Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: My girlfriend is punctual when it comes to work, but never on time for anything else



Dear Virginia,

My girlfriend is late for everything. Oddly, she is always on time when she’s working, where it’s important that deadlines are met, but with me and her close family she is often up to an hour late. I’ve tried changing the clocks at home, and even changed her watch which worked for a week, but long-term, nothing works. I’m trying to live with it because I love her and she loves me, but sometimes I get so exasperated. We always get to theatres after the curtain’s gone up and recently arrived at the interval. She doesn’t seem to be able to explain it. Can you?

Yours sincerely, Rob

Virginia says

I once knew a woman who appeared to be a complete paragon. She was charming, sympathetic, saintly and serene. How did she manage this, I wondered? I soon discovered. She surrounded herself by chaos. Her son was a heroin addict living in the garden, her lover was a violent alcoholic who constantly beat her up – that is, when she wasn’t being pestered by her ex, who had gambled away all her money and then run off with her best friend. In other words, she managed, it seemed clear, to sublimate her aggressive feelings by, instead of experiencing them herself, living them vicariously, through others.

I suspect this is the same with your girlfriend. There’s no question that chronic lateness is a sign of defensive anger. I’m sure you’ve sometimes experienced, as we all have, a desire not to be on time (and I’m not talking about those moments when we’re late by accident). “Sod them,” we’ve thought, “they can wait.” We don’t want to shout at them, or make a scene, but we do want to inconvenience them in some way that will get our resentment off our chest without expressing too much fury ourselves. And even if it does result in fury, it will be the other person’s fury, not ours. We can still appear saintly: “Oh, I didn’t see the time, forgive me, I was held up in traffic. Haven’t you ever been late? For heaven’s sake, I’m only a bit late, I haven’t done anything really wrong!”

No doubt you’re thinking: “But I’ve done nothing wrong! I’m loving and kind, why is she so angry with me?” It’s not to do with you. It’s all part and parcel of how your girlfriend manages any close relationship. It’s when she stops being late with you that you should start to worry.

No doubt it stems from something that happened frequently in her childhood. Perhaps she was never allowed to express anger normally and this was her only outlet. Instead of expressing anger herself, she incites in other people so she doesn’t have to blame herself for it.

Now, you can put your foot down and refuse to wait for her if she’s late. It might work. But you will be denying her a habit that she clearly needs very badly to keep herself feeling OK. You remove it at your peril, because I suspect that if she wasn’t able to be late, she’d have to find another way to express her anger. It might be explosive, or, more likely, she’d turn it in on herself and get extremely depressed.

My own suggestion would be to insist  she sees a counsellor about her problem, so that she can try to find out why it is that she can be on time with people who don’t matter to her, but can’t be on time with people who do. The only problem then  will be whether she ever turns up in time  for the appointments. 

Readers say...

Don’t let her get away with it

If your girlfriend manages to be on time when she is working, it’s because she knows her employer won’t stand for her being late.She obviously doesn’t have the same respect for you or her family.

What worked for me in a similar relationship was leaving the house at an agreed time, with my partner if he was ready, or without him if he wasn’t! Being late is rude and disrespectful. Your girlfriend can only get away with it if you and those around her tolerate it. If she cannot be bothered to make the effort for you that she does with work, she doesn’t really love you. Or maybe she is enjoying the fuss and attention her tardiness creates. Either way, do you really want to spend your life waiting to leave the house, and missing the beginning of every event?

Jennifer Coogan, by email

Carry on without her

It sounds as though your girlfriend is trying (unconsciously or not) to exert some form of control by leaving you and close family dangling. This is more important to her than any exasperation you express, because, presumably, there are no other consequences, unlike at work.

You don’t say whether you have tried simply carrying on without her (after first giving her fair warning), but unless you are prepared to do that, consistently – no empty threats – I think you are just going to have to learn to live with it.

Tam, by email

Teach her some respect

Your girlfriend is one of those people who has no respect for other people. It is truly disrepectful to be late for any date. In any event, one should always plan to be early in case of travel difficulties etc.

The simplest way is to go to events on your own and let her make her own arrangements. For family events, actually time them to start earlier than the stated time, and finish them before she arrives.

The lateness is purely a selfish way of showing that she is more important than anyone else at the event. For your personal dates with her, if it is something she really wants to go to, just refuse to go.

“Latecomers” cannot see beyond themselves. If she cannot adjust after a few knock backs, then ditch her.

Alan, by email

Next week's dilemma

I feel so guilty about my next door neighbour. He’s lost his job, his wife’s left him and he’s being tested for cancer. But I have my own difficulties trying to keep my family’s head above water and just don’t have time to get involved. I know by the super-neat state of his garden that we wouldn’t get on, and never feel any sympathy for him when we have occasional exchanges in the village, though he’s obviously desperate to talk longer, and I know he’s lonely. I know we should love our neighbours but I can hardly cope with my own problems. No one else in the village cares about him and I feel so bad. Any advice?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Mandy to do?  Write to Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a a box of Belgian chocolates from (

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