As one who has spent far too much of my life trying to “be good” – if not perfect, I of all people know it is completely impossible to be good all the time. Don’t even talk to me about perfection. I’m in favor of doing everything in my power to enhance the quality of life for those I love (though not at my own expense, I have come to understand). I love to deliver a well-timed cup of tea or make a special shopping list of everyone’s favorite foods for when the gang’s home at the holidays. I relish being met at the front door by helpful volunteers when I’ve brought home the bacon in the form of 5 bulging bags of groceries and 6 glass jugs of spring water. Remembering to leave the porch light on for after-dark travelers is a special favorite of mine, and am so grateful when the favor is returned.
But we do forget. Our best intentions, when life happens or a day is particularly sucky, do not always translate into actions. That’s when a delicious “I’m sorry, honey” can just smooth out the bumps ever so nicely. “I’m sorry I made you late for your appointment.” Or, “Shit, I forgot to replace the toilet paper, didn’t I? I’m so sorry!” Or, “I know you had a stressful day. I’m sorry I was late picking you up. I’ll make it up to you with a nice backrub.”
Wait, no. I’m going too far. Honestly, the apology is enough. No backrubs necessary. An apology all by itself shows understanding and a basic desire to make amends, for no matter how small an oversight. Somehow, the absence of an apology often feels like a defensively stubborn insistence that nothing’s wrong. It’s all about acknowledgment, isn’t it?
An apology not only acknowledges a faux pas on the part of the sorry-sayer, it also acknowledges the other person. The gal who peed only to realize there was not a square of toilet paper to be found. The guy who is exhausted and counted on a timely pick up. Just being seen and understood, after the fact, is enough to erase whatever the “thing” was.
When I see you and care about you, I notice you. I can’t unnotice you. If I have seen you, I am more likely to remember how you take your coffee, and that you like the shoes left by the door. I am also more likely to apologize if I forget and tromp mud into your kitchen. Sincerely, not grudgingly.
We remind our children to “say sorry” and often have to add… “like you mean it.” Sorry is all too meaningless when it is insincere. Sorry is oh-so-meaningful when it is real, and yes, it’s sexy.
Confident people apologize. They have nothing to prove, so “I’m sorry” is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. This is not hard for a confident person who cares about you to understand: “Even though I fucked up, I know I’m not a fuck-up. I’m not perfect but I love you and feel bad that I forgot to bring you a latte from Starbucks.”
Obviously, apologies are not just for the memory lapses, careless moments, and blind spots of life. They do a world of good when true hurt has been done. Though actions are always more powerful than words, words have weight. “I’m so so so so sorry” while holding hands, hugging, or gazing sincerely into someone’s eyes is a good starting place for mending even an agonizing heart-breach or harmful betrayal.
Maybe the only bad apology, aside from the grudging little-kid kind, is the knee jerk apology. You casually bump into someone on the way to the kitchen, “I’m sorry!” You forget the forks when you set the table, “I’m sorry,” as you go get the forks. I mean, getting the forks is better than, and makes unnecessary, a meaningless apology. The food you just made for dinner burns someone’s mouth. Don’t apologize. You just made dinner. Of course it’s hot. Someone didn’t wait for it to cool down. Other than that, you can’t go wrong with a heartfelt apology, especially to the people you love, who want to know that you are paying attention.
Love Story, released in 1970, is remembered for one line, spoken at the end of the film by Ryan O’Neal: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” As a generation of movie goers sobbed its way through that movie, a terrible disservice was being done to all those people and their descendants. It got people off on the wrong track. Contrary to the hokey line of dialogue O’Neal had to deliver to tear-stained audiences everywhere, love means you are totally cool with saying “sorry.”