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MISS CONDUCT

I’m trying to stay friends with someone who’s chronically hours late

Plus, my brother has imposed new rules for seeing my nieces and nephews.

Need advice dealing with a difficult situation? Send your questions to Miss Conduct.

I moved to a new city about a year ago. I’ve made one really great friend, but he has been, without fail, one to three hours late to everything we’ve ever planned. Recently, we were studying at his place and I wanted to get a snack at the store next door. He wanted to join, then took 25 minutes to get ready and 30 minutes at the store trying to decide what to buy. I try to be respectful of his idiosyncrasies, but I’m a very structured person. He apologizes ALL the time but I’m just not sure if he’s working on it. I’ve been told I can be abrasive, and I’d like to avoid conflict. Advice?

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S.E. / Amsterdam

One of the ironies in life is that sometimes, people who need a lot of structure and have a hard time calibrating their impact in social situations get along really, really well — like talking about five things at once, Vulcan-mind-meld level of “getting” each other — with people who can’t tell how much time has passed and have a hard time with simple choices like what snack to get.

As a bit of a Snack Hamlet myself (there’s a “Danish” joke in there somewhere ...), I can tell you your friend’s idiosyncrasies have already cost him untold inconvenience, embarrassment, and possibly the loss of important relationships or opportunities. If he’s not been able to change his ways for himself, he’s not going to do it for you.

Let’s try a new tack. Tell him no more apologizing, for one thing. And then start figuring out ways for you to take more charge of logistics. It sounds like you’re both aware of the incompatibility here and would like to fix it. In the store situation, for example, you could have told him you’d go on your own and pick out a surprise for him. Assume his organizational skills aren’t going to improve, in other words. What practical adaptations and strategies would make things work better?

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My twin brother’s wife died two years ago, leaving him and four young children. My brother now has a live-in girlfriend who also has four children. He won’t allow any of our family or friends to spend time with just his kids (my nieces/nephews), we have to include his girlfriend’s as well.

K.B. / Auburn, New Hampshire

Then plan your outings and time with them accordingly. Your brother has been through an unimaginable loss and is managing his family as best as he sees fit. You are not going to preserve your relationship with your “niblings” by dishonoring your brother’s wishes; you’re only going to alienate him now, when he needs you the most. We don’t always get to support our loved ones in the way we’d most like — sometimes their actual needs come first. Your brother is trying to tell you what his are. Listen to him.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.