On October 10, 2011, I went through one of the worst Skype calls of my life. My very first boyfriend, who I had been with all of three months, broke up with me. I’d spent almost every day of the past few months with this man, and he was the first person I’d ever said “I love you” to in that way. Naturally, this was an emotional conversation. Naturally, I started crying. And, naturally, I apologized for my reaction in between sobs.
Yes, that’s right. I apologized to my boyfriend. For crying. While he was dumping me.
It took me weeks to realize how absurd that was. He left me. He broke my heart. If anyone should be apologizing in that situation, it’s him.*
A few weeks after that, I read a blog post about how women apologize too much, and started to think of absurd times that I’ve apologized for stuff. And only then did the absurdity of my apology hit me full force. Hell, to be honest, it was wrong of me.
But there was something within me that made me apologize for having an emotional reaction. There was something inside me that said any sort of emotional outburst is instantly inappropriate and I should do something to indicate that I recognized how inappropriate it was. There was something internalized that dictated an automatic apology the instant any kind of tears started to flow.
Nevermind that I was alone in my apartment. Nevermind that the person on the other end of the call was five hundred miles away and knew that this sort of reaction was likely. I was having an emotional reaction, and I automatically thought of this reaction as inappropriate.
And that’s messed up.
In writing my post last week, I couldn’t help but think of all the ways I’ve internalized this apologetic meme. I used to apologize for giving my opinion. I even employ the sarcastic, “I’m sorry, but this is how it is” on occasion. I apologized to anyone who would listen for crying when my father’s wallet was stolen in Rome. I apologized in situations where I wasn’t actually sorry but felt the need to excuse my own emotions. When I get upset over something, the first words on my lips are usually “I’m sorry.”
So I’m going to stop. I’m going to stop apologizing for feeling emotions. I’m going to stop apologizing for having a perfectly legitimate reaction to bad news.
Last week, I had to tell my boss that I’m canceling my planned trip to Scotland this May due to a mix up at the IRS which prevented me from getting the tax refund I needed. I choked back a sob and, in the same instant, an apology for crying at work. Why? I'd been looking forward to this trip for ages. Why was I apologizing for being sad about canceling it?
I don’t know why I apologize so much, but I do know it is a weakness. I needn’t apologize for having a legitimate emotional reaction to events in my life. Apologizing for my tears seems to be another way of apologizing for being human.
Apologies, in some circumstances are appropriate. Yelling and destroying things in anger is something that requires an apology. Crying when something bad happens, though? Nope.
Apologizing as though emotions themselves are inappropriate is unhealthy. So I’m saying “goodbye” to saying “sorry.” Join me.
*To his credit, he did start the conversation with “I’m sorry, but…” and he handled the break-up and my reaction in a relatively mature manner. But during that hard conversation, I was the one who was apologizing profusely and frequently.