I’ve spent a lifetime chronically over-apologizing. When my husband approached me for sex, I apologized to him because I wasn’t in the mood. When my friend showed up at my door unannounced — interrupting a productive work session — I apologized to her for not being dressed appropriately or prepared to chat. When I excitedly told friends of an experience I recently had and I felt my story took too long, I apologized for "rambling on." In a nutshell, I was constantly betraying myself for the comfort of others.
What’s worse is that I didn’t even realize I was doing it until a friend, a woman who I admired and respected, asked me why I apologized so much.
I had never reflected on my words, but her studious observation hit me hard. Why was I apologizing all the time?
In the safe bubble of our friendship, long before the advent of #SorryNotSorry — I developed the habit of proceeding my nonsense apologies to her with "Actually, no I'm not." Unfortunately, that wasn't a habit that developed with anyone else. In the world at large, I was still as sorry as ever.
Eventually, I forgot about not being sorry, and spent an absurd amount of time prostrating myself before others for the stupidest of things. When I arrived early for a medical appointment, I apologized, and when that same doctor was late by 40 minutes, I apologized again for inquiring when it would be my turn to be seen.
I apologized for calling my husband at work when I had an emergency.
I apologized to the cashier who overcharged me by accidentally ringing up an expensive item twice at the check-out counter.
I apologized to a client for asking them to send my already-late payment.
I apologized to a friend for taking too long to edit their 20-page paper, for free.
I may have kept right on apologizing my life away, until I watched a clip on Inside Amy Schumer that poked fun at the culture of female apologia. In the skit, professional women repeatedly apologized for a litany of basic human things, like asking for water, or speaking their minds. The video awoke in me the understanding that too many women are sorry when they shouldn't be.
That isn't to say that profuse apologizing is solely a woman’s business — but there is some truth to the portrayal of women who rush to salve an imaginary wound unintentionally inflicted by the simplest words and actions.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo investigated this phenomena and found that proportionally, women and men apologized the same amount for reported offenses. However — women had a much lower threshold for what they considered "offensive behavior," making them more likely to apologize than men.
While women may indeed be more empathetic, does saying "I'm sorry" always correlate with concern?
Sloane Crosley penned an op-ed in The New York Times and theorized that some apologies are "a Trojan horse for genuine annoyance[s]" that are "employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing." For Crosley, apologies were assertions of passive-aggressive dominance. "I'm sorry you don’t like it, sweetie, but that's just the way it is."
While these correlations seem plausible enough, I felt they missed a third and ever-present option — the white elephant of female-induced apologizing — that many women believe their feelings and opinions are less important than those of others. This feeling is reinforced from an early age when girls are taught to "behave like a lady," where soft voices, closed legs, beauty, homemaking and maternal instinct are prized over assertiveness and individuality.
When I unnecessarily apologized, it came from a place inside my psyche that recognized that I'd done something to subvert the norm, that somehow, I'd not been appropriate in my station as a woman.
I'd like to believe that feminine ideal is a thing of the past; that women of today's generation are less likely to adhere to any standard that challenges their value and voice as a human being.
However, if that were the case, then skits like Schumer's wouldn't even be applicable. Sadly, they are, and even sadder — it's taken us far too long to do something about it.
Today, I publicly declare that I will no longer postulate unnecessary regret. I will cease to say "sorry" when it's not deserved. I will apologize when I say something hurtful out of anger or frustration, when I step on someone's foot because I'm not paying attention where I'm walking and when I forget to show up for a lunch date with a friend.
In short — I will be kind and courteous, but I refuse to exude remorse for anything other than true acts of jerkfulness.
Join me. (Sorry — was that too demanding?) Ugh.
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