“Would ‘sorry’ have made any difference? Does it ever? It’s just a word. One word against a thousand actions.” – Sarah Ockler, Bittersweet.
Apologies are funny things. They can be genuine, shallow, phony, heartfelt, personal, healing, or too late. We’re taught while we’re young that it’s important to say ‘I’m sorry’ when you do wrong to someone else, but what they don’t tell you is that there are many trespasses that can’t be forgiven. Sometimes people choose not to forgive, and other times the pain is so deep and so permanent that forgiveness would amount to nothing more than a lie they try to tell themselves.
There’s a lot I’m sorry for, and even more I won’t be forgiven for. I do my best not to get upset when people won’t forgive me. I fail a lot of the time. It’s difficult to consciously carry with me the fact that every human experiences life in a way that is as complex, confusing, overwhelming, wonderful, and terrifying as I do. We are all alike in that pain and sadness don’t go poof simply because someone speaks words to us.
That doesn’t stop people from trying, and boy do we try. I’ve done it all. I’ve written tearful letters with my sloppy, frantic handwriting, sent songs that represented my tortured, forgiveness-seeking state, tried to buy people back with gifts, and in the most desperate moments, sobbed on people’s floors. I feel, and feel things hard.
When you’re a sensitive soul, not being forgiven feels like a daily, haunting reminder that you made someone feel, in the simplest terms, bad. It’s heavy and the only thing that lightens that burden is time or forgiveness, both of which are out of our control. That’s the deal. When you hurt someone you lose your control, you lose your power in the friendship or relationship you once had. I guess if we cared so much in the first place we wouldn’t do things that required apologies so often.
But honestly, who are we kidding? ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t nearly as ‘sensitive’ or innocent as it seems. Humans are selfish. It’s a fact. Apologies can be, ultimately, selfish, because they’re essentially an informal request for someone to overcome a physical, mental, or emotional nuisance. We want to feel better. We want to feel lighter. In that moment, we’re thinking of ourselves. If we really cared wouldn’t we let the person cope at their own pace, and come back to us if they choose?
In other ways, apologies have become a staple of human culture. We expect it when we’re wronged. We feel entitled to it. ‘You owe me an apology’ we say, or ‘Say you’re sorry.’ Sometimes we refuse to move on until we specifically hear the words, ‘I’m sorry.’ We demand that it’s thoughtful and that it demonstrates honest ownership of the wrong(s) committed in the specific situation. We say it because we have to.
I apologize all the time for my sins and faults, big and small. I apologize because it’s all I know how to do. I can’t carry the burden of my wrongdoings for too long, or it gives those pesky voices in my head more evidence that I’m a shitty person. I also sink lower than Donald Trump’s IQ at the thought that I’ve hurt people, or that what I’ve done has knocked them down. These things stay with me. It’s not just emotional and mental, it’s physical. I feel awful.
The problem is when you constantly apologize it seems, how shall I say this eloquently, fake. I don’t plan to misbehave or cause harm. It just happens because I’m a mess. I don’t use apologies as a pass to do what I please, nor do apologies absolve me of all angst and guilt. Apologies, for me, are less about the giver and more about the receiver.
I apologize because I want the person to know that they matter, that their pain matters. I don’t want someone to suffer on my account and sink lower because of it. I want to help them up, dust them off, and send them on their way better than before. I’ll gladly take their place on the floor. But, unfortunately, humans don’t connect via minds. We connect by what we say and what we do. And what I do is screw up and apologize a lot. It’s an act that gets old fast.
I’ve lost family, friends, and boyfriends because of the way I am. People want to feel like they’re special—hell, I’d say most people already feel extraordinarily special (i.e. we think we’re going to live forever and that we’re safe from the bad stuff we see in the news every day; ‘it won’t happen to us,’ we say). I don’t make people feel special, I guess.
Apologies and sorrys are complicated because they’re part of human culture, which is part of humans, who are complicated. They’re funny, futile, desperate, emotional, expected, selfish, and so much more all at the same time. I’m not really sure what else to say. I’m sorry if you thought I’d have an answer or neat conclusion.