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No apologies necessary

Recently, Scientific American published an online article about a study that found women apologize more often than men. Sorry, but that’s really no surprise. I’ve been working for a long time on ceasing the habit of apologizing for my existence. I’ve made a huge amount of headway, but I know I’ve still got miles to go.

I haven’t entirely put my finger on all my motives for unnecessary apologies. I cringe to admit this, but I think I’m concerned about being perceived as a bitch if I put my foot down and ask for what I need. And it hurts me to type that word, incidentally. I hate it. I think it’s demeaning and I never use it to describe other women (although I have used it to describe a few men lately). But I have to be honest: before I ask for what I need, I apologize in hopes I can diffuse the perception that I’m a demanding bitch.

But I’ve been getting better. Awareness of the issue and admission that I have a problem was the first step. I guess I’m in Over-Apology Recovery.

A recent victory: my parents and I went to dinner while I was out east last weekend. Our server took our order and delivered our drinks all the while sniffling and coughing her face off. Occasionally, she covered her mouth — with the same hand she placed our beverages on the table. This was a pretty nice restaurant, mind you, and we were paying for good food and good service, not a viral infection. I got up and went to the manager and calmly explained that while the waitress was very nice, she was hacking all over us and we didn’t want her to handle our food. The manager took care of the issue immediately and brought the sick gal around back and fired her in the alley. I’m joking (but that’s the pang of guilt I felt when I made the request). We were given another server and I beamed with pride. I asked for what I needed without apologizing or undermining my own demand by first issuing a disclaimer: I’m a silly germaphobe, or I was protecting my parents, or I had already been sick this fall and didn’t want to become ill again. I held my head high and told someone else what I needed. And it worked.

But for that victory, I still struggle. Case in point: Once in a while we have someone come in and clean the condo. And while I haven’t been pleased with her work lately, I’ve been too shy to confront her. Although, I think I might have finally gotten up the nerve. If we’re going to make the financial sacrifice for this service, then I want quality. I’ll let you know how I do. I’m hoping I can be clear and confident, without apologizing for my need for better service. And here’s my commitment to you: I will not tell her I need her to dust better because Jim has allergies. Or that I need her to clean the bathrooms better because I have guests staying for the weekend. I’m simply going to ask for an improvement or else we’ll have to sever ties. Of course, I just broke out in a cold sweat thinking of doing this. Still it must be done.

You know what though? My habit of apologizing out in the world does not cross over the threshold of my own home. Saying I’m sorry to my husband is a completely different ball of wax. There is pride and ego involved. There are unspoken points tallied about who wronged whom and when and where and how often. I know this is ridiculous. I adore Jim and it’s more important for me to be happy than win an argument. But still…there is a delicious self-satisfaction that comes with being the one who is right. Or at least the one who is told she is right.

Ok, Scientific American, here’s a study I want to see: A) Who apologizes more behind closed doors: women or their male partners? B) Who means it more? C) Does love really mean never having to say your sorry?

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  1. Miriam says:

    This is a huge debate between my boyfriend and I. He thinks that “I’m sorry” are words ‘just words’ people say that don’t mean anything. He has used them maybe 5 times in 6 years. In his mind, you should simply not do/say anything that you have to apologize for. I try to explain to him, “I’m sorry” means “I did not mean what I said/did. It was a mistake, I hate that I hurt you, and if I could I would take it all back.” To his credit, this also means that he is less likely to lash out and/or say regrettable things than I am. But women say it and mean it way more often then men. But I believe the ability to apologize is essential to a healthy relationship.