that needs to be fixed, nothing more. It’s morally neutral.
We both know there’s a bug; we both know life will be better if you fix it. We’re on the same team here. And I’ve got a whole shitload of experience as a debugger so I can help you come up with an action plan if you want. Just ask.
I kind of thought he’d be unnerved by me seeing through his stupid bullshit “cool and detached” act so easily and have a knee-jerk anger reaction, but surprisingly, no. Instead, he responded:
As long as we’re being clear, I should point out that I’ve always been bothered far more by people’s expectations of punctuality than I have by anyone’s tardiness. I’ve never gotten terribly annoyed at other people for being late, but I came to actively resent people who live by their watches long before we ever met.
So…I guess this is his way of saying “it’s not you, I get annoyed like this with everyone who dislikes my lateness”? Or something?
But again with the fucking gaslighting. He might as well say “Why must everyone maintain this Hitler-like insistence on lockstep punctuality? Bunch of peons worshiping their timepieces. It’s absurd! People should be reasonable, like me!”
Well, first off, I’d bet good money that The Pedant doesn’t have anyone who’s consistently hours late to see him, and also he’s a dude so if he gets stranded in public waiting, he’s not gonna get harassed the same way I do. So of course lateness isn’t a big deal. He goes to the coffee shop, his date or whatever texts him “whoops I might be ten minutes late” and he shrugs and sits there enjoying his coffee without anyone cruising by hoping to put their dick in him. And that is usually how things would go, with him, because he lives with his parents who he hates, way out in the boondocks, so he doesn’t invite friends over. He goes to other people’s houses (so he’s never in the position of waiting for someone at his) or else he meets them for coffee or a movie (and is a guy, and doesn’t have social anxiety or agoraphobia, and is immune to feelings of danger anyway because autism or something).
If someone put him through what he puts me through, there is no way that’s not gonna start pissing him off.
Also, wanting him to arrive less than four hours after he says he will is not bizarrely picky or clockwatching. For fuck’s sake.
So again I sat here a while looking at his message and sputtering. Finally, I sent him this:
And is “living by my watch” what you think I’m doing when I express disappointment that you offered to come take me to dinner in the early evening but didn’t arrive until after the restaurant had closed?
I want him to stop being a catty little bitch and make a direct statement about me if he’s got something to say. Not “I feel contemptuous of people who demand punctuality.” Not “I actively resent people who live by their watches.” I want him to get some balls and fucking tell me straight up, “I feel that you do X and are Y.”
I know he’s seen that email because he sent me a different, unrelated thing since then. And I know he’s going to respond to me by dodging the question and talking more about this strawman he’s made, instead.
I assumed he’d get a stick up his butt about being called out for the lateness, but I honestly thought that would be a relatively brief thing – a knee-jerk reaction until he realized I wasn’t thinking badly of him or about to leave him over this – and then we’d start discussing what he could do better. Instead he’s acting like a little kid who doesn’t wanna go to bed. Whining, excuses, distractions, diversions.
I wasn’t lying about the lateness being morally neutral to me, by the way. I mean at first I felt like he must not care about me or blah blah blah, but then I saw that he’s late with everyone – even late for work to a point where he’s spending over a hundred bucks on cab fare most weeks – and I realized that this is just an ingrained problem of his that is nothing to take personally at all. He’s not a bad person for being late all the time. He’s not a failure. He just has some habits to unlearn.
What I definitely do see as a failure is that I told him “a thing you do makes me unhappy, can you fix it?” and instead of “yes, I’ll try” or even “no, I’m not willing to make the effort, if that means you leave then so be it” I get “Well maybe I’ll just fix it by not seeing you as much, then! I hate people who want me to be on time! What’s the big deal with being on time, anyway? People who are punctual all the time are stupid and I look down on them so nyah nyah!”
When I was married, my husband stopped having sex with me. Well, stopped being physically affectionate with me at all beyond snuggling or a peck on the cheek. I told him I was unhappy with this state of affairs. I explained that sex makes me feel wanted and attractive and loved and I really needed more of it than I was getting. I said that I’d never push him for PIV if he wasn’t into it – that would be awful – but there were compromises we could make that would give me some of what I needed: he could give me orgasms without us having intercourse, or snuggle up to me while I gave them to myself. Or he could just make out with me sometimes – give me some semblance of passion without either of us expecting it to go anywhere. Hell, even just complimenting my appearance every now and then would be something. I just wanted to feel wanted. In my ex’s case, he didn’t make a bunch of excuses or anything. He simply gave the appearance of listening gravely to my issues…and then did fuck-all. And in retrospect, that was the beginning of the end.
I tell this story and certain self-righteous prigs are all “Well I think it’s shallow to break up with someone over sex.” Yeeeeeah that’s not why I left him. Not really (there was also his rampant alcoholism! Womp womp). No, I left my husband because he demonstrably didn’t care about my happiness. I told him what I needed and he did none of it. He didn’t even tell me he had no intention of doing any of it so I could make an informed decision of whether to stay. The issue could have been the lack of sex or him forbidding me to watch movies or him forbidding me to listen to 80s music** and the results would have been the same.
This shit with The Pedant is giving me some really uncomfortable echoes and I think pretty soon I’m gonna insist on an answer from him: will he work on the shit that’s making me unhappy? Yes or no?
*Although in retrospect, it sounds like he was saying “I’m not going to make plans to see you when I’m tired because I might end up falling asleep and being late” but we don’t usually make spontaneous plans like that. I’m really starting to feel like this is just a punishment or a veiled threat.
**I say “forbidding” me to do these things instead of forbidding to do these things around him because our marriage was monogamous. He wouldn’t fuck me and I couldn’t fuck anyone else. So for the analogy to hold up in other areas, it has to be him unilaterally deciding that I can’t do a thing I like, ever, even when he’s not around.