Hello, lovely one.
If you were asked, “Why do you apologize?” you’d probably respond with something like, “I apologize because I did something wrong.”
I’d like to suggest that many of us apologize even when we’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and that some of our apologies are almost involuntary. Habit. You know how I know? I used to apologize incessantly.
There’s a joke about Canadians (well, there are a LOT of jokes about Canadians) that they will apologize to you even if you bump into them. It’s no joke. The pairing of Canadian citizenship with the circumstance of having been raised a girl results in the perfect Apologizing Machine.
On the evening of Valentine’s Day, I had a bad attack of vertigo (I have Benign Positional Vertigo) and my partner DP was very kind (as he always is) and helped me manage my dizziness and get comfortable. I found myself apologizing, repeatedly, for inconveniencing him. At some point, after I’d turned the corner of this episode and was starting to feel more like myself, I noticed how much I was apologizing that night. I had a bit of a laugh at myself as I know he loves me and wants to help and I know that I deserve that help.
At the same time, I also realized that this stream of apologies is not my pattern anymore. About five years ago, I made a conscious decision to apologize more selectively.
I’ll tell you my secret. When it comes to making apologies, I now approach the situation like a man. A kind man, but a man nevertheless. (To be clear, I have an excellent resident role model.) I want to benefit from the way that good men of my generation were socialized. Here’s my version of this:
I try my best to do the right thing.
Sometimes I get it wrong.
If I screw up, I apologize.
The other person is free to accept my apology or not but I’ve done my best.
Here’s my apologize-less list:
1. When someone else bumps into me.
2. When I’m in conversation with someone and they won’t allow any space for me so I have to interject in order to speak/be heard. I don’t apologize because I am not sorry for making space for myself. What I am is exhausted and less likely to have conversations with this person in the future. (Boundaries!)
3. This makes me super uncomfortable but I do it anyway: I don’t apologize for my opinions or for disagreeing with others. I learned this line from a male friend: “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” It’s not my job to agree with the other person or to find a way that our beliefs can line up. They may never align. It’s also not my job to make them feel better about the fact that we disagree or about how wrong I feel they are.
4. I don’t apologize for being a woman or for seeing the world from a woman’s perspective. I NEVER apologize for being a feminist. (If people are threatened by that term, I leave it to them to sort that out.)
5. I don’t apologize for being 30 seconds late ~ an amount of lateness that is not actually an inconvenience to people. Some of the things I was raised to believe are “polite” are just absurd.
6. I don’t apologize for anything that I cook. While the food may not be perfect, if I cooked for you then I REALLY LOVE YOU. Of course I note when a dish should be cooked a little longer or for less time or when I might use more seasoning but that doesn’t need to be a big production where I fall on my culinary sword.
To be clear, I am pro-apology when the situation warrants it; I don’t think anyone who knows me well would say that I am stingy with my apologies. This new approach leaves a lot of room for genuine apologies when I believe I have hurt, disappointed or inconvenienced someone. When I mess up, I say that I am sorry in a way that will be meaningful to both of us. I apologize and explain what happened from my perspective. If it’s appropriate, I also tell them how I’d like to make it up to them.
During these years of making fewer apologies, I’ve become more and more myself. I’ve become more authentic which, for me, means that I am the same person at home, at work and in social situations. I know that my impulse to over apologize comes from wanting to please others but there was a very real way in which I was apologizing for being. For being a person. For being alive.
This strikes me as really sad now. I’ve spent a lot of time being sorry about things that were not my place or my business to feel sorry about.
I suppose this makes me a little less lovely, a little less accommodating, a little less cheerful. Yup. I’ll proudly own that. The beautiful thing is that I’ve cleared some space around me to be a whole self.
What is your relationship with apologizing? Do you find yourself apologizing a lot? Do you like how it feels? What would you like to do next?
If you’re an over-apologizer, I encourage you to apologize less and live more.
P.S. This was originally shared as a Sunday Reader. To receive these (now weekly) love letters directly in your mailbox, subscribe here. I’d love to send you these letters. xo