I've been friends with "Susan" for about 8 years now. She's part of my inner circle of best friends and the four of us meet up at my house every couple of weekends to play games and hang out. We all met in grade school and we're now in our early 20's.

Because of the location of my house usually "Arnold" will pick up "Gerard" and Susan and bring them over in his car. I have the best house to hang out in and all the board games and D&D supplies and such are stashed here.

I've been having the group of them over for years and Susan is always late. We joke about it, it's a known factor in our friend group and we put up with it, but it's really starting to wear thin.

The problem is that she'll claim she'll be on time and stick to that even when she knows she's lying. I'm talking down to the last minute. Arnold and Gerard will confirm that they're going to pick her up at 1:30 and at 1:20 text to confirm where she is and she'll say she'll be ready. Then they have to wait 30 minutes for her to show up at the arranged spot because she was still a 25 minute walk away from the meetup when she said she'd be on time.

Susan knows how long it takes to get places (at least within 5mins, I'm not expecting NASA levels of accuracy here), so the frustration comes from the fact that she won't just admit that she's late so we can plan around it.

I am very good friends with her and the rest of the group and I'm fairly sure I can be toneally appropriate about broaching the subject for us, but I have no idea what words to use.

What do I say to Susan to make it clear that we're not mad about the fact that she's late, but that it would be a lot easier if she'd just come clean about it?

To be clear I'm not trying to change her late behavior. She's always been late and she'll probably always be late. We're used to it. The problem is the strain it puts on the rest of us waiting around for her to get somewhere / be ready / do something. We could use the time for other things and only show up when she's ready to go.


Thanks for all the feedback guys! However,

I am not looking for more suggestions to tell Susan a different meetup time.

Please stop suggesting it! I respect her too much to lie to her; it's rude and underhanded.

Additionally, as I stated in my question I am not interested in fixing the late behavior. The only thing I want is a way to mitigate her incorrect estimations of time.

  • 5
    I'm usually the Susan. Certain people have gotten into the habit if telling me to meet an hour earlier than the actual meet up time. It was effective until I actually showed up on time and had to wait an hour for everyone else. Now I assume hes lying and don't end up getting there until 90 minutes after the time he gave. Feb 6, 2018 at 22:29
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    I don't understand. Why are they picking her up from somewhere that's a 25-minute walk from where she is? If they have a car, why is she walking 25 minutes instead of them driving for less than five? Feb 6, 2018 at 22:44
  • 13
    @DavidRicherby It's a bit more complex than I made it out to be; they all live in the same neighborhood, I don't. They'll pick her up from wherever and head over to my place. The problem is that her "wherever" often isn't the arranged meeting spot at the arranged time. They might say they'll meet at a Dunkin Donuts at 1, for example, because they wanted coffee and she was planning on being "nearby" at the time, only for her to actually show at 1:30. I'm a ~22 min drive to a few towns over. They don't want to travel further to get her from the opposite direction.
    – Alex
    Feb 6, 2018 at 23:45
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    I respect her too much to lie to her; it's rude ... ... she'll be on time and stick to that even when she knows she's lying - I'm curious about why you don't want to lie to her, but her lies about when she will be somewhere are OK. Are you saying "I respect her but I'm OK with her not respecting me"? Feb 11, 2018 at 9:06
  • 2
    @NickGammon That is literally the crux of the problem. I don't want to lie to her, and I don't appreciate her lying to me. Her lies aren't okay; it's the lying I'd like to talk about and/or fix, not the lateness. Granted, the answers below have indicated that she is probably not lying on purpose.
    – Alex
    Feb 11, 2018 at 12:55

17 Answers 17


Many of the other answers address how to account for it, or how to fix it, but you've specifically asked not to fix it, but:

What do I say to Susan to make it clear that we're not mad about the fact that she's late, but that it would be a lot easier if she'd just come clean about it?

More specifically:

How to [get someone to give] more accurate ETAs?

You've given enough background information in the question and comments to suggest strongly the possibility that she does not have the skills to accurately estimate her arrival time. I don't think it's an issue of active or malicious lie or intent to deceive, I suspect she honestly believes one or both of:

  1. her estimates of traveling time are reasonable
  2. her awareness of passage of time is good

These complicate matters. If she receives a text asking for a timeframe to meet, she'll fail to make a correct estimate at (1), providing an estimate that is too low, and once she's made the estimate she'll continue her task, failing at (2) by believing it'll only take "a minute" before she leaves, and then perhaps 5-10 minutes later she's out the door to travel perhaps double the time she estimated to meet, and ends up a total of 20-30 minutes late.

The real issue is that time estimation is hard, and she's not able to give correct estimates.

If you insist that she give you accurate estimates, you are insisting on her changing her skills at time estimation. Changing yourself is hard enough, but changing someone else exponentially harder.

So if 1) you don't want to change her (or recognize that you can't) and 2) you need accurate estimates, then you need to get more information.

A time estimate is a single variable, and you can't extrapolate very much information from it. If you ask for more information, though, then over time you can develop a model for turning her information into an estimate. Perhaps these questions are all you need:

  • Where are you at right now?
  • What are you doing?
  • When will you be done?
  • How long will it take you to pack up and leave?
  • Do you have any stops along the way (errands, etc)?
  • How long will it take you to go from where you are to the meeting point?

This should give her the ability to make better estimates, particularly if you go over the actual results with her each time, and then the next time you ask remind them that their estimate was off for a particular part of it.

This takes a long time, you are essentially giving her a new skill or toolset for time estimation, but that's what's necessary if you want her to give you accurate ETAs rather than adapting to them yourself or adopting a technological crutch.

  • 11
    +1 just for actually replying to my question! If nothing better comes in during the next 24hrs I'll likely accept your answer as it has concrete things I can do to mitigate the issue we're concerned about.
    – Alex
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:28
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    TL;DR: If she were able to give accurate estimates of how late she'd be, she'd probably not have a problem being on time.
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 10, 2018 at 17:53

There are some people for whom the intricacies of a clock are a mystery. There are others who just expect others to wait on them. There are also some who like the drama and attention. Absent more info, it's hard to say which of these Susan is.

Either way, I suspect that she's not late to work every day, so the excuse of "I'm always late" doesn't really fly.

What has worked for me in the past is to simply say, "I'm going to be here and I'll wait for 10 minutes. if you're not here, it's no big deal - I'll just leave and we can catch each other later." So you're not being a jerk about but establishing boundaries. Then if Susan misses her ride, your response can be "I was there; I waited for 10 minutes like we planned; I didn't see you or hear from you, so I left". After a couple missed rides, she'll learn that you aren't a personal taxi service.

Really this is Gerard's issue if he's the one picking her up. It's annoying to you as the host, I'm sure, but you're at least home and not waiting in your car for her.

Edit in response to Aaron's comment: This all depends on how hard-nosed you want to be as well. If Susan calls to say "I realize you're going to leave shortly; I'll be there in 10 minutes", I'd wait the extra 10 minutes. After all, the desired result is for her to give an accurate idea of how long to wait and not be demanding of our friends. I'd also add this comment: changing someone else's behavior is hard. However, changing yours is easy. That's the basics of my response: we can either try to get someone to change their behavior, which is hard, or we can change our response to their behavior, which is much easier and may, as a side benefit, lead to the desired behavior change.

  • 29
    You might want to make this more appropriate to OP by making it explicit that if you actually do hear from her while you're waiting those 10 minutes (or better yet, before), and she finally comes clean about it, to reward that behavior by waiting the extra time (and forwarding the message on to others). Your answer is good, but the part OP is asking for (Not to make her on time, just to get her to let others know she's late and by how much) was not the clearest in the answer.
    – Aaron
    Feb 6, 2018 at 23:00
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    +1. As someone with ADHD, I frequently am late not because I'm busy doing other things, but because I underestimate the time it takes to get places (walking to car, car to place, place to venue, etc.). Even when I'm early, I'm either REALLY early, BARELY on time, or REALLY late.
    – Anoplexian
    Feb 7, 2018 at 6:50
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    @Anoplexian, I'm genuinely curious, how does ADHD play into it?
    – Celos
    Feb 7, 2018 at 9:02
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    @Celos There's a well known time perception issue in those with ADHD, causing them to frequently be blind to time, and need to utilize time management tactics in order to be anywhere on time. It's incredibly difficult to manage time with ADHD due to the perception that there's more time than there is. I especially liked the last article, as it goes to explain the "Now vs Not Now" thought process that people like me experience.
    – Anoplexian
    Feb 7, 2018 at 15:15
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    I have coworkers who are very frequently late (arrive half way through the "stand up" meeting, which starts at the latest officially allowed arrival time) with little to no consequences.
    – stannius
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:35

As someone who can be chronically late, I think there can be a lot of shame involved with being that way. She might be lying to you in that moment, but it's possible that she is also lying to herself about her own ability to make it on time out of guilt and frustration, perhaps giving increasingly overly optimistic estimates as she grows further behind. It's not your responsibility to have to confront her about that potential aspect of this or push her to deal with it, but it can make resolving this more complicated.

You should tell her that instead of everyone having to wait an extra 30 minutes in the car at the meetup point, they'd much rather she'd please calm down and take a few minutes to actually take stock of what she's doing beforehand and give a pessimistic estimate of how long it will be to get everything done every time she is asked for one. If she says she's already doing this, just ask that she adds on another 15-30 minutes from now on- she's making an effort, it's just not enough. Even if this if it means she will be picked up at 2:15 or later rather than 2:00 after all the waiting, this means that Arnold and Gerard can leave for the meetup point at an appropriate time rather than be stuck in the car. In the worst case, she shows up too early and learns what it's like to wait, though if this happens you should remind her that she should just consider that in her estimates instead of just assuming the new meetup time should be when she showed up that time.

If you are frequently doing the exact same pickup route and event, and she is doing the same things beforehand, she should be able to build better estimates of each task. Furthermore, if she is always walking to the meetup point, once she is walking you can remind her to give her estimate based on what a GPS app says her time will be with an appropriate number of minutes added, and kindly ask for a screenshot of it if this is still a problem despite that. Though she may balk at being called out on this, knowing she cannot fudge it means she will have to admit both to you and herself that she is behind schedule.

If this is a problem, be sure to remind her that it's not that you think she's intentionally lying, but that you want to be sure she's not being too optimistic about being on time again. You love her as you love all your friends, and want to make sure everyone's expectations are in sync rather than someone misjudging the other's estimate one way or the other - because if her expectations are wrong despite this effort, Arnold will naturally start coming even later and that will definitely end with her waiting even if she improves afterwards.

If the problem is that this happens no matter what she does beforehand, if it's feasible you can remind her that she should plan to not do anything that is not absolutely urgent for 20-30 minutes before she has to leave, because she is clearly not admitting to herself that cannot judge how much of a buffer she needs, and even rushing through tasks can push her past the time she needs to leave. This also leaves time for those last minute problems we sometimes cannot avoid - lost keys, a pet that needs to be let out, and so on. Even if it makes her life more difficult due to the time lost, it will shave off time in the long run and is more respectful of everyone else's day.

  • 12
    As an occasional late comer and a night person I second this. I would also like to add, that if Susan is always late, the OP should factor it in. Call in everyone else later than Susan and Susan has to go to the pick up spot and wait for the car, not the other way around. Alternatively, let her fix her own transportation. That way the burden of her delays is all on her (this planning is of course a minor burden, but it helps). My father is chronically always 15 minutes late, I have accepted it. I never expect him to be on time - I expect him to be late (without letting him know... of course)
    – Stian
    Feb 7, 2018 at 8:47

Thank goodness there are understanding replies! I'm chronically late, and have recently discovered that I fit the criteria for ADHD in adult women. Yes, I'm late for work. My chronological disability also means I work late without noticing, so I choose to work for people who care more about performance than the clock.

My friends often lie about a meet-up time, making it an hour earlier for me. I know that they do this, but not whether they've lied on a given occasion - so, now and again, I'll arrive "on time" only to find I'm an hour early! This is okay: I'm the very last person to complain about others' timekeeping.

I agree there's a lot of shame attached to lateness. Because of this, it's not the best idea to lecture Susan or micro-manage her time; it's likely to multiply her anxiety. For me, this causes a sort of mental paralysis that makes me even later (or cancel altogether). In any case, nobody wants to cause shame & distress to their friends.

My suggestions:

  1. Explain the inconvenience, making it factual rather than emotional.

  2. Ask whether she'd like you to ring her an hour and 25 minutes beforehand, to make sure she's nearly ready and out of the house respectively - so you can readjust your schedules if she's in a tizz.

  3. Discuss the "lying" strategy with her. If she says you should give her an earlier time, check that she'll know what to do with herself if she ends up being early sometimes.

  4. Reassure her strongly that you don't want to stress her out, you simply want to know what to expect! So there's no need to say she's nearly there if she's only half-way, she can just provide correct information.

  5. Reassure that you want to spend time with your friend, not judge her. Women can worry excessively about our appearance, and completely lose sight of the fact that it's better to turn up bare-faced & untidy than fret about how we look.

Added: I've just seen duggulous's reply, where they say they get their late friend to text when he's on the move. I like this very much; it relieves the late person's anxiety and, paradoxically, probably helps him get there in reasonable time.

I know that many people see persistent lateness as arrogance or melodrama, and with some people it is. In such cases, stern words & threats might be necessary. But, for most of us, it actually is a disability that needs to be worked around.

  • 6
    Sincere question: if you know you are chronically late, why don't you simply plan to be somewhere earlier than you have to be? Surely you sometimes have doctor appointments or flights or movie tickets or other things that require being timely? Did you flunk out of school?
    – Kat
    Feb 7, 2018 at 4:42
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    I didn't flunk, but did achieve poor results for my ability. I've missed flights, surgeries, and all the other things that 'normal' people can't imagine missing! Half an hour before my wedding, I was still frantically sewing my dress in a furious panic. It isn't a matter of "simply" planning. There are some wonky connections in my brain which fail to translate plans into actions. It's called an executive function disorder - people like me make plans, but malfunction when it comes to executing them. link Feb 7, 2018 at 11:17
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    Wow, I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that response. I still have doubts this applies to "most" people who are chronically late, but if this does happen to be true of Susan, it would drastically change how to handle it. Would you mind editing in a suggestion on how to figure out if this is the case without offending or shaming her? I think that would be really helpful.
    – Kat
    Feb 7, 2018 at 20:35
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    This is useful. Too many people, unfortunately, make jokes about being ADHD or self-diagnose, which doesn't really help the people who really have this condition. In this case, were Susan to have this condition, my answer would change radically as it's very difficult for her to achieve this goal. Feb 9, 2018 at 15:33
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    @Kat The other big problem is I hyper-focus, so I might know that I have to leave at 1:30 to get somewhere on time, for example, but from 12:45 to 1:45 I totally forget to look at the time. Now I'm 15 minutes late. Alarms and reminders only poke through my consciousness about half the time. I also feel great shame about my lateness, which is an incentive to just give up and not care. I have canceled plans before simply because of anxiety about being late. But I never feel like anyone should sympathize with me. I know being late sucks for everyone else. That knowledge alone doesn't help though. Feb 9, 2018 at 19:38

I have a friend who is similarly always late for scheduled appointments, and when we meet for lunch, I deal with this by asking him to text me when he is actually walking to his car to head to the restaurant. This works because of three things:

  1. I know how long it takes him to get to our meeting place.
  2. I can get to our meeting place as fast as, or faster than, he can
  3. I can trust him not to send a text saying he has left when he actually hasn't.

It sounds like #1 and #2 apply to your situation. #3 may or may not. You have stated that you have tried calling her to ask if she will arrive on time and not gotten an honest/accurate response, but you may get a different result by asking her to let you know once she has left. That removes the need for her to do any calculation or estimation, and she might not feel the same pressure to give a pleasing response that she would by being asked directly, "are you going to be there on time?"


The problem here is the fact that you guys are letting her get away with this behavior (amounts to lying and complete disrespect for your time). Establish expectations and boundaries in the relationship.

Sit down with her next time this happens, and tell her that it's really inconsiderate to let people wait for her 20+ minutes when they're doing her a favor by picking her up. Especially when she knows she's going to be running late - at that point she's flat out lying, and you should tell her as much.

Explain that next time you'll simply drive off after 5 minutes, because she needs to learn to respect everyone else's time. Once the warning has been issued, follow through on it. The next time she's leaving you guys waiting for more than a reasonable amount of time, drive off.

Same thing if you're all waiting for her to show up to a D&D session. Start without her if she's more than 15 minutes late (or whatever you deem appropriate).

  • 6
    I agree overall, but there's something messed up with the pickup arrangements in this case. It's somehow acceptable for Arnold to make Susan walk 25 minutes to get picked up, but unacceptable for Susan to make Arnold sit in a car for 25 minutes. (Of course, there's the fundamental difference that Susan agreed to walk but, still, this specific arrangement is ridiculous.) Feb 6, 2018 at 22:47
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    @DavidRicherby I suspect they agreed to pick her somewhere (such as in front of Susan's home) but she went somewhere else before [which took her more than she calculated] and has a 25 minutes walk for coming back home. Indeed, it would have been preferable for her to come straight and tell Arnold where she was so that he could pick her there instead of waiting (even if they still needed to stop at her home before going to their final destination)
    – Ángel
    Feb 7, 2018 at 22:42
  • 1
    Hey, do you have some back-up to your answer? For example, did you use this technic in the past and did it worked?
    – Ael
    Dec 28, 2018 at 18:59

I actually just had to have this conversation with someone, my therapist offered some advice as how to have the conversation and it worked really well so here is.

Structure your conversation like so:

  1. "When [you're late] [lie about being on time]"

  2. "I assume [you don't respect our time] [we're not important enough to you] [you can't manage your time] [you need to be late] etc."

  3. "Because of these assumptions, I feel [annoyed] [disrespected] [upset] etc."

  4. "Because of these feelings, I find myself [not wanting to invite you] [having Gerard not be your ride] etc."

  5. What I would like is for you to be upfront about when you will actually arrive at the meeting spot or let us know that you will be late as soon as you know.

This approach does not attack her, it simply lays out how her actions are affecting you in a negative way and you clearly state what actions she can do to help with those negative affects. Be sure to be as neutral as possible when having this conversation.

Like you said, you cannot change her or her behavior, you can only illustrate how her actions affect you.

  • 8
    This is following a principle called non-violent communication. Here's one of many summaries of it in a little more detail: nonviolentcommunication.com/aboutnvc/4partprocess.htm
    – Tom
    Feb 6, 2018 at 23:12
  • This is a very formal way of speaking, for a friendship group. That could be more distracting than useful. Feb 8, 2018 at 19:31
  • The formalness is part of what makes this work. It stands out relative to other communications. It's intentionally distracting. I would point out that it is probably Arnold (with Gerard's support and presence) who should be saying things like this. That's because Arnold is the one who is most inconvenienced and who has the most ability to fix things (e.g. by meeting Susan where she is rather than where she says she will be).
    – Brythan
    Feb 12, 2018 at 13:25

Some people are just really bad at time.

I don't think it's productive to interpret Susan's behavior as lying about whether she's running late. There are people who simply struggle greatly when it comes to managing and estimating time, and it sounds like Susan is one of those people. That means this isn't a problem you can fix through social pressure, like a lecture or an intervention. She is already doing the best she can.

You've expressed that you can accept that she will be late, as long as you have a better sense of when to actually expect her. You can work on different strategies to achieve this -- for example, instead of asking her if she'll be at [meeting place] at, say, 1:30, simply ask her at 1:30 where she is. If she's on the way, you can do your own calculation to see how much longer you should expect to wait.

You should also adjust your planning to avoid having to wait for her as much as possible. Don't organize something that will hold the whole group hostage until she arrives. Especially with things like gaming, it's simple to set a start time and hold firm to that start time, as long as everybody knows and agrees that Susan can jump right in as soon as she arrives with no hard feelings.

In short: Stop thinking like she's being late at you. She isn't lying, she's just wrong. If you are willing to accommodate her tardiness, change the way you coordinate and change the way you organize to keep yourself and the rest of your group from being negatively impacted. You're not going to magically change her ability to estimate time, and simply demanding that she somehow be more accurate in her predictions will only lead to frustration for everyone involved.

  • 5
    I somewhat agree with the introduction, but my response to someone saying that is "Are you late to work every day?" Usually the response is a surprised "no"; depending on how annoyed I am I usually follow that up with "So, you are capable of being on time but this is not that important. I can live with that; I'll just plan accordingly" Feb 6, 2018 at 19:26
  • 3
    I don't agree that someone who is a 30 minute walk removed from a location claiming they'll be there in 5 minutes is "bad at time". That's so blatantly obvious that something else is going on.
    – Erik
    Feb 6, 2018 at 20:03
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    @baldPrussian Based on conversations with people like this, when it's something vital like getting to work, they can make it happen. But it's a LOT of effort. If they only have the mental and/or emotional capacity to force themselves to be on time to one thing each day, that's gonna be their job. It's not a case of "if you can do it for that, you can do it for this." It just doesn't work like that.
    – Lucas Y.
    Feb 6, 2018 at 20:43
  • @baldPrussian and often the answer is yes. We need to know susan's answer first really.
    – WendyG
    Feb 7, 2018 at 11:33
  • +1 for "instead of asking her if she'll be at [meeting place] at, say, 1:30, simply ask her at 1:30 where she is." This is how my gaming group handled a chronically late member and it worked out much better for everyone than trying to get an accurate timeline out of him. It took the pressure off him and allowed the rest of us to make our own (often more accurate) calculations.
    – user61524
    Feb 10, 2018 at 9:04

Your question, as phrased, singles out Susan as "the" problem. I would like to try to present a more positive view.

I trust Susan, being your friend for 8 years, almost half your life, has qualities that make your friendship worth preserving. In that case, I suggest you try to talk to her in a way that makes her feel loved. Below is an example of what you could say to her.

"Susan, we all are friends forever. When you are late, we feel disconnected from you. The entire group is here, except you. We really miss you. We don't want you to change, we just want to see more of you. Do you need extra time to be ready? Should we call you earlier?"

I hope this helps.


I have such a chronically late person in my life, and it is almost useless to try to change them. They are just bad with time, and don't even mean any bad, and even if they try hard, it doesn't work. It might also be a cultural issue - in some cultures/countries, being on time means "to the minute". In other countries times are more like rough estimates, and it works because everyone there understands that "6:15" actually means "such like after 6, but closer to 6 than to 7".

And yes, they make it work for things with consequences, like catching a plane. When the actual time actually matters. They also develop strategies for successfully dealing with this in job or university or other settings where punctuality is usually required. A gaming evening, on the other hand, is not such an event. It can start 10 minutes late, in anyway usually does due to everyone getting a drink and exchanging some gossip, so in their mental model it is one of those events with an imprecise time, more an estimate than an actual time.

Planning around it is going to be your best approach. If you know that she is always late by 20 minutes, simply arrive 20 minutes late by yourself. If you want to start the game at 8:30, tell her you will start at 8:00.

Enforcing boundaries now, after you let her get away for it for a long time already is going to be awkward and difficult.

  • 1
    Hey, OP said: "I am not interested in fixing the late behavior. The only thing I want is a way to mitigate her incorrect estimations of time". So, I just wanted to tell you that I flagged your post as "Not An Answer" and that you should feel free to edit if you wish.
    – Ael
    Dec 28, 2018 at 19:07

Based on real-life experience with such a person, let me propose 2 possible causes, and 2 suggestions for dealing with it:

  1. Susan may unconsciously think that leaving constitutes being on time. For example, she is told to "meet at 2:00" but she instead plans to "leave at 2:00." Note that I say "unconsciously" because usually if you ask such a person about the travel time, they will consider it. But that isn't what they are mentally targeting.

If this is the case, consider reminding her about travel time, even to the point of nagging. Even go so far as to tell her "...so that means you will leave at " and ask for a call if she doesn't leave by then.

  1. Susan may have adult ADHD. Does she say she is going to put on her shoes right now, then actually puts away the dishes, starts laundry, calls her mom, paints her nails, then puts on her shoes? Susan may be so distractable that she may legitimately not be able to resist the temptation to do other things. I know someone who has it so badly they pee themselves on the way to the bathroom, because they stop to do other things on the way. They can be crying that they have to go sooooo badly, yet they are sitting there finishing their poker bet, or won't pause the movie they are watching.

Another symptom of ADHD is poor prioritization. Maybe the event starts at 2pm and Susan wants to surprise everyone with her famous bean dip. At 2:00 the dip is not ready. Susan must decide: finish the dip or arrive on time? Most people might say "Well, if the event is 2-3, and the dip won't be ready until 2:45, it is not worth bringing the dip because I will miss the event." But Susan might not be able to make that judgement.

If any of this sounds like the cause, consider suggesting that Susan talk to a psychologist about adult ADHD.


I used to work customer facing and we always had at least one client with this problem no matter where I was.

All the excuses in the world but always precisely 20mins late.

The trick to getting them somewhere on time was to allow for this and just tell them a time 20mins ahead of the time they needed to be there, and turn off all the automated appointment reminders that might tell them the actual time.

This works just as well with one of my relatives. Always give a time about an hour ahead and things might just about get going on time.

  • 1
    Hey, OP said: "I am not interested in fixing the late behavior. The only thing I want is a way to mitigate her incorrect estimations of time". So, could you perhaps edit to address how OP should talk to Susan about the inaccurate estimation time?
    – Ael
    Dec 28, 2018 at 18:48
  • 1
    @Noon 1) That was added after I posted this. 2) This was Feb, it's now December.
    – Separatrix
    Dec 28, 2018 at 18:50

Her ETA's might be bad because she's bad at guessing, but the repeated "miscalculations" make it appear more likely that she feels too guilty to admit how late she really is. My suggestion is to make it easy for her to admit.

You say,

the only thing I want is a way to mitigate her incorrect estimations of time.

Just make this as explicit as possible...

You: Hi Susan, I'm at the designated place, but I don't see you. Are you coming?

Susan: Something's come up, I'll be late. 5 minutes tops.

You: Are you sure that's realistic? I don't mind meeting an hour later, and I don't blame you for being late. I just really need to know when you're going to be here (because...). How long will it take in the worst case? Where are you now?

... and encourage a more conservative estimate.

Susan: OK, I guess I can be there in 10 minutes, worst case. I'm at the main station.

You: Let's meet in twenty minutes then.

Susan: Alright, see you!


As several people have said, there are many people who find all of these things difficult: estimating time, handling reminders, judging start/stop of tasks, getting stuck into one thing and not being aware of other things needing doing, paying attention to alarms, having a regular sleep/wake cycle.....

I would not assume your friend is a "liar".

Given the situation you describe, she is probably someone who has struggled with this all her life, is as frustrated as you are by it, has tried "everything" (and it hasn't worked), does not need lectures on it because she knows the issues and consequences and still cannot "fix" it..... and is probably very grateful that she has friends who can cope with her and don't drop her.

That's what it is actually like, having this kind of condition.

How to handle it, is therefore likely to be more about workarounds than fixes. If you take as a starting-point that it won't reliably get fixed, and that your friend knows this, can't change it (much/easily, I'm assuming she has tried), and would like to find a better way, then consider what might follow. Much more likely to help.

  1. Reassure her. Reassurance is key to open discussion. You can't fully discuss if afraid or shamed by something.
  2. Look for workarounds. For example suppose you carry on and do what you will do, and she catches up as she best can. Or you accept if she isn't there and its sad but doesn't ruin a friendship.
  3. Ask her what she's tried and if she has found anything that you can do which will help. Importantly, don't jump in to "fix". Listen to her experience and ask (gently) for details needed to understand. (Not "fix", however tempting). A quiet "okay" or "I get it" or "can you explain..." Rather than "have you tried X" or "Why not Y". What's obvious or easy to you may simply not work for her.

(Personal knowledge)


The problem is that she'll claim she'll be on time and stick to that even when she knows she's lying. I'm talking down to the last minute. Arnold and Gerard will confirm that they're going to pick her up at 1:30 and at 1:20 text to confirm where she is and she'll say she'll be ready. Then they have to wait 30 minutes for her to show up at the arranged spot because she was still a 25 minute walk away from the meetup when she said she'd be on time.

First, realize that you can't fix this. You are mostly a bystander to this. Assuming Susan is not going to change (which you put out of scope), then the person with the power to change things here is Arnold.

Arnold is the one actually making arrangements. Arnold therefore is the one who should be using nonviolent communication or changing his behavior to adjust for Susan's.

For example, when Arnold hears (or reads) that "she'll be ready" he needs to then follow up with "You're not ready yet? Are you at home?" Then if she says that she will be home soon, he should reply with "Why don't I come to you?"

This approach will of course require Arnold to use more gas in his car. If that seems to be a problem, consider having the group make an Arnold's car gas fund. If you and Gerard can contribute, then Susan likely will as well. But over time, if Arnold picks up Susan where she is rather than relying on her being where she is supposed to be, then I believe that you will find it easier to schedule things.

The hardest part is convincing Susan that it is easier to go where she is than to wait for her where she isn't. That's where the nonviolent communication techniques come in. They communicate to Susan when her behavior is causing frustration. Since Arnold should use those when waiting and not when driving around, Susan should adjust to seeing waiting as bad and communicating as good.

It can also be helpful to thank her when she does something in line with what Arnold wants (as well as you and Gerard want). "Susan, thank you for telling me you were still at your mom's. It made it much easier to get you." "No, it's less work to pick you up than to wait for you, so thanks for telling us." Such thanks should focus on her communication, as that is the thankful event. Waiting is bad. Communication is good. Events like being at her mom's when she was supposed to be home are neutral. The presumption is that she can't fix her lateness but she can fix her communication.

The neutralness of her lateness is also important. One reason why she may have started "lying" or evading an exact mention of where she was is that people may have responded negatively. So stop doing that. The problem is not that she is in the wrong place. The problem is that she didn't communicate where she was. So avoid criticizing not being in the right place. Only criticize lack of communication and actively praise communication.

Arnold and Gerard may also want to plan on meeting her early. Instead of meeting her at 1:30, plan on meeting her at 1:15. They shouldn't go out of their way to do this, but if Arnold was instead hanging out at Gerard's waiting until it is time to leave, they should contact Susan instead. This is to handle situations like "I'm checking out at the grocery store and will then walk home. I still need to take a shower." Then Arnold and Gerard can pick her up at the grocery store and carry in and stow the groceries while she takes her shower.

The concern of course is that under the current situation, they would have to wait for her to walk home from the grocery store. And wait for her to put away the groceries alone. And wait for her to take a shower. But that's partially fixable. She doesn't have to walk home or carry in the groceries or put the freezer/refrigerator stuff away. Arnold and Gerard would probably prefer to pick her up and do those things than wait for her to accomplish them.

Unless they are really close to Susan, they probably can't help her with the shower. But they can help with the other tasks so that she can concentrate on the shower as the thing that only she can do.


Some people are habitual liars. I think this is terrible, but sometimes there is little we can do about it. If you want to keep inviting this person, you could stop relying on them for timing information.

Ask her to put one of those "friend locator" apps on her phone, if she has a smart-phone, so that you can check on her location yourself. I think Google maps allowed you to get an estimate travel time not only for driving, but also for biking or walking too. So you could check on her location, ask Google maps for directions from there to the pick-up spot, tell it you are walking, then calculate the arrival time from there.

Asking her to install such an app does not need to be awkward. Next time you pick her up, it can just be mentioned casually. After your normal greetings, you can simply add "Hey, since we keep having problems with timing these pick ups, let's install so we can coordinate better." If her response is dodgy, like "Oh don't worry about it, I didn't wait long." then you can simply state "But we often have to wait a long time, and we would rather not park here for half an hour. It will help me and you both, so let's install it and exchange app invites next time we schedule a meeting."

People often get defensive, so it would help you to keep the "It will help both of us" tone, instead of making her feel like you are blaming her. This should work as long as she is reasonable and not confrontational.

Unfortunately, I have found that many people do not care how you word it and will refuse and make a fuss if they perceive any hint of you blaming them. If that happens, you are not likely to succeed in your effort and you should just cut the conversation short to cut your losses, and you can bring it up again in the future after she has held you up a few times for a long period again. Your odds of success should rise if you only have this conversation immediately after you have been held up for a long time, and even better if this has happened a few times since last time you mentioned anything.

You could also go to where she is based on the information provided by the app, though that then opens things up for her to expect personalized pick-ups every time.

Also, you can then see if she is actually moving toward the pick-up spot. If she is already late and you can tell she's stopped at Dunkin Donuts for the last 5 or 10 minutes, you could leave.

After you leave, you hear from her later on...

Her: "I waited for a half hour at the spot we arranged and you never showed!"

You: "We waited for you for a half hour at that spot starting at the time we arranged before we left!"

  • Hey, I just wanted to tell you that I don't think this is an interpersonal solution and flagged it for review. Feel to edit your answer if you wish.
    – Ael
    Dec 28, 2018 at 19:17
  • @Noon Interpersonal solutions do not always need to require interactions between the two people. Dealing with a liar by relying on technology instead of asking the liar a question is an interpersonal solution to an interpersonal problem. "Don't ask the liar" is the interpersonal solution.
    – Aaron
    Jan 3, 2019 at 16:52
  • 1
    To make this more of an interpersonal answer, could you explain how to ask her to put the app on the phone? I know I wouldn't just blindly agree to install some random tracking app my friend sent, I would want to know why and we'd have a conversation about it (and having that conversation is really what OP is asking about). Also, it would help to include any experience or reasoning as to why you expect this to be an effective strategy for OP's friend.
    – Em C
    Jan 3, 2019 at 17:20
  • @EmC Ok, done. Thank you.
    – Aaron
    Jan 4, 2019 at 17:37

One thing that gets me somewhere on time is scheduling something simple near/at the event location and just prior to the event. Even if I'm late for the earlier event, I'll be on time to the main one and nearby enough for travel time to not matter. This reliably works for me, and greatly improves the accuracy of my ETAs.

Alternatively, you could also just say it in the words you used in the description: "You've always been late and you'll probably always be late. We're used to it. [If you] just admit that you're late we can plan around it." It should at least move the dialog forward, which it's done for me and my friends in the past.


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