Yesterday, I was having lunch with a friend and I kept talking and talking. Generally, I try to be more of a listener and ask questions, but I’m excited about a few things – especially the work we’re doing to get MeaningfulWomen.com off the ground — and I couldn’t stop talking about them. As we were finishing our lunch, I realized that I knew nothing about her Christmas, her New Year’s, or anything that was going on with her for the past few weeks. I felt terrible, so I started apologizing and apologizing. She stopped me by saying “You did nothing wrong. Don’t apologize.”
I thought I had broken this bad habit of over apologizing. I use to be a serial apologizer. I’ve been known to apologize for apologizing. Eeeekkk…it makes me uncomfortable just writing this, but it’s true.
When I first met my husband, he told me I was great, but the one thing he didn’t like was how much I apologized. He broke my habit by telling me “You are sorry” every time I said “sorry”. I got pretty tired of being told that I was sorry, so I was able to curb that habit around him. Try as I might, though, I still catch myself falling into my old routine at times.
There have been studies conducted that indicate women do apologize more than men. However, men apologize when they deem it appropriate. Women have a lower threshold for what requires an apology because they are more focused on promoting harmony in their relationships. We’re also more empathetic.
For me, when I find myself over-apologizing, I’m reminded that even with my yoga, my reading, my meditation, and my “wisdom” that comes with age, I still have some girlish insecurities. All things being equal, I’d rather over-apologize than under-apologize, but it would be nice to be on the fine line in between the two.
The current media landscape skillfully plays on our insecurities. In efforts to sell us more “stuff”, we are barraged with messages of “the best diet secrets”, “how to make him crazy in bed”, “how to wear your hair”, what kind of jeans or swimsuits “work best for your body type”, or what so-and-so celebrity is wearing/eating/dating/dieting, etc. We are subconsciously told that we are not enough – not skinny enough, not pretty enough, we don’t wear the right clothes, we don’t eat the right superfoods, we make mistakes in raising our kids, more mistakes in managing our money, etc. It’s very exhausting, isn’t it?!
I’m lucky to have a great husband who’s taught me that saying “I’m sorry” too often is not only dis-empowering, it takes the meaning out of the words — when the boy who cried wolf needed help, everyone thought he was scheming.
I’m thrilled to be 38 and able to put most of my over-apologizing behind me. My focus is raise my daughter to be self-confident and know she is perfect. She doesn’t need diets or clothes or instructions on how to be better.
So next time you vent to a friend when you need to unload, or you took a short-cut on your contribution to a pot-luck, or your kid is “having a day” and isn’t behaving his best, please think about whether “I’m sorry” is really necessary.
Ellen Padnos lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Ben, her children Anthony (4), and Annie (1), and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lola. You can also follow her on Twitter (@ellenpadnos).