For many years, it was either too hard or too easy for me to say “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, I’m sorry–” was quick on my my lips when I’d bump into someone with my elbow, or accidentally box someone out while looking for stoned wheat thins in the cracker aisle at the grocery, or — all too commonly — find myself on the receiving end of someone else’s inconsiderateness or lack of spatial awareness. I’m convinced this is a thoroughly female trait, this instinct to apologize for things out of my control or even things that have been done to me. (I’m thinking specifically of a time a crotchety old lady shoved me out of the way at Fairway, and I said: “Oh, I’m sorry.” Then I sat there, stewing, wanting to rescind the knee-jerk apology.) It was especially prominent in the workplace: “I’m sorry to bother you,” or “sorry for the deluge of emails,” or “I apologize for not responding sooner,” or “oops — sorry — do you have a second?”
Civility is one thing; obsequiousness is something different altogether. I have learned over the course of many years that I can come off as ingratiating or unctuous or, worse, dismissible if I am not careful with my words, with my automatic assumptions of guilt or regret over the most minor of infractions or inconveniences. And yet it is still a challenge to suppress the urge to beg pardon.
On the flipside, for much of my early twenties, I found it exceptionally challenging to apologize for the big stuff, the real stuff. There were occasions, early in our relationship, where Mr. Magpie and I tumbled into stand-offs that would last the better part of the day. There were times when I would resolutely avoid an apology I owed to a sibling. And there were circumstances at work where I would flat out refuse to see my colleague’s or boss’s perspective: I only knew I had been slighted and did not care to hear the rest of the story, and would turn to my loved ones for moral support and extra ammo, of course neglecting to share the fullest picture, the possibility that I had been culpable of something in the situation. I dreaded the admission of guilt, the revelation that I, too, was impeachable. It was easy to be generous with apologies for the small things: it implied politesse, concern for others. Apologizing for the big things suggested that I was capable of misjudgment, of error, of unkindness, of selfishness. I didn’t want to see that part of myself, and I certainly didn’t want my loved ones to catch a glimpse either.
The other day, I blundered the communication of something to a loved one. I should have been clearer, had omitted some key details that she deserved to know — and she was rightfully upset. My instinct was self-preservation: “But how could I have known that she wouldn’t read between the lines?” and “Well, it wasn’t that I was hiding anything; I just didn’t think to tell her, ” and “Honestly, she could have asked herself!” But as I stood there, watching her face contort in distress, I thought: “My, my, Jennie. You’re going to make excuses for…for what? To win some meaningless battle over whether or not you intended to omit some details? Clearly you did not do a good job explaining this, and the bigger picture is that she is upset.” And so I let go of the coil of defensiveness that had been spiraling inside me, held up my hand, and said: “You know what? You’re right. I am so sorry.”
And I realized that what I missed during those extended deadlocks in my early twenties was the liberation that comes with apology, even before I’ve earned forgiveness. It takes a minute to work up the nerve, but once I’ve said the words — “I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right.” — it’s as if the world returns to its natural order. Have you ever been on the earthquake ride (it might be a King Kong ride? I can’t remember — but there’s one that simulates an earthquake) at Universal Studios? At the very end, as your little car is leaving the last “scene,” if you watch carefully, you’ll notice all of the bricks slide back into their original spots, and the overturned pieces of furniture revert to their upright positions, and a dangling telephone returns to its hook. That’s what a heart-felt apology feels like to me. It’s a shift from dissonance to order, and it feels incredible — maybe even better than the forgiveness that (hopefully) follows — because I have said something true and deserved, and I like the vision of myself as someone who, though fallible, is fair.
Do you have trouble apologizing?
+I recently purchased Aerin’s Evening Rose scent for summer — I love floral scents, and this is to die. It’s sophisticated, sexy, feminine.
+It’s that time of year where I stock up on my favorite bra (somehow even the white looks non-fuddy-duddy, and I’m normally allergic to white bras…also, they are so comfortable) and underwear (I love the bright colors, but will probably buy the “sand” color in multiples — so practical) — finally on sale! Also, these joggers have made their way into my cart.
+Should I bring the M Series back?
+Me and my everlasting affinity for polka dots…currently lusting after this ruffly one-piece, this darling blouse, and these chic loafers for fall (how perfect with black skinnies and a white statement blouse?!)
+MEEEEP. This is now marked down to $120. To buy or not to buy…(I’m in love!)
+How fantastic are these personalized mules?! They look so much like the Gucci Princetown, but cost less than half AND come with a monogram! I like these ones in white, but the black are a bit more practical.
+In my quest for more practical daytime dresses to wear while chasing mini through splashpads and sandboxes, I came across this cotton style from Everlane. Love it in the lavender, and — I don’t think I will take the plunge, but I have to say I think it would look chic with a pair of Birkenstocks in silver. (#thehamptonschangedme)
+Apropos of the previous point, I also tried on this striped dress while at J. Crew buying my newest obsession, and I like it a lot — it’s a nice, thick cotton so getting wet at the park won’t be accidentally mortifying, and the length is unique (it hit me just below my knee). I’d wear with my Golden Goose sneaks.
+Just stocked up on my favorite hand soap of all time.
+Might be adding this All-Clad casserole to our cookware collection. I just can’t say no to a good deal.