There have been a couple of stories in the news recently about public figures who’ve apologized for things they’ve said and done in the past. I’m not going to get into who or what (I don’t DO celebrity gossip or current events, presidential elections excluded.). I find these types of stories fascinating. I think they speak to something kind of profound - the amazing power of those two little words, “I’m sorry”.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that when someone hurts me a heartfelt apology can actually lesson the pain. When I hear someone say, “I’m sorry I hurt you,” and I believe they mean it, I start to feel better. Now, there’s a formula to this. If they wait before apologizing, maybe to see if they’re going to be “in trouble” and then use the “I’m sorry” as a get-out-of-jail-free card then it’s going to mean less. And yet it won’t be completely meaningless. That’s just how powerful those words are. A delayed apology is still better than no apology at all.
In fact, with me, I’d say it’s never too late to say I’m sorry. Those words never really become worthless.
Unless, of course, someone doesn’t mean them at all. Which I know happens sometimes. Sometimes people just apologize to get over. Say what they think they have to say. And then we get into the post apology analysis. Did he mean? Was he sincere? Would he have waited for so long if he really was sorry?
Every situation is different. Every person is different. Here’s one thing I know to be true. People are idiots. All of us. Idiots. We all do incredibly stupid things sometimes. We all hurt other people, usually those we care about the most. And sometimes, even though we should, we fail to apologize. Maybe because we didn’t intend to cause the pain, or because we’re hurting too. Or because we’re just acting like idiots. And I know that men, for whatever reason, are especially loathe to apologize.
Or maybe sometimes, they’re just outright fearful. I’m reminded of this boyfriend I had in college. He was a sweet guy. He knew the name of every kid in his building and volunteered at a nursing home on weekends. He was also a womanizing asshole, but as we all know, I used to have a thing for those. Anyway, we had plans to go away for the weekend. He was supposed to pick me up right after work on Friday (I was in college, he’d graduated years earlier). I was all packed and ready to go. I sat in my apartment and waited for him. And waited. Hour after hour. Finally he called, sometime after 9pm. By then I was on the phone with a friend, crying and cursing.
I don’t remember the details but basically he’d started talking with the guys from work and before he knew it it was 6 and then 6:30 and it was already too late for us to go and he was afraid to call and tell me. So when they suggested going out for drinks he figured, why not. Then he waited until he was drunk to call and tell me we weren’t going and that he was sorry because he was afraid to do it sober. Now, what he was afraid of, I have no idea. He was a foot taller than me and I’d never shown him any sign of my admittedly formidable temper.
I ended up forgiving him and we went away the next weekend. And I broke up with him months later for some equally boneheaded thing. Whatever. The point is, he really was afraid to just pick up the phone and say, “Hey babe, I’m sorry I lost track of time and now it looks like it’s too late for us to go. Please forgive me.” I’ll never understand why. Just like I’ll never understand why other men I’ve known will parse facts and deflect blame so that they feel they don’t owe me an apology when sometimes (maybe a lot of the times) an apology isn’t about fault. It’s about letting the other person know you care about their feelings and wishing that you could turn back time and undo the thing that’s making them hurt. Regardless of who’s at fault or why it happened.
At least that’s my take on it.
Tags: apology, sorry