‘I’m sorry’: Why?

brenda_lee-im_sorry_s_7“Stop apologizing for the things you’ve never done!” — Paul Weller, “Town Called Malice”

This has been on my mind for some time now.

Having come to womanhood at a moderately advanced age, I’ve only noticed this in the past year or two. And it’s been on my mind and in my craw for a while now.

But it came to the surface this afternoon in a place I didn’t expect.

Since last summer, every other Thursday has found me taking someone close to me for chemo. We head to the cancer center, he has blood drawn, every other visit he has an appointment with his oncologist, and then he settles into a recliner in the chemo room for the next two or three hours as the caustic chemicals drip into the port in his chest. And as he settles in, I go for lunch.

This afternoon, when I returned from lunch, I stopped to use the bathroom across the hall from the chemo room.

The door was locked. I only waited maybe two or three minutes. Quite often, a patient wheels his/her IV rack into the loo with them, so I figured that was what was happening.

And that’s indeed what it was. And the door opened, and slowly, a chrome stalk of metal with a plastic bag dangling from the top emerged, attached to the left arm of a young woman, late 20s/early 30s, in sweats and winter boots, dark head of hair shorn to the stubble. And she looked at me with a sheepish grin and said the magic words:

“I’m sorry.”

Wait. She’s sorry? The cancer patient lugging her IV around is apologizing to me for the crime of using the bathroom?

What’s wrong with this picture?!?

“For what?” I replied. “Hon, there’s no need to apologize to me. You didn’t do anything.” She grinned and walked into the chemo room.

Those two words. How many times have I heard those words from women the past few years? It seems as if every time I let a woman through the door, or have to get past someone, nine times out of 10 I hear “I’m sorry” from her. Even after I say “excuse me.” Even if all she had to say was “Excuse me.” It’s always “I’m sorry.” As if she has to apologize for doing something wrong when it’s clearly not the case.

And today just was the cherry on top of the mound of apology.

Just how long has this sense of guilt been brewing among women in general? (I hate speaking in generalities, but in this case I’ve heard it so often that I think I can get away with it.) Or had I been hearing them all those years and, as my pre-transition self, just not really heard it? Granted, I’m around women much more now that I’m on the team, but I just never knew how pervasive this was in our everyday lives.

Having had problems with the self-esteem thang for much of my life, I went through my phase, if I remember right, in my troubled teens where I would occasionally say “I’m sorry” when it wasn’t warranted. Then again, I was in the first throes of a long depression, wondering whether I should just end it all so everyone’s lives would be that much better (don’t overreact — I’ve never attempted it), so I was kinda apologizing just for living and existing. And this was in my boy life.

But what about women? Is it a self-esteem problem? Is it just something they picked up hearing other women say it? And are they passing it on to their daughters and other young girls?

I talked about this with a friend a short while ago, someone in her mid-20s, and she told me she does the same thing: “My fiance gets so mad at me because I’m always saying ‘I’m sorry,’ and then I’m saying, ‘I’m sorry for saying “I’m sorry.”‘” When I asked her why she does it, she just said, “It’s just the way it’s always been.”

Just the way it’s always been.

Look, girlfriends — there’s no reason to say “I’m sorry” to me, or anyone else, unless you’ve actually done something to warrant it. I mean, we all do something dumb or cruel or insensitive or just plain wrong, and when I do that, I apologize — often profusely, as I do my damndest to adhere to my prime directive: Do no harm.

But apologies as a reflex action: Why is this so? Why do you apologize? I’m truly curious. I’m just throwing this open. You don’t have to answer immediately, but I’d like to know. Why? Maybe this becomes a needed dialogue …

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One Response to “‘I’m sorry’: Why?”

  1. Melanie Says:

    Fran
    I hear it all the time also and have the same thought , why apologize. In some cases I got in their way by mistake and they apologize. It should be this way.
    Melanie
    PS great article!

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