Waiting is one of my least favorite (in)activities. I can get very stressed when I’m forced to wait longer than I’ve anticipated. Two reasons for this are that I operate in time blocks, and I wait with my whole body and mind. Mentally, as well as in my physical planner, I schedule my activities within chunks of time, which makes it almost impossible for me to intersperse activities. When I know that something is supposed to happen at a particular time, I feel very uncomfortable starting anything or getting sucked into some alternate activity because it could be interrupted at any point, once whatever I am waiting for actually occurs. For example, it’s hard for me to read anything while I’m seated, waiting for an event that should have started forty minutes ago, to finally kick off. It’s extremely difficult for me to watch a portion of a film or TV show while I’m waiting for someone to show up at my house at any minute. I cannot focus on editing a short story while waiting for my name to be called at the doctor’s office.
Then, there’s the physical toll of waiting. It literally sucks the energy out of me. When I’m expecting something or someone, my mind and body tend to put me on high alert for them. I am unable to relax. From my senses to my muscles, I am taut with expectation as I do things like incessantly check my phone or, if I’m waiting for someone in a public place, involuntarily snapping my head up anytime somebody walks in, in case it’s the person I’m expecting. You might imagine how hard it is to read, write, watch, or do anything productive when you’re that highly strung. Every disappointment—when there’s no text, no doorbell, it wasn’t my name that the nurse came to call, or the person who just walked into the restaurant just wasn’t my person—also requires the conscious effort of calming myself down from the spike of energy that came with my anticipation. A few moments later, I go through the whole thing again, rinse and repeat, until the thing I’m waiting for finally happens, or I get a confirmation that it’s not going to happen, at which point I can finally allow myself to release all the tension and find something else to do—that is, after I’ve recovered all the energy that drained out of me during the waiting period.
I honestly have no idea if life is like this for other people. I don’t even know where to begin trying to explain to my friends or my partner the depth of stress I experience when, for instance, they tell me they are on their way to me, and the ETA, by all accounts, is 20 minutes, yet it somehow takes them more than an hour to reach me. (A substantial part of me thinks it’s an inane thing to get so deeply stressed about, and that this is something I need to train myself out of on my own, if possible, rather than bring it up with them, especially since I don’t seem to know anyone else who experiences waiting similarly.)
But my antagonistic relationship with waiting goes much deeper than the attention/energy issues described above.
When I first started writing this post—which began as a journal entry in December 2022—I was seated alone, in the early afternoon, at a restaurant, waiting hopelessly for a friend who I knew by then wasn’t coming. I was irritated, but it would have been graceless to show it. For various reasons, I was sleep deprived that day. I had gone to bed later than 3:30 a.m. the previous night, but had woken up early in the morning, specifically because of this now-solo brunch date.
Initially, our brunch was scheduled for 11 a.m. But my friend texted me at 9:30 a.m., by which time I was already awake, asking if we could move it to 12 p.m. That was fine with me. I got ready and decided to wait until it was a reasonable time to leave my house. But then she texted me again, asking if we could move it to 1 p.m. I agreed again. About an hour later, I got yet another text, asking if we could push our meal to 2pm. But by this point, I was hungry, and I admitted it. I told my friend I would just go by myself to get some food; if she was able to pass by the restaurant, she could come join me there, later. Otherwise, she could come and meet me back at my place afterwards. That was how I ended up alone at the restaurant, journalling, because the emotions I was feeling were disproportionate, even inappropriate, to the situation, and I wanted to understand why I felt the way I felt.
In this instance, while I ate at the restaurant alone, I felt sad and blown off. I knew that it was not my friend’s intention to make me feel that way, and that it wasn’t even her fault that her day had taken so many unexpected turns. Even so, sadness and the sense of being blown off were feelings I could justify. What I couldn’t justify, and wished I didn’t feel, was the sense of general inadequacy that my morning hadn’t been as disruptive as my friend’s. If you had to read that again because of confusion, rest assured that you are not the problem. What I said—what I felt—simply doesn’t make sense.
As I journalled, I had to come to terms with the fact that I have irrational insecurities about being the one who waits. There is a series of self-deprecating thoughts that occurs to me almost every time I’m forced to wait for people that I have casual, social plans with. My brain tries to tell me that the other person is late because they actually have a life to take care of, and the reason why I’m so available is because I don’t. The ones who are late, are late because they are occupied with Serious Things, and because I am not a serious person, I have no Serious Things to occupy my time. They have jobs that they have to work at because they are adults who have their lives together; I, on the other hand, have all this flexibility that makes my own time waste-able, because I am a writer and a freelancer, neither of which is a Serious Occupation. You don’t have to point out the fallacies in my logic to me. I see them quite clearly. Alas, I still seem to be having a hard time trying to stop the distorted, irrational thoughts from affecting my feelings.
The first time I remember feeling intense shame and inadequacy while waiting for a (different) friend was a couple of years ago. This other friend worked in an office close to my house at the time, and I hadn’t seen him in a while. We decided to meet up at a close-by café right after his working hours and have an evening catch-up. I remember waiting for him for between forty-five minutes to an hour past our agreed time, maybe a little more. As I waited, my thoughts rushed in a damning cascade.
I imagined—correctly—that my friend had been held up by a lot of work that he could not easily get away from. Instead of taking that in stride, or with healthy doses of sympathy that he had to work so late, I allowed it to make me feel inadequate. I concluded that, since I wasn’t as obviously busy as he was, I probably wasn’t working hard enough.
I don’t know exactly what had changed in my life to make me think that it was shameful to have time—to carve out time, to be on time—to hang out with my friends, to do things that aren’t geared towards making money or the development of my career. Perhaps a good portion of it came from anxiety around my decision not to try getting a full-time job straight out of college, so that I could focus on developing a literary portfolio instead. Once I finished college, my days were largely self-governed. My productivity schedule was flexible and designed entirely on my terms. And perhaps, my thoughts were colored heavily by the pressure I had put on myself to “make it” as a writer by a certain time, accompanied by repressed fears that my “plan” wasn’t going to work out and I’d end up book-less and financially destitute.
It seemed to me, as I waited at the café for my friend years ago, that if I truly wanted to make it, professionally and financially, I should be working hours just as long as his, even if my days were self-governed. I shouldn’t have any right to take things easy or prioritize “frivolous” things like catch-up dates with friends. I should, like them, live my life like I didn’t even have the choiceto prioritize catch-up dates with friends, because work needed to get done, and everything simply had to fall secondary to the accomplishment of the work.
Fast forward to a couple of years down the line, while I waited for the friend who never showed up for brunch. The reason why she hadn’t been able to make it had nothing to do with work, and yet, knowing that didn’t make me feel any better. I saw then that my problem with waiting went a little beyond productivity inadequacy. It had extended so far that the idea had entrenched itself in my mind that if my life isn’t some sort of scheduling nightmare, it means my life is lacking something critical. Now, I don’t even, on a logical level, believe this, so it baffles me more than it may baffle you why I still feel it, regardless.
There’s no conclusion to this essay I’m writing. There’s no big lesson that I’ve learned from all my introspection. It’s possible that the only reason I’ve chosen to share this with the public is for the cathartic effect of making myself heard. Maybe I’ve just missed how it feels to just treat my blog as my public trash can. Eventually, whenever I’m able to get the funds together to afford consistent therapy (or any therapy at all, ha-ha), this is one of the admittedly more superficial issues I’m hoping to work through with a mental health professional.