Monday, May 9, 2011 By: Unconditionally You

The Power of the Apology (by Melissa)

I have done and said plenty of things in my lifetime that have hurt people. There is not a person alive that hasn't done the same. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. The fact is that we are social beings and we are going to hurt each other from time to time.

I remember being 16 years old and I had a boyfriend named DJ who was a really nice guy. He was very sweet and would do pretty much anything to make me happy. I was quite immature and could not really handle being in a serious relationship. Simply put, he was more mature than I was and I knew it, deep down.

I broke up with him because I wasn't mature enough to handle the kind of relationship he wanted. In my defense, I was only 16 and didn't want to think about spending the rest of my life with anyone. He had made hints about our future together and comments of that nature. I liked him very much as a boyfriend but didn't want to lead him on to think that it would ever be more, so I ended things.

I also started a very casual relationship with someone else and word got around. DJ was very hurt by this, which I was so incredibly sorry for. I actually had tried to keep this casual relationship private, but a note I had written to the guy was found by his sister, who showed the ex girlfriend... who showed everyone who was willing to read it. You know, the usual high school drama. Also my first lesson that anything you write is not completely private!

All I can say is that I really agonized over the fact that I knew DJ was hurt by this. I never intended him to be. I tried to call him and he never answered my calls. I went by his work but he was never available to talk. I just wanted to talk to him and tell him that the casual relationship had nothing to do with him and that it shouldn't hurt him. That there was no comparison. That I had meant it when I said I didn't want a serious relationship. I wanted to hug him and....

What I ended up doing was writing him a letter and leaving it in his mailbox and it said all of those things. In the meanwhile pretty much our whole circle of friends had turned their back on me. The guy I was having a casual relationship with (which had ended and I was okay with that) had an ex in our group (the one who showed the letter I wrote to everyone) and it just made things very awkward for everyone. So, it was easiest for everyone to not associate with me I suppose. I didn't really blame them for it.

The apology didn't make me feel better. Not right away, not even a few years later. I thought about DJ often and hoped he was doing well in life. As I got older I stopped beating myself up over something that happened in high school. It's not like I had sex with someone while we were together, or flaunted a new relationship. I broke up with him and had a casual (yes, sexual) relationship with someone he knew. I never intended for him to find out, but he did. As an adult I feel good that I apologized for causing him any pain.

Lately I have been very agitated and grouchy over a personal situation and have been causing stress to someone I love very much. She and I have both been agitated and grouchy, she just has more patience than I do. Sometimes, apologizing opens the lines of communication and really helps to make everyone involved feel a little bit better. It might not solve whatever it is that caused the situation, but at least acknowledging that you owe an apology shows that you do care and aren't completely self centered. I really needed to self reflect and give that apology today.

Sometimes apologies are uttered and they have the power to be almost an anti-apology. For instance, have you ever heard someone say "Sorry about your luck." in a snarky, rude way? Are they really sorry? No, not at all. In fact, they are so not sorry that they are making a point of telling you they don't care by using the word "sorry" in a mocking tone.

Or when you go to a place of business and you get "I am sorry to hear that." when they clearly are not sorry to hear it. Example:

Me "Hi, I bought this Playstation game yesterday and it doesn't work. I would like to return it."

Store owner "I am sorry to hear that. Unfortunately we do not accept returns."

How I felt......

The only power the apology has there is to make me infuriated. It is not polite nor does it serve any purpose other than to say "Too bad".

How do you feel about the power of the apology? Is it wasted breath usually? Is saying I am sorry  very important? Does context matter? Does the recipient impact how much it matters?