Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

About six months ago, a close male friend of mine accidentally betrayed a confidence by telling another close (female) friend, thinking she already knew. He had good cause to think this; I’m closer to her than I am to him, but on this particular issue, I knew her values differed drastically to mine and I wanted the perspective of that particular male friend. Thankfully, she understood my reasons for not telling her and it ended up being a blessing in disguise, having her know.

But for the last six months, I’ve been determined to extract an apology from my male friend for blabbing. In the same situation, I would have apologised, just for making a mess of things. But he’s remained resolute in his thinking that he did nothing to apologise for. He didn’t go and maliciously betray a confidence; he honestly thought she knew, and had fair reason to believe that. Still, he made a mess (albeit small) of one of my personal relationships, and if it had been me, I would have been apologising profusely.

The thing is, after six months – a lot of that spent hanging out at THL – I’m beginning to see it from his perspective. He let it slip thinking she already knew; for the most part, I’m closer to her than I am him, so he had good reason to think she was the first person I told. If anyone is to blame, it’s me for not telling her in the first place, or at least not telling him know that she didn’t know.

This makes me think that women have been deeply conditioned to apologise for anything that goes wrong if they had anything at all to do with it, intentionally or not. I would have apologised, and my female friend would have apologised (she even went so far as to apologise on his behalf). But he wouldn’t apologise. As far as he’s concerned, he did nothing wrong; the blame lies with me for the aforementioned reasons.

It’s only in light of this little insight that I’ve begun to stop apologising for things that were not my fault, or only my fault in an extremely roundabout way, something akin to what a man would do. (And this same male friend who refuses to accept the blame for blabbing a confidence will apologise when he’s in the wrong; he’s done it before.) It was an incident today which made me realise just how embarrassing women can be about apologising for something that isn’t their fault.

I was picking up something to eat on my way to uni when I overheard a woman returning her order because they’d put cheese in her burger after she’d specifically asked for no cheese; apparently, she was deathly allergic to it. She apologised profusely for wasting the staff member’s time and asked if they wouldn’t mind making her a new burger.

Uh, lady? It was that staff member’s fault that your burger had cheese in it. Her negligence could have brought about serious consequences to your well-being. They were the ones who needed to apologise, not you. When I was working as a waitress, I hated the customers who would come up to me, all meek and apologetic, because I’d stuffed up their order, and, well, if it’s not too much trouble, would you mind fixing it? I had much more respect for the customers who came straight out and said it was my fault and they wanted their order fixed, and a free drink or side order to make up for me wasting their time.

Not that I’m at all condoning those evil, power-mongering little SOBs who throw food at the staff when it’s half a degree in temperature out or some such rubbish; that’s just abuse of privilege. But people, for the most part, do not take offence when someone draws attention to one of their screw-ups and expects it to be rectified. Most of us welcome criticism in our work; it makes us work better. I think men basically understand that, and feel no need to restrain from a criticism when its deserved. But women seem far more reluctant to criticise someone, even when they’re well within their rights to criticise.

Which brings me back to the issue: why do women feel they have to be so apologetic about complaining? Why to women feel they have to apologise over things that aren’t their fault? It screams of second-class citizenship to me, and I guess my male friend who refused to apologise brought this to my attention. Men feel entitled to complain when someone got something wrong and inconvenienced them. Men don’t see that it’s their fault when they’re responsible, in a very roundabout way, for a screw-up. That seems to be a very healthy way of going about things, where a women’s way seems to be, well, apologise for every little thing.

Are we so conditioned by society that women take what they’re given, smile politely and say “˜thankyou’, while men ask for what they feel they’re entitled to, and then some? Shouldn’t be women be trying that tack, too? I discovered recently that demanding respect from a man was actually quiet easy – all I had to do was say “˜you can’t treat me like crap, I won’t have anything to do with you until you treat me with respect’ and he came back and said “˜you know, you’re right, what can I do to make it up to you?’. It was quite an enlightening experience really, and it taught me that, for the most part, when women pursue things the same way men do, they get respect.

Except maybe from the women who are busy apologising meekly to the world.


  1. sbg says

    A lot of times I say ‘sorry’ in an attempt to be polite, not to express actual regret. No, I’m not sorry when they screw up my order and have to fix it but it doesn’t really do any good to be rude.

    “I’m sorry” as an opener, I think, is more an attempt to get someone’s attention. Or I’m not thinking about this enough. Heh.

  2. scarlett says

    I justified that myself too, but then I got to thinking, just by saying ‘i’m sorry’ is admitting to some kind of guilt. Saying ‘excuse me?’ in a polite, respectful voice works just as well and you leave feeling better about yourself.

  3. Maartje says

    Excuse me, pardon me and I’m sorry are all reasonable ways to get someone’s attention and basically all mean the same thing: Excuse me/pardon me/I’m sorry -for disturbing you, but…
    I think that is just a polite way to get someone’s attention. I think everyone should endeavor to be polite! Where women tend to be polite and sometimes too apologetic, men tend to feel entitled to a rectification RIGHT now no matter what.
    Now not apologizing when there is nothing to apologize for is just common sense, using words of apology to be polite is just being a nice person.

    Women tend to apologize more quickly because they want the situation to be resolved without anyone’s feelings being hurt. Men think of apologizing more as a pride thing, when you’ve done something wrong, sure! But not when you haven’t.
    Or so I think, I could be wrong, it has happened before.

    I use the word ‘sorry’ usually when I think I shorted someone. Like I threw a crappy pass ‘oh… Sorry!’ just because they deserved a better pass than that and I will try to do better in the future. An apology without change means even less than an apology for politeness sake.

  4. sbg says

    Excuse me, in essence, is saying “I’m sorry”. You’re asking to be excused, or forgiven. Same goes with pardon. 😉

    And I prefer all three to someone pounding on the counter or generally demanding without some sort segue.

    Example: I had one guy at the hotel basically rubbing it in my face when I made, to him, an error. He basically gave me grudging forgiveness for being such a nit and screwing his credit card up. I did not make an error, and refused to apologize for following proper procedure, even if it didn’t work out for him. Upon which he continued to abuse me, my brain capacity and my general politeness in a really uncalled for fashion.

    He did not start his tirade politely. It started off with him shaking at anger at the person behind the counter (me), and that does not endure a customer to me.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    I believe no one should ever utter the words “I’m sorry” unless they mean it. Just a personal pet peeve.

    Most women are conditioned to be peacemakers, and sometimes that involves apologizing for things that aren’t our faults. Most men are conditioned to apologize only if they are responsible for the wrongdoing. I think the second way is best for everyone. Apologizing just to please someone else is dishonest, and it leads to passive-aggressive behavior.

    As for saying “I’m sorry” as an opener… I used to do that, but I stopped. Simply because I noticed that successful people of both genders, in my experience, don’t open that way without good reason. For example, if the server screwed up, they just politely say “This isn’t what I asked for.” But if they’re making a weird and inconvenient request of the server, starting off with “I’m sorry to be difficult, but…” would be appropriate. And sincere.

  6. scarlett says

    I agree with Beta… using ‘I’m sorry’ as an opener to me is admitting guilt or remorse. There are other ways of getting someone’s attention – and doing it politely – then opening with an apology. Saying ‘I’m sorry to bother you’ when someone has stuffed up your order and you want it rectified seems stupid to me, and it takes away from the legitimacy of genuine regret when you do it all the time. I’ll respond just as well to ‘excuse me’ as I will ‘I’m sorry to bother you’.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, and in the case of servers, I make it a point to learn their names so that instead of saying “Excuse me” I can just call them by name. Also something I gleaned from watching successful people at work.

    By “successful”, I mean people I personally feel do something admirable well – not necessarily the Donald Trumps of the world. 😉

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