We all have that friend who apologizes for everything. That’s me. I’m your over-apologetic friend. I’m sorry about that. That’s the first time I’ve typed (or said) those two words for a week. Before this week, I’ve apologized for:
- An email that was short
- Having an opinion
- Getting sick
- Ordering the non-dairy option at Starbucks
- Telling a well-meaning friend that their comment was, indeed, racist
From childhood, girls fight an instinct to apologize, due to a strong desire to be seen as good. Girls who want the world to "like them" grow up to be women who pay for a handful of popularity with fistfuls of personality. Men don’t have this problem. Boys learn the virtue of bravery and adventure; as they grow up, what women consider worthy of an apology, doesn't pop on a man’s radar.
So, for one week, I vowed to stop apologizing. Every day, I forced myself outside of my comfort zone by examining each situation as it came—leaving my impulses and neuroses to battle in some dark corner of my mind (or at least, that was the hope)—all in the pursuit of pre-emptive self-care.
I planned to begin my challenge on Monday, after a grocery run, and a weekend of binge-watching true crime on Netflix. I made a list of my favorite snacks and headed straight to Trader Joe’s. After searching the shelves for Mini Cinnamon Sugar Churros and coming up empty, I found a stocker and cleared my throat.
“I’m sorry, excuse me?” I started. “Um, do you have any of the churros? I don’t see any out here. I’m so sorry, I see you’re busy.”
“No problem,” the employee said. She placed her box of Ghost Pepper Chips on the floor and walked with me to where the churros should be.
“I’m so sorry,” I stammered. “But it looks like you’re out. Unless you moved them, and I didn’t see? In that case, I’m really sorry to pull you away from your work.”
“It’s not a problem. Let me check in the back.”
She turned to go, but I waved my hands to stop her.
“It’s OK, it’s really OK,” I said. “I don’t want you to get in trouble or anything. I see you have work to do. I’m so sorry.”
“Ok, but at this point, I’m going on a fact-finding mission for myself, because I like those churros, too. Do you want me to tell you what I find?”
“Oh, OK. Sure. Thanks. Sorry.”
Maybe it was time to begin.
And so, I began my challenge Saturday afternoon at Trader Joe’s. If there’s one thing I struggle with, it's over apologizing to store employees. I worked retail in high school and college, and I live in fear of being the kind of self-absorbed customers I encountered on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis. I once had a server at a restaurant accidentally dump a full cup of Coke in my lap and I ended up apologizing to her for asking for extra napkins. I know, I know.
The next day, I drove to Target to finish my weekly grocery run. During checkout, I noticed my credit card disappeared from the Target app on my phone. Fighting my instinct to apologize, I stayed strong and spoke.
“Hey. Good morning? Afternoon? Um, is the app broken? I can’t get my credit card to load,” I said.
The woman scrunched her eyebrows and tilted her head. She said, “I haven’t heard anything. Have you tried logging in on the website?’
I shook my head, then followed her suggestion. Still no credit card. Time to ask again. I tried it again. “Nope.”
Her face lit up as her hands kept pulling my items over the scanner. “Do you have your physical Target card? You could use that,” she told me.
Oh man, I thought. This is embarrassing. The words “I’m sorry” began to form on my lips, but I caught myself. “That was embarrassing,” I said as I tugged my Target card from my wallet. “Thanks for being patient with me.”
“It happens to the best of us,” she smiled.
I gave myself a mental high-five as I finished paying.
Monday came and went without issue or the desire to apologize, but Tuesday began with me chasing the right link to a colleague’s webinar. In the past, I’d spend half an email apologizing for my lack of attendance.
Instead, I grabbed the phone and sent a quick text: "Zoom link doesn’t work?"
Before I could place my phone back on the desk, my phone buzzed. "Lawd have mercy, I sent the wrong link. Hang on," my colleague responded.
"No probs," I said.
Within 5 minutes, she sent me the information and I settled into my chair to watch, latte in one hand and yogurt in the other, satisfied I fought the urge to say "sorry."
Apologies: Still zero
Wednesday brought technical difficulties to a conference call. With our new work-from-home scenario, my husband and I often work in the dining room together—him on one side of the table, me on the other, in front of our huge curtain-free bay window, with our three dogs napping at our feet. The call started with me begging for patience as my connection dropped three times. Then my neighbor passed our house on her morning walk and all hell broke loose. The dogs barked as if every killer from Forensic Files had appeared on our doorstep, my husband yelled at them to stop using his Outside Voice, and I tried to grit my teeth and diffuse the situation. No such luck.
“Thanks for your understanding,” I said.
“Thanks for understanding,” I repeated.
“I can’t hear you...”
“Thanks for understanding,” I screamed.
“Oh. Yeah. I get it. Do you want to reschedule?”
“No! Drop it,” I shrieked as one of the overexcited dogs started to chew on her dog bed. “Wait, what?”
“Yeah, OK. Bye.”
“So when do you want...”
Whoops. I hung up before we could reschedule. We connected over email, where I expressed my gratitude for her understanding.
Apologies: Still zero, but maybe I should have offered one?
I avoid Facebook in the same way I avoid mayonnaise, which is often and unapologetically. However, I’m also trying to be a more social person, which is to say, every now and again, I consume a small amount of Facebook and then spend the rest of the day trying to get the foul taste out of my mouth.
During my Thursday scroll, I saw a college friend posted a meme that, after all the shocking news and protests, she liked getting back to normal. I took (several) deep breaths, took the dogs for a walk, then came back to my phone and began to type. Fighting every instinct to apologize I wrote:
"Hey. I’m glad you can get past the shocking news. I can’t. Which isn’t to say you don’t need a certain amount of self-care and self-preservation. But please know this: Your normal is different from my normal."
To her credit, my friend replied to me via private message, on her own newsfeed, then later by text. She welcomed the opportunity to be better, and she appreciated that I cared enough about our relationship to educate her.
Apologies: Zero, proudly
The week ended with worrying news. The previous weekend, a member of my extended family had been exposed to the Coronavirus, and in the following days met with my immediate family. The uncertain medical futures of all involved clung to our conversation like too-tight clothes. Words swirled in my head as I spoke in hushed tones to my mother on the phone, not wanting to cause any more worry.
“I’m so sorry you have to worry about this. Make sure to self-quarantine until he gets the test results back. And let me know if you start to feel sick, OK?” I said.
"I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she responded.
“I’m sure you will be. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” I said.
After we hung up, I realized I’d apologized. While I knew it was important to stop apologizing so much, I also recognized what the studies couldn’t measure. During personal battles, offering an apology showing empathy—a way to say, "I see the pain you’re in, and I hate it for you."
Day 5 Apologies: One
I settled into the last No Apology day, secure in the knowledge that I had no telephone calls, no webinars, and no Target runs. Going into the week, I wanted to uncover why I needed to apologize. Before, I wanted forgiveness for my vulnerability, instead of thanking others for their openness.
Whenever I get first-day-at-a-new-school nervous, my instinct is to find an offense (exaggerated or imagined) hide behind an apology. Only now can I appreciate how limiting my apologies are, and how accommodating people most people are, when given the chance. I decided I had needed the hard reset of my mindset when the phone rang. My mother, with an update. The COVID-19 results came back negative, and we allowed our worry to collapse into itself and drift away.
“I’m sorry for worrying you,” my mother said.
“It’s OK,” I said.
And I meant it.