"I’m sorry you feel that way" is so not an apology. "I’m sorry I hurt you" is its first cousin. Dishing out these overused phrases, even in sincere tones, doesn’t work, simply because they don’t imply wrongdoing. And yes, that’s what it’s about, admitting you were wrong. Chances are if you’re a friend or a loved one, we know your intentions weren’t to hurt us. We get that without your having to say it. So don’t apologize, insisting you hadn’t meant to hurt us. That’s not the point. The point is, you did. And I’m not talking about the times when we were oversensitive or maybe hormonal. I’m talking about black and white wrong. When you lost your temper and screamed for us to "shut the fuck up," due to your frustration. When you RSVP’d yes to a wedding and then didn’t show up, without a phone call or real explanation. For a whole long list of other things that will never pass for gray. Your behavior and attitude sucked, and we want a genuine apology that, your behavior, not our feelings, needs to be altered. We don’t want to hear a "well, I’m really sorry you feel that way." That’s not an apology. It’s "sorry" masquerading in polyester clothing. It’s synthetic.
In college, I once played Tracy Chapman’s "Sorry" on my boyfriend’s answering machine. At that time in my life, music was an acceptable form of communication. John Cusack started a trend. Outgoing answering machines blared music instead of instructions about leaving a message. I might have occasionally still dotted my "i"s with bubbles. It worked for me, then. It’s easier to apologize to people you know have an easy time saying it. It’s the stubborn people, who insist they’re right, listing excuses, who don’t make it easy for us. We don’t want to give in, even when they might be right. No one has better excuses than I do.
Now, it seems, I apologize all the time. I was once in a bathroom stall, wiping, and a co-worker accidentally pushed the door open, and we both at once apologized. I don’t know why it slipped from my mouth so suddenly. I had nothing to be sorry for, yet there it was. That easy. With a stranger. Now, I say it almost as easily, when it shouldn’t be, but it’s mostly to stunt a fight. It really isn’t always genuine. Because what they see as black and white wrong, I see as gray. I apologize because we pick our battles, because sometimes it’s just not worth it to me. So I’ll spit it out there. Say I’ll work on it, repeat myself until they believe me. It’s easier. And it’s harder. Because it’s what my ex did to me. Pacified me to my face, then did what he wanted to anyway. And that’s the line, right there, thick and yellow. People, no matter what they say to you, will do what they want to do, and they will sometimes find a way to do it behind your back. And it sucks when you know you’re doing it, placating. They’re being unreasonable, but at the end of the day, you’re being a liar. Who’s going to remember any of it anyway? Let’s just stop fighting. Sometimes it’s the answer, but it’ll never last. Not really. It will start a pattern, etched right on that polyester ruse of an outfit.
Phil never apologizes. Actually, if he accidentally steps on my toe, he’ll say it. But when it counts, when I really need to hear it, he won’t say it. He might say, "I hear you, and I understand," but even that comes after a day of silence. He won’t admit when he’s wrong. Instead he’ll insist his intentions are what matter. The problem is, his intentions are what matter… to him. I want an apology that means, "what I did, after hearing your point, was wrong. I could have handled things differently, and next time, I will try something else, or I’ll keep how you feel in mind." Some barter, some give, some slack, an exchange, so everything can feel equal. I’m not perfect either. And it is easier to say so to someone who also has no problem admitting when their behavior has been less than ideal. I will work on this because I want to, but I’m certain that I won’t be kicking up a cloud of "sorry I hurt you." If anything, I’ll apologize for my behavior, not feelings.
I’ve decided to let two friends go this year, mainly because, I knew, no matter what they said, their actions spoke way louder than any words, and quite frankly, their apologies were limited, at best. It wasn’t gray area, either. They were black and white wrong, and the sad bit is, they were both being themselves. And I should have caught on much sooner before noticing the very illustrative straw. I didn’t need to execute any exit strategies this time. And I’m not sorry for that. I let each of them know my life is too short to hang on to people who don’t want to change. And while it makes me feel sorry, I’m not.