I happened to read something the other day .. it was a blog post listing about 20 things we often say we're sorry for, but shouldn't need to. And while I agreed in large part with it, that stupid tagline from Love Story kept running through my mind: Love means never having to say you're sorry. I needed to unpack these things because I know that I've spent a great deal of my life apologizing for things ... even when I knew an apology wasn't really necessary. So ... what's the deal with the love means never saying you're sorry?
The assumption would be, literally, that if you love someone, you will never do anything that would require an apology to them. Ergo, if you do love someone and apologize for something, you're obviously not as in love as you thought. Boogers on this. I'd rewrite it as "love means you ARE able to say you're sorry."
There is no one alive who doesn't make mistakes. I'm not even going to try and categorize mistakes - they are large and small and in-between. There is no one alive who hasn't hurt someone during their life. Again, there are all sizes of hurts. And just as there are all sizes of hurt, there should be only one size of apology. And that's the sincere size. Anything else is just lip service. And therein, I believe, comes the confusion. I think that we too often apologize for things that are unnecessary and too infrequently apologize for the things that should be apologized for.
If I put up a chart of things we apologize for, you'd likely find things such as: forgetting an appointment/date/phone call, commiserating over some kind of hurt caused to someone else (I'm sorry that happened to you), bad weather, sending back under or overcooked food. These are examples of what I call "casual" apologies. Yeah, you're in an uncomfortable situation and you need something to say, so you apologize. I'm sorry flows freely here, sometimes as a cover for having to speak a truth.
Then there are the "sorry's" when you have caused someone else discomfort or pain. These need to be real. That's why I think we need a scaled step chart of words to signify regret. Like, how is "I'm sorry but steak is too rare, can you please cook it some more?" even comparable to "I'm sorry I cheated on you." See what I'm saying? The words sound the same but they carry very different resonances.
"I'm sorry" is always going to remain a toss off for just about anything. Which, when the event is truly egregious, seems to denigrate its importance somewhat. Even drilling down on why you're sorry for hurting someone seems inadequate because then you get all balled up in defending your position, which may not be the best option at that time.
So, what to say as we advance up the "sorry" chart? I've thought alot about this. And the best I can come up with is this: Look. I acted and spoke stupidly, carelessly, childishly (pick your poison) and I've hurt your feelings. Please let me know what I can do to help you/us/me work through this." I've been on both sides of these kinds of conversations. And I don't want to hear "I'm sorry" for something that rocked my world on a 9 Richter scale. That's too small. I want to know that you recognize my pain, or vice versa, that I do understand what I've done. Trite throwaways are not going to cut it there.
And lastly, what about this. How many times have you apologized to yourself? Not many, I'm sure. But this may be the only place where you speaking "I'm sorry" carries emotional weight. We are all WAY too hard on ourselves. And we either fret over it or ignore it. Both options suck. It's OKAY to not apologize for removing people from your orbit. It's YOUR orbit. They'll survive. You need to worry about YOU. It's okay to value yourself: your time, living as you choose, how you feel. There's no need to wrack yourself up over this. Stop blaming yourself for being you. Take a deep breath and tell yourself you're fine, that there is nothing wrong with you or the way you see things. Tell yourself that you APOLOGIZE for the hurt you've heaped on yourself as a coping mechanism. But that was then, and now, you're on a new path.
It's totally about you. Stop feeling like you're not worth it. You're MORE worth it than anyone you know.
I wish you love.