“I live a simple life. Unfettered by complex sweets. You think this isn’t me? Don’t be weak. There I go. I’m so sorry.” ~R.E.M.
I say sorry all the time, but I hardly ever actually mean it. It’s become a reflex, a placeholder that fills the space when I feel judged and I want the feeling to pass. There’s nothing quite like saying sorry and watching the other person’s face soften. It’s a rush, I guess I would say, even if I have no idea what I should even feel sorry for.
Please, and thank you. Remember those? I learned them early on too, and they too became reflexes. Someone did something for me, and if I didn’t say thank you I would hear it from my mother. It would be later, and in private, but I would still hear it, so I said thank you. If I wanted something and I didn’t say please it was going to be a cold day in my house when my mom lit into me.
And sorry was the same, except that it wasn’t. At least for please and thank you I knew the behavioral expectation was legitimate. I knew that please went along with wanting something, and thank you went along with getting something, but sorry was a conundrum because there were no measurable signals that I could count on to alert me when one was necessary.
Sorry pretty quickly became all about reading people. If my mother gave me the “look” I knew a sorry was in order, and pretty quickly. And it had to sound sincere or the question would follow: “What are you sorry for?” To which I would have to find an answer or the sorry became irrelevant. And the answer to that question could never be “I’m sorry for whatever you think I should be sorry for,” or a spanking was in order. I worked hard to avoid the spanking at all costs.
Now, though, while sorry is still about reading people, it’s become even more about reading situations. Sometimes a sorry can go a long way if the situation calls for one, regardless of the person who expects the apology. And a sorry when someone isn’t expecting one can be like Christmas — for them, and for me. A written sorry is better than a spoken one, but only if it’s handwritten, not typed or texted. Handwritten sorrys are the equivalent of candy and roses these days.
But that’s not how it should be, is it? A sorry should go a long way because of the actual emotion behind it. A sorry would mean more if I took time to ask what it was that I really did wrong because saying sorry once and thinking the situation’s over is being naive. We all have patterns of behavior, and the only way to break those patterns is to understand that we’re caught in them, to recognize them for what they are and to kill them dead. So before I say sorry the next time I feel the situation coming on I’m going to ask what I did wrong so I can fix it.
Because a sorry isn’t as good when it’s missing an explanation. At least for me.