Dear Pepper: A Matter of Time

Dear Pepper is a monthly advice-column comic by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to act in difficult situations, please direct them to Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Dear Pepper,

My husband and I are opposites: he will not be rushed, and I will not be late.

He is often an hour or more late to meet friends. He suddenly realizes that it would be nice to make a cake fifteen minutes before a birthday celebration is set to start. He wakes up at nine, then lies in bed, reading the news on his phone.

When he cooks, we eat dinner at eleven. I could go on. I love him anyway.

I am no better, in my way. If I’m not out the door by six-thirty sharp for my before-work run, my day is ruined.

I get home, feed the kids, drop them off at school, and am at my office by eight-thirty.

I am never late for an appointment. This is not because I’m naturally good at being on time but because I am always in a rush. I often find I’ve downed a large, hot coffee within twenty seconds.

My question is not exactly “How do we strike a compromise?” The question is more “How do I get my husband to admit that he is late all the time?” I find myself bending to my husband’s way of doing things frequently, whereas he never (my therapist would insist that I say “rarely”) bends to mine. He often stops me as I’m rushing out the door with a series of questions that seem designed to slow me down: “Where are you going? What is an internist, anyway? When will you be back?”

On an early date, we split up on our way to a restaurant half a mile away so I could drop something off at the post office. I got to the restaurant first and waited an hour for him. He’d been wandering around, taking pictures of birds.

I guess my question is, are there ways for me to encourage him to respect my desire to be on time, even though he clearly has his own philosophy? I don’t care if he’s late, as long as he doesn’t make me late. I feel like he’s intentionally messing with me. I don’t know why.

Thank you,
Timely Tim

Dear Timely Tim,

No wonder you two are opposites. Being with someone who’s late all the time can push you to be entirely, perhaps overly, preoccupied with not being late. It sounds like your husband has a bit of a time-management problem and so is, as you suspect, totally messing with you. In other words, he has a problem and isn’t willing to deal with it. You can’t deal with it for him. All you can do is protect your own time, to some extent, and protect yourself from getting drawn into a highly emotional-sounding, endless battle.

For the activities you do together, work out a system: what things will you not push him at all to be on time for, and what things must you push him on, and accept the unpleasantness that goes with this. For instance, if you’re visiting his work friend, let him get you and your family out the door. It’s probably worth more to you to maintain the peace than to be considered polite by his friend. If you’re going to your sister’s wedding, on the other hand, nag and push and insist and leave him at home if you need to.

How to not let him make you late to your own work or appointments: practice being slippery, blandly refusing to engage. “I can’t answer any questions right now, honey. I’m in a rush. I’ll text you. Have a good day!” Don’t give him a chance to waylay you. Don’t give him a chance to pick a fight with you. This emotional jujitsu will get easier with practice. And he will learn, too. I’m sorry, Tim—this isn’t much of a fix.

But time, as you know, can solve many things, even sometimes problems that seem impossible right now. While you wait, learn to enjoy photos of birds?


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