On being ... about time

By Ingrid Sapona

We just set the clocks forward -- I can never remember if that means we’re going on Daylight Savings Time, or we’re coming off it. It doesn’t really matter what it’s called, for me, it’s a welcome change, as I do find I’m perkier in the morning when there’s more sunlight. But that’s not really what I want to focus on today.

Instead, I’m thinking about the concept of time and how differently people seem to approach it. I don’t want to get all abstract (either philosophical or scientific), so I’ll tell you right off what started me shaking my head about this the other day.

On Friday I e-mailed Trevor (not his real name), the husband of a friend, a question about how to fix something mechanical -- something he had set up for me. It was work-related but it wasn’t urgent. On the weekend, when the phone rang and I noticed it was Trevor, I was pleased he was getting back to me. Turns out he phoned just to see if I was here. We chatted and I further explained the issue. He seemed to understand and then -- unprompted -- said he’d get back in 20 minutes or so.

That was terrific news, as I was anxious to get back to the project that I stopped working on because of the mechanical problem. So, I went about other things that needed to get done around the house. More than two hours later, when I still hadn’t from him, I headed into the kitchen to start on dinner, angry with myself for believing Trevor would get back to me quickly.

Oh, the conversation I had with myself! I’ve worked with Trevor before and so “I should have known…” was the opening salvo in the argument I had with myself as I started chopping some onions. “He’s a consultant, for heaven’s sake -- hasn’t he learned the cardinal rule about setting expectations: under promise, over deliver? Why did he say he’d get back to me so quickly? Shouldn’t he have known better than to mislead me like this?”

Finally, as my dinner was nearing completion and I had vented most of my frustrations on my chopping board, I realized the wisdom of my very first comment to myself: I should have known. Only this time, rather than taking it as a rebuke, I realized I’d be better off just accepting that Trevor’s concept of time is not the same as mine and adjusting for it, as I do with Tina.

Tina (not her real name) is a friend who is always -- always -- early. As virtues and vices go, I think most would consider that a virtue, but early in our friendship it was a constant source of irritation to me. As an adult, when it comes to social things (as opposed to work thing) I have put considerable effort into honing what I call my “just in time” skills. So, when Tina says she’ll be over at 6 p.m. but she’s over at 5:45 p.m. (or earlier) -- I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t be ready. The consequence of that, of course, is that I then feel I’m late -- even though, strictly speaking, I’m not. And, given that I grew up in a household where being late was practically a capital offence, I don’t like being late.

When I raised this with Tina, she truly didn’t seem to mind that because of her earliness, she usually ends up waiting for me. Having questioned her about this on numerous occasions, at some point I came to believe her, though I still found that perpetually feeling late when it came to our social engagements was unsettling.

Finally, I came up with the idea of Tina Time and real time. Now, when I make a plan to do something with Tina, I simply move the time forward by at least 15 minutes. So, for example, if I think we’ll have plenty of time to get somewhere if I pick her up at 7 p.m., I tell her I’ll be there at 7:15 p.m. Then, when I show up at 7 p.m. -- the time I really thought was appropriate -- naturally, she’s ready -- and off we go. Though Tina Time has become a bit of an inside joke between us -- it certainly seems to work for both of us.

Of course, the challenge with Trevor is not quite the same as with Tina, because Trevor doesn’t seem to function on a 60 minute hour or 24 hour day. Trevor Time is based on some framework that is -- and probably always will be -- a mystery to me. But this weekend I finally realized that I must just accept that when it comes to interacting with him, I shouldn’t have any expectations relating to time. A tall order for someone like me, but a “note to self” that, though it probably will cause me to limit my interactions with him (especially when it comes to work-related things), will help me stay sane and will preserve our relationship.

© 2011 Ingrid Sapona


Post a Comment

<< Home