The perils of punctuality

Punctuality is often considered to be a virtue. But in my experience, punctuality has been a curse and a bane, as I belong to that category of people who are punctual by nature. Though I am pretty easy-going about many things, punctuality is not one of them. Add to this the general Indian concept of Indian Stretchable Standard Time and I have a ready-made recipe for palpitations.

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It begins simply enough. Let’s say, I am meeting a friend at a pre-decided venue at 5.30 pm. I am at the venue by 5.15 pm. By 5.20 pm, I start looking out for my friend, even though there is still 10 minutes to rendezvous time. By 5.35 pm, I have worked myself into a frenzy of self-doubt—is this the correct place and time? By 5.45, I have doubts about the date and by 6.00 pm, I start having palpitations and wonder if there was even a meeting in the first place ! This is usually when the friend I am waiting arrives and says, ”Oh! Were you waiting for long? You poor thing. Come, let’s go and have something to eat. I’m starving.” There are a few variations to this theme, but this is how it happens most of the time. Without fail.

Over the years, my punctual nature has led to many funny incidents and some not so funny incidents as well. One of the more memorable ones involves the 21st birthday party of a friend to which I had been invited. Normally I avoid parties, but the guy I had a massive crush on at that time was going to be there at the party. So, I had to go too. I was studying in the University of Poona at that time and staying in the hostel there. My roommates, who knew about my crush, helped me decide on the outfit to wear, the shoes, the bag, the lipstick shade, the perfume … the works. One of my roommates even arranged for her cousin to drop me off at the birthday girl’s house, so that my hair would not get all mussed up.

So at 6.45 pm, I was outside the birthday girl’s house. My paranoia over being punctual made me check the invitation card before I rang the bell. “From 6.30 pm onwards”, it said. For added reassurance, I also double checked the date and the venue, which were also correct. Finally convinced, I took a deep breath and rang the bell. The door was opened by my friend’s brother, to … Suffice it to say that nobody was ready for the party (my friend’s mother was actually napping) and nobody actually expected any guest to arrive on time. My friend’s father told me very kindly that I should never take timings seriously and that I should always add 2 hours to the actual time of any invite ! I felt quite stupid and sat in one corner, while the family got ready for the party. By the time guests started coming in at 8.30 pm, I was feeling quite horrible. It didn’t help that I was introduced as that friend of the birthday girl, who took the timing on the invite seriously. Needless, to say I became the subject of many a joke, a nudge or a wink at the party, including that of my big crush. 😦

Contrast this with my 12th birthday party, wherein we were ready at the appointed time, but the guests sauntered in later, much later. The food had gone cold by then, I had convinced myself that nobody was coming and was on the verge of tears, when the first friend walked in. She was genuinely puzzled as to why I was so upset about her coming late.

Clocks at Canary Wharf Station, London

Today, I accept the fact that not all people can be punctual or even like others to be punctual. This understanding came about only when my punctuality cost me a friendship. DMH was a very good friend at work. She had joined my organisation a few years after I did and we had kind off hit it off from day one. We would often go for tea or coffee after work or catch a movie or a theatre performance. Though she wasn’t the most punctual of persons, I managed. One day, a couple of years into the friendship, we were supposed to go and see a mutual friend’s ailing father-in-law. Though we had agreed to meet in my office room at 6.00 pm, DMH did not come till nearly 6.45, by which time I was feeling quite edgy. When I remarked to DMH that she was late, she burst out and said, “Why are you so obsessed about time? You are totally stressing me out with your punctuality. I get stressed out each time we have to go out somewhere, knowing that you will be looking at your watch all the time. You know what, you need to lighten up. You have an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) about punctuality.” To say that I was shocked about stressing someone else out with my punctuality came as a bit of a surprise, because I thought I was the one getting stressed out. Anyway, things were never the same again between us after this incident, and we slowly drifted apart. Today, we are on nodding terms and have a professional relationship at work.

It isn’t easy being punctual or retain sanity in a world where most people do not respect your time—appointments are forever getting rescheduled, trains are running late, buses are arbitrarily cancelled, deliveries are delayed, people turn up late for appointments without even an apology… Over the years, I have learnt to relax about punctuality at least where others are concerned. And with practically everyone having a cell phone these days, delays get communicated leading to stress-free and palpitation-free rendevous. But as far as I am concerned, I still arrive on time for meetings, as well as weddings and parties (that is, if I deign to go for them at all), or any other function.

I often wonder why I treat time and punctuality as something carved in stone. Maybe I was born with the punctuality gene (if one can even believe that there is such a thing). For you see, I was punctual even in birth—I was born on the date given by the doctor to my mom. 🙂

61 thoughts on “The perils of punctuality

  1. wow!! that sounds so like me…. except the birth part.. i was born almost a month and a half after the date given! i so hate being late that I leave for anywhere hours in advance and reach much too early… and hubby is the kind who hates leaving early for anything and knows how to manage to ‘just’ make it, a feat I can never manage, and if i try, i get all worried and antsy that i will be late!!! my son doesnt help, wanting to know why we need to leave so early when appa says there’s lots of time!

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    1. Glad to know that there are other punctuality freaks like me. 😀

      My family is divided on the punctuality business with Appa and one brother on the unpunctual side and another brother and me on the punctual side. As for Amma, it depends on the situation.

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  2. We should tie up together so that we can stop freaking about time LOL. That has been the issue with me all of life. I have taken great measures at time (like walking soaked wet in rain) only to find myself waiting for the appointment or whatever.. This happens even when I am trying to do a favor for someone. My husband is another kind of time freak where he is usually ready half an hour ahead and that is as bad as being late… believe me on that.

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Farida. 🙂 Very happy to see you here and also to know that there are more people like me. As for walking soaked in the rain to keep an appointment, I’ve done that too. And yes, i waited too, for 1 hour 20 minutes for the appointment to happen.

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  3. I feel rotten about not having visited your blog earlier. Sorry for being late 😛

    But after reading your account I felt like your soul sister – the one who got lost at the Kumb mela. I am annoyingly punctual and have no respect for people who have no respect for time. I mean how much effort does it take? And I hate waiting and end up hyperventilating like you. We should meet sometime :))

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    1. Better late than never, ;-). Hail soul sister, well met and thank you so much for the comments. Reading all the comments makes me feel less of an oddity in this madly unpunctual world. And yes we should definitely meet 🙂

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  4. After reading the other comments, I feel that perhaps we can make the puntual club, which will have all its meeting starting in time and hopefully, finishing ahead of time. During meetings we shall eat ant-acid tablets for our gastric ulcers and give out “late-comers of the month” awards.

    Actually compared to you my problem is well under control now and I have even managed to arrive late in many appointments, without my insides being knotted into spasms. 🙂

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  5. I got no right to say ‘I understand’ because I have always been a latecomer, the kind you would despise ;D who is correcting her ways with a struggling-yet-strong will these days, thanks to a super-punctual lifepartner! But yes I do agree, appointments, parties, get-togethers, major decisions – things are way too postponed in India for just anyone’s convenience.

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  6. I totally identify with what you are saying.I got married into a family who has its own standard time…they usually start getting ready for their own function an hour after guests start arriving! I tell you, its so annoying to be decked up 2 hours before everyone else starts getting ready! All the make up wears off by the time they get fresh!

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  7. Very true. Even I have many such horrible experience because of my punctuality. Once I reached on one of my friends reception on time and that friend and guest reach one hour late than mentioned time at that time I also felt similar to what you felt during that birthday party.

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  8. I believe it’s a cultural issue. When I interact with my European colleagues, punctuality is taken for granted. In India, by the time a meeting starts we have lost a good 10 minutes. I have now managed to tutor myself not to react to them. I clench my fist, take deep breaths, smile even broader and remark to myself – Gawd, what have I done to deserve this 🙂

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    1. An official welcome to my blog, Aniruddha. 😉

      Yes, I too believe that it is a cultural thing, though why it should be so is something that I have been unable to understand. Is it because ordinary meetings are not governed by “muhurts”? Or is it just because culturally, the concept of time is limitless? I’m am still trying to understand that one.

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  9. I am your type. I STRICTLY adhere to time given & do not like late
    comers & on top of that people have the audacity to dismiss it as
    something trivial.Abroad we appreciate thier punctuality in every
    thing like transport etc.but in India we refuse to change.SAD
    You are avery normal disciplined person .

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  10. Ha ha ha… Sudha, I can so relate to this post. I have the punctuality gene too, inherited from Mom and it has led to many incidents of the kind you mentioned. I have had to wait for hours at end, looking like a complete idiot. But then, it comes with its own share of pros too. I would love to see this gene travel down to my kids too. Better punctual than sorry I say.

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    1. You know what Deboshree, with so many bloggers writing in about punctuality, I’m now convinced that there is a punctuality gene. And I sure hope that your kinds get it, 😀

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  11. First time here and all I can think is OMG that’s so me… coming in time, wondering if I’m at the right place, right date, getting stressed, wondering if the friend has had an accident.. gosh it’s all the same. I can NEVER get it right.

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Tulika, and more so if you are the punctual type. 😀 It’s amazing how many “soul bloggers” I’m meeting through this one post. Thanks a lot for stopping by and commenting and i do hope that you will keep visiting.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Sudeshna. I guess it’s good that both your friends and you are late, which probably means that neither side ends up waiting for the other.

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  12. Hi Sudhagee

    Congratulations on an excellent post, could not have summed it up better. I have the same problem as the husband of one of the readers, I arrive at least half an hour early. I think i read from Sun Tzu and the Art of war that he who arrives early and waits for the enemy in a battle has more chances of victory. Now after a few experiences I have devised my own system, I arrive early but don’t enter the venue. Instead I wait in my car a safe distance away with a good view of the venue. When I feel that almost 50% of the guests have shown in, I make my entry. SO basically I have invested on some real time pass devices like the iPod and Smart Phone to kill the waiting time. Hope this technique works for you.

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Dr Vikram, and thank you for your comments. The wait does not bother me so much these days, as I always have a book in my bag to pass the time. What bothers me is the unapolegetic attitude of ones who are late and do not respect other people’s time.

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  13. Hi Sudha,
    By now you should be convinced (even feeling good) that you arent the only puncto-freak around. It seems there are many other closet puncto-freaks! 🙂 You can add me to that list. The only time I am late (and that too by 10 minutes) is when I am draping the 6 yard/ 9 yard wonder grament we call Saree. I rarely wore one before marriage and post marriage my husband sometimes wonders why I like to call myself punctual.

    As many others have pointed out, I too think that punctuality is a cultural thing and unless the other party is made to realise how you feel about punctuality, they will not respect it. Here is what I do –
    1. Always carry a book (my husband prefers an Ipod) in my bag and read it. The fatter the book, the better. Needless to say I have finished many books waiting for appointments
    2. When the other person walks in, say you need 10-15 minutes more since you are running late and have to finish this book/ magazine. They more or less get the point and apologise.
    3. If some one more than 20 minutes late (including a Doctor), LEAVE. It is not worth spending your time here.
    4. Start meetings at work on time, irrespective of who has joined in. I did this once in college when the room was empty. I switched off the lights, started the presentation. Everyone who trooped in assumed some one else was already there and listening. So they immediately got down to taking notes and becoming cognizant of what I presenting.
    5. NEVER stay back late for meetings started late by other people. Tell them, you have another appointment at 6 and need to leave and thank you for the gyaan. Perhaps next time you will stay longer if the meeting starts on time. Do this a few times and your colleagues / friends will see that you are serious (OCD or otherwise. Hey all of us have quirks, warts and other nasties. Its the whole package that others have to accept!).

    What do you say?

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    1. Arch, I absolutely love your suggestions, some of which I follow myself. I always have at least one book in my bag, and I never stay back late for meetings. As for meetings, which I have convened at work, I do not wait for anyone. But what I have been unable to do is to leave the Doctor’s clinic 😦 Will definitely try to

      And yes, it feels good that I am not alone and that I am not the only punctuality freak.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, Arch. I really appreciate it.

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  14. A very entertaining post indeed. hello, I am another one suffering with this “punctuality” disease. I don’t understand how and why people feel proud about the fact that they are never on time and instead laugh at “idiots” like me who always ensure they are on time. Anyway, I have cured many people of this problem. If they are not at a place at the appointed time, or 15 minutes later, i politely send a text message informing them that I am done waiting and leave. Unless of course they inform me that they are running late, in which case i have more patience. Try it a couple of times. It works like a dream:)

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    1. Hi Anjali and fellow punctuality disease sufferer 🙂 I am definitely going to try out your suggestion the next time somebody is late. I wonder now as to why I didn’t think about it before.

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  15. I can totally relate to this post, Sudhagee. I have the same problem. Actually, it’s funny that a person’s attempt to be on time and not keep others waiting is often related to some kind of disorder. My guilty conscience starts nudging me when people have to wait because of me, even an auto-rickshaw driver, who, mind you, takes money for standing idle. 😦 😦

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    1. I don’t know how I could not have written about the guilt over keeping the auto-rickshaw driver waiting. 🙂 That is also something that I go through quite often.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Chhavi, and also for subscribing to my blog.

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  16. I am so happy to see so many punctual-arians here. I had become kinda oddity in all my friend circles. I was always told punctuality is the single-most important virtue that will earn you respect from all around. But I started to feel in India it isn’t so. Thanks for keeping my hope alive 🙂

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    1. Welcome to my blog, fellow punctualarian 🙂 and thank yo so much for commenting. I can’t tell you how heartening it is to meet so many punctual people via this post.

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  17. i don’t know about a punctuality gene, since i recently moved here from a place where punctuality is the cultural norm! i’m glad to find a group of people in india who share this ‘gene’ however, and i think a punctuality club is a great idea 😛

    i’ve had several arguments with my indian hubby regarding my punctuality and his lack of, and it is so frustrating that he has no idea why i insist on sticking to the agreed upon time, or why i am bothered by not sticking to the said time! so glad to hear other’s similar experiences. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, MD. And welcome to the punctality club as well 😀

      Arguing with unpunctual people is an exercise is frustration as they can never get the importance of being on time and respecting other people’s time. But again, in India, whose time do you respect when the other side is also late?

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  18. Excellent Post, Even I consider myself as Punctuality freak. I get stressed out when friends or colleagues does not turn on time for meeting or party. I hate people who does not respect other’s time. I have been to so many parties where host came 1 to 2hr late.
    Have you watched the Jaspal Bhatti’s Flow show about Punctual Chief Guest ?

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    1. Hi Rookie, welcome to my blog and glad to see another punctuality freak here. I am an ardent fan of Jaspal Bhatti’s Flop Show and have seen every episode some n number of times, including the one on punctuality. 😀

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    1. Hi Vaishali. Thak you for stopping by and commenting and also giving me the link to your post as well. As the comment on your post said, team leaders at work should ensure and set an example for metings to start on time.

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  19. I admit I’m not the most punctual person around but honestly, I do try. And it’s not all black and white; that you either have to be obsessed about punctuality or you don’t care about it all. There is a grey area in the middle (the category I come in) where we try to be punctual but sometimes it just doesn’t happen 😀 You can put us in the “15 minutes late” category. Constantly trying to improve though 🙂 Nice post and thanks for the warning 😉

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    1. It takes all kinds to make the world go round, Ashish, including the 15 minutes late type ;-). Otherwise, the world would be a very boring place. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  20. this reminded me of Mr. Emmannuel Kant, who was more punctual than you, to lighten you up. He had a servant ,whose duty was to wake him up at 4 am in the morning, and when he woke him up, he used to give him nasty scoldings. he used to reach his class on perfect time to the seconds punctuality. One day his one shoe got stuck in mud while going to class, heleft the shoe as it is, lest he would be late. he swished his leg into the shoe, while returning back home. he addressed the class with one shoe on ,only.
    discipline is a trait, by birth. only some have it. you are lucky one.

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  21. I am exactly like you are. I will show up at the airport 3 hours in advance for a domestic flight. However, I am married to a man who takes great pride in the fact that his name gets announced as the passenger being waited on for take off. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked onto a plane full of angry stares and mutterings. We have been late to every birthday party that we have hosted for DD. Needless to say, my BP is constantly elevated with no hope for respite 😦

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    1. Oh dear ! I know of many couples where one of them is like us and the other is like your husband. aybe such pairs are made to balance out the extremes. But anyway, welcome to the punctuality club 😀

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  22. Nice post.
    Good one – “I was born on the date given by the doctor to my mom. ”

    Give me some of your time punctual thing to me and I will you some from mine about not punctual. Find very difficult to be punctual. I am generally 30-40 mins late from scheduled time.

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    1. Welcome here, Satya Prakash, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Actually you can take some of my punctual nature without resorting to exchange 🙂

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  23. I am right now waiting for my friends who were supposed to come half an hour before. I googled “perils of being punctual” and got to your post.share the same feeling about punctuality.It seems to be a forgotten virtue.

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    1. Punctuality is like a “keeda” and it is a boon for some and a bane for others. I hope you didn’t have to wait for too long before your friends showed up 🙂

      Thank you very much for stopping by and commenting, Aditya.

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  24. It’s been about a year I’ve been married and move to the US to stay with my husband. I’m like your mother, my punctuality depends on the situation. For work related appointments, I target to reach 5-10 minutes before. When we have to catch a plane I can easily get out of the house 3 hours ahead without a flinch.

    We have a huge Bengali community and friends here where we live and we socialize a lot. Almost every weekend we have a get together or daoat, or if not we plan something with friends. Where people are usually 30 minutes to about 2 hours late and nobody even cares if you are 10 minutes late.

    Here is the deal, my husband is obsessed with timeliness to the level of paranoia. He becomes borderline irritable when going out for an appointment of his own, that I can bear with. But about the social gatherings, he complains that before getting married he could always attend the invitations on time and now he can’t, and he doesn’t feel good about it. And he’s not happy with the entire community either where he hasn’t yet found another single person who values another person’s time.

    Yesterday we had an invitation. As it was at an Indian restaurant instead of home, he insisted we should be on time at least on this one. Guess what, the hosts were 30 minutes late, exactly as I had thought.

    I realized basically he has two problems with me:
    1. Why do I get late INTENTIONALLY
    2. This is a two-part one- why do I stay calm and actually enjoy whatever I have been doing, and NOT run around and get all stressed out during 1-2 hours before getting out of the house, depending on what I’d be wearing (saree takes more time, salwar kamij less)

    Whenever we’re supposed to go somewhere together, I can sense his vibe of stress prior to 2-3 hours because he anticipates I’d do the two things I’ve mentioned above. And I do not enjoy feeling that way. I can exactly relate with what DMH said, I live with that.

    At the beginning this little paranoia was sweet and adorable but not anymore. If anything it’s only bringing bitterness. And taking away all the excitement of having a good time with friends. And why does that happen? Because I don’t want to go to somewhere hours ahead of time when clearly nobody’s anticipating me and play with my mobile for the next hour sitting in a corner all dolled up.

    It’s not that it only happens to me. He gets equally upset when he goes out with his guys and one of them is late. It totally ruins his mood and I am incapable to comprehend what he achieves from being grumpy just before he was going to do something interesting or fun. His friends try to explain to him even a delay of 10 minutes and I can clearly see how uncomfortable they feel at times.

    He is a great guy and I’m not saying this because I’m his spouse, he’s genuinely an wonderful human being of many virtues. But this one, single, apparently trivial thing causes great stress on the people in his life, especially the one who lives with him.

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    1. Hello Oindrilla, welcome to “My Favourite Things” and thank you so much for your long and detailed comment.

      I get what you’re saying, I really do. The thing is people who are not punctual or are relaxed about time rarely get why punctual people are the way we are. I value my time and I value other people’s time as well. I have also learnt the hard way that other people do not see it the same way. So, over the years, I have changed the way I deal with my punctuality and other people’s lack of the same. It may not work with others, I know.
      a) If I’m travelling for a show, I travel alone to the venue and not with friends.
      b) If I am invited for an event, I go on time and if things are not ready, I leave. I do restaurant reviews and this has proved to be quite effective in getting the message across
      c) If I am invited to someone’s house, I leave at a specified time, even though dinner may not have started or guests are sti;; trickling in. Does that make me rude? Most probably yes, but I don’t care. Unless it is a medical emergency, if my hosts cannot stick to the time that they have set, then they are pretty inconsiderate. Passing of Indian Stretchable Time and the excuse and norm for being impunctual doesn’t hold good with me

      Coming to your comment about DMH, do remember that the time to meet was always decided upon mutually. Not being able to keep to it and telling that I was stressing her out is also shrugging off responsibility to one’s own poor management of time.

      I wish you and your husband luck as you sort out the punctuality / relaxed attitude over time.

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