I’m Tired of Apologizing

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for being in the way, for taking up space, for interrupting your thoughts, for being alive.

I’m sorry for not reading your mind correctly, or not reading it at all.  I’m sorry for not anticipating every need or not seeing the future with perfect clarity.

I can’t think of a single thing I haven’t apologized for in these past almost-40 years. Did you step on my foot? I bet I said I was sorry to you.

I say it like it’s a habit or a compulsion or a reflex.  It’s not.  It’s wired into me like my brown eyes or my flat-ish feet. I come from generations of “I’m sorry” sayers.  Mostly women.  We have said we are sorry so we could be the dustbins for other people’s messes. We say it as we invite the world to sweep its debris and crumbs into our very souls, smothering out everything except those two words: “I’m sorry.”  The cockroach of phrases; it’s never on my endangered species list because it always comes back stronger.

It was my first full sentence.

Mommy was raging with heartache in the bedroom. Daddy was sitting, unshaven, quietly marinating in shame in the old brown chair– he looked too tired to put his feet on the ottoman. I climbed in his lap and whispered into his ear “I’m sorry.” His days-old whiskers scratched my cheek. I was three.

A rumor went around school that a cute boy liked me.  My best friend was jealous so she told everyone to ignore me during lunch.  As I sat by myself during lunch pretending to eat, I prayed for a chance to tell her “I’m sorry,” so I wouldn’t have to be alone anymore.  I was twelve.

I had a Master’s degree, but took a job as a secretary for a noble organization with an admirable mission.  But I got bored sending faxes and proofreading one-page letters, so I left for law school.  “I’m sorry,” I intoned.  I apologized for wanting more for myself, for finding the gumption to unfurl the wings of my ambition and beat them until I could fly to higher ground.  I was twenty four.

I was distracted by his tender kisses, when he grabbed my heart and then abruptly discarded me like an old coffee filter.  He said, “I’ll be happier without you.” I said, “I’m sorry,” even though it was almost impossible to choke out a syllable with my heart flung on the plaza like confetti. I was thirty years old.

A recession hit and a stable of lawyers languished at their desks like lame thoroughbreds forgotten in stalls. I felt responsible. I said “I’m sorry” that my hours were low.  It wasn’t my job to bring in business, but I still said it. I was thirty five.

I always say I’m sorry.

But I don’t really mean it. And I wish I would stop saying it.

[This post is for Yeah Write Summer Series #64. I am grateful for the chance to write with the amazing bloggers over there.]

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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63 thoughts on “I’m Tired of Apologizing

  1. Oh my god, yes. When I first met David he told me that I needed to stop apologizing so much. It was the first time I had really thought of it that way. Soon after I somehow managed to apologize to my therapist when SHE was 30 minutes late for our appointment. Luckily she kicked my ass about that one. I’m still a terrible apologizer, but I’m getting better. I think…

    • Me too! I wanted to apologize for the post because I don’t think I followed the directions or it wasn’t funny enough or it might be upsetting. Or good god, what if my mom reads it? or my dad? Sounds like you have a great therapist, even if she’s not always punctual! ;-)

    • I am probably laughing as well. I usually laugh in moments of frustration or grief. I got in big trouble laughing at a funeral when I was in 9th grade– probably rightfully so– but I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, it was the only way I knew to get through the emotional tumult. It wasn’t the last time I laughed at the “wrong” time.

  2. You could be Canadian! Apologies are a reflex in our nation. Sometimes “I’m sorry” is just a phrase providing a social lubricant in a situation. Like when someone bumps you, a reflex sorry can simply ease and diffuse a situation. Other times though, it’s a passive stance that makes us smaller. You describe those well. It’s a hard habit to break!

    • I like how you said that it “makes us smaller.” That’s exactly what I am reacting to. I knew I loved Canada…all that respect for pedestrians and the apologies!! My kind of country.

    • Lol….I was going to say the same thing! Canadians are known for their incessant apologizing. I’m confused though…..Texans aren’t supposed to be anything like Canadians (unless you’re from Alberta).

      Great post! Wish I had time to write….

      • I think we are unearthing some little known similarities between Texans and Canadians. This could be huge. Anyone working on a Phd who could incorporate this?

  3. I do this all the time and hate that I do it! Here’s what’s really convicting–my 3-yr. old has started walking around saying “sorry!” for stuff that’s not even his fault…

  4. This is how you know a piece of writing is brilliant – I don’t relate to the mechanism at all but yet I was moved to tears. ‘I’m sorry’ are words I hold dear and give out like Pulitzer prizes. But the emotion of this post was phenomenal. So raw, so moving, intense and inspiring. I am in awe of you on so many levels.

    • I wish I could be so sparing with the “I’m sorry.” thank you for reading, relating and commenting. How do people do this without the support of people like you? I hope I never have to find out.

  5. Can I be your publisher??? Great post! As women, I honestly believe we more often than not don’t say we are sorry from the heart, but so we don’t come off as a bitch. It’s a social cya most of the time. Yes, we do it to ourselves, but in those circumstances where we really don’t mean it but are just saying it, there’s no need to be hard on ourselves.

    • Of course you can be my publisher. Where do I sign? I agree it shouldn’t be another reason to be hard on myself. More than what I say, I don’t want to take responsibility for things that I have no control over. And I believe I hear women saying more than men. But I know some men who apologize a lot too.

  6. SO GOOD! Wow, wow, wow. Can I relate. I can’t even begin to tell you. I even say “I’m sorry?” instead of “excuse me?” when I need something repeated. It’s my mantra. Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. I do it too. I can’t help myself. I’ve tried to break the habit but I can’t. I’m fighting the urge to apologize for that right now.

  8. Brilliant! And I forgive you. I believe people should be able to read my mind and anticipate all of my needs & wants and most of all protect my delicate sensibilities. And by people, I mean you.

    Actually, I so relate to this “I’m sorry” business. I’m amazed at how often I’ll say I’m sorry if someone bumps into me or cuts me off or if I get the last cart at the grocery store. As you said so beautifully, “I’m sorry I’m alive.” I’ve been practicing not saying anything in these situations and it feels foreign. And powerful. Beautiful post.

    • Thank you. I am going to try the silence approach…it’s not my native tongue, but it’s gotta be better than taking responsibility all over for everyone’s feelings. THat’s getting OLD OLD OLD. And I can read your mind….you are thinking that my butt looks big in these shorts…and you are right.

  9. i want to to say I’m sorry you have lived a life where you always felt you had to apologize but that seems odd. I love how you gave brief glimpes into your life over the years when you felt an apology was necessary.

    • Thanks. I look forward to the next forty years of my life being about speaking up in lots of different ways and also being quiet. Mostly, I look forward to not being responsible for everything. It’s going to be great. Starting now!

  10. I did this too for the longest time. Apologizing for anything and everything just so I could avoid confrontation. It is a hard habit to break and there are still times where I find that word tumbling out of my mouth when I should probably be saying anything BUT.

    Great post! It hit home!

    • I am glad you can report that it’s possible to break the habit. I would be happy with a little bit of space from this “I’m sorry” thing. I too like to avoid confrontation or other people having feelings.

    • I am not sure. It seems like a combination of things for me: feeling responsible, discomfort with feelings, nervous energy, habit, genuine response. I just want to be authentic when I respond and I’m not always.

  11. I had that same feeling of “I need to apologize for this post” when I published the post I submitted for Yeah, Write, too. Why? I wasn’t telling lies or making up stories…

  12. I am the same way, too, and I wonder if it’s a Southern thing. It seems like my friends who were born and raised in the NE don’t apologize for shit :)

  13. holy cripes, yes. brilliantly written. it’s something i’ve thought about a lot lately especially since i’ve heard my Lovie say it when *i* stub my toe on the couch. thing is, i’d much rather her express compassion than nothing at all, kwim? there are gobs of people who can’t ever apologize for anything and that’s just rude. :)

    • Yes. I am glad you mentioned compassion because I want to teach that. Someone suggested that when my kids do something to someone else, I should direct them to check on the other person to be sure they are ok. I love that.

  14. One of my best friends says “I’m sorry” like that, and it’s usually followed by “Are you mad at me?”. This winter, for probably the first time since we were teens, I was truly furious with her. (She was stressed over the holidays and taking her holiday stress out on her husband by threatening to divorce him.) And it was the first time she never said “I’m sorry” to me. Never asked “Are you mad at me.” But she said it to him. And he said it to her. And I knew she was, and I was so proud of her for for once NOT apologizing to me, when I had as much to feel guilty about in the whole situation.

  15. Oh, the curse of “I’m sorry”! It can be the salve that creates an opening for peace or it can be false and chip away at our true sense of self. Great exploration. Erin

  16. That was amazing writing. I have people I care about that I hear that refrain over and over “I’m sorry for this. I’m sorry for that.” I just tell them — quit apologizing — it’s not your fault. Some of the time, it’s nobody’s fault. I have me shortcomings. But being sorry is not one. You can do it.

  17. You wrote this so well.
    I also agree that you would fit in here in Canada! I live in Canada’s Texas (that would be Alberta, like it was said before), and would definitely show you around. :-)
    Also, this post makes me want to wrap my arms around you and give you a big hug. I’m trying to not tell you that I’m sorry you’ve felt these things…. so I will hug you instead.
    Canadians are huggers, too.

    • Now, hugging is awesome. I want to develop my hug style so much more than I do. There’s something about a confident hugger. And thank you for seeing the soul of this piece, which is I guess my soul, because a hug is just what I needed in those moments, instead of running to the familiar place of I’m sorry.

      I am totally falling in love with Canada.

  18. Hear, hear. I had no idea how much I apologized until my Russian teacher remarked how stupid I sounded when I translated all my apologies into Russian. I immediately apologized. For me, it was about owning my right to make my own decisions and take up space/time. Your experiences were just heartbreaking, but you wrote so well I still read this multiple times.

    • Thank you. I totally agree that it’s about owning my right to take up space. I’ve never had a Russian teacher, but yours fits a vague description in my imagination!

  19. My old shrink used to point out that when things went well for me, I said “I’m lucky.” When things went badly, I always said it was my fault. She pointed out that I couldn’t really have it both ways: either I was lucky/unlucky; or I was responsible for both the good & the bad. Talk about a paradigm shift. Yikes. But it’s about that time when I stopped apologizing for things, unless I was the person responsible for the shiv in the ribs. I also learned how to say “I’m sorry you feel that way,” which is a bit of a side-step but at least doesn’t make me responsible for everyone else’s feelings. And neither are you. Men don’t do that apology dance…so resist that temptation!

    • Mt therapist says “I hear you,” which is also pretty good as an I’m sorry substitute. And I agree it’s a very gendered turn of phrase. My husband doesn’t do it… Even when I think he should.

  20. Pingback: yeah write #64 jury prize winner | yeah write

  21. This extremely well written. If I had a say in the voting, I would vote for you. I especially loved the poetic metaphors you used. “I apologized for wanting more for myself, for finding the gumption to unfurl the wings of my ambition and beat them until I could fly to higher ground.”

    Brilliant!

    Michael A. Walker
    Defying Procrastination

  22. Pingback: My Parking Job Upset A Veteran, But I Couldn’t Make Myself Apologize | Outlaw Mama

  23. Pingback: Feature Friday: Outlaw Mama | Stuphblog

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