Last week, I was rounding a corner in Armstrong and almost ran into another girl. We didn’t even brush shoulders, but we both dissolved into choruses of “oh my God I’m so sorry!”’
Sunday night, I was walking down High Street with one of my friends and accidentally brushed her hand. We both immediately apologized to each other.
And a few minutes ago, when I took a break from writing this column, I instinctively apologized for opening the Miami Student’s office door and almost hitting my friend. I didn’t hit her, but I could have, and I felt bad.
I used to think saying “sorry” was something you said to be polite, as well as an actual apology. I thought it was rude to not say it if you accidentally brushed someone’s shoulder in public or even came a little too close to accidentally brushing someone’s shoulder in public.
I realize now that right word for that situation is “ope” — if you’re from the Midwest, at least. If not, I don’t think you have to say anything.
Saying “sorry” every time you feel the slightest bit apologetic, I’ve learned, cheapens the real “sorrys.” If you apologize for everything — even things totally out of your control — how are people supposed to know when you really mean it?
One of my friends has a number of theories about why millennial/Gen-Zers (female ones in particular) apologize so much, like the fact that we’re more empathetic than previous generations and that we can’t stomach confrontation. They check out.
My personal theory is that, as women, we apologize preemptively because we anticipate having to defend ourselves. We have to defend almost everything about ourselves, from liking Taylor Swift music to the way we dress to pretty much any other way we choose to express ourselves.
I didn’t realize that I was sandwiching every other word I said with “like” back in middle school, until my mother pointed it out to me. And I didn’t realize how much I apologized until my friends and professors at Miami pointed it out to me.
But even after I became conscious of it, I couldn’t stop. Saying “sorry” for me is like scratching an itch. I can put off saying it for a few minutes if someone specifically asks me not to, but I have to apologize eventually (for apologizing too much).
The only thing that’s helped rid me of the constant need to apologize is something one of my friends told me last week.
She said that she, too, feels horrifically guilty when people do anything for her. But, she said, instead of apologizing to her boyfriend for picking her up from class, she now tells him she appreciates him doing so. Or instead of apologizing for leaving a plate in the sink, she thanks one of our housemates for washing it.
Instead of feeling unnecessarily guilty and blaming yourself for things that are at most a blip on other people’s radars, her approach forces you to recognize the little things people do for you.
This practice felt revolutionary when she introduced it to me last week, and I’ve actively been trying to employ it since then. It works, and people notice; they generally respond better to being thanked than needlessly apologized to.
I understand that not all women feel compelled to constantly say “sorry” in response to things that are and aren’t their faults. But for those that do, it’s important to stop and evaluate why. We shouldn’t say “sorry” if the thing we’re apologizing for didn’t hurt anyone, wasn’t our fault or didn’t actually affect anything at all.