So here’s a topic I can weigh in on with some first-hand experience. I was married for 4 years. Anyone who has been married can tell you, apologies are a basic daily standard component of a marriage, for slights and missteps either real or perceived. In short, if you ever get married, you are going to be doing a hell of a lot of apologizing. Therefore, I have become a sort of connoisseur of the art of the apology, both as the giver and recipient (but totally mostly the giver). I learned the right way to do it, I learned the wrong way to do it, but most importantly, I learned there are three basic types of apologies:
1) The actual heart-felt contrite apology
Oh sure, you can try to fake this one, but it’s tough. A seasoned apologisee (let’s just pretend that’s a word for the sake of this argument, k?) can usually see right through this charade. But assuming your apology is real, it usually manifests itself in several very important ways:
a) It is usually near-instantaneous. i.e. you know before the offending words have even finished coming out of your mouth you have stepped in it. The “I’m sorry” is often spoken within the same breath.
b) It is given without conditions or qualifiers, or a long narrative immediately after the “I’m sorry” part about why you’re still right, dammit.
c) It is often, but not always, accompanied by an act of contrition. In the case of married couples, expect hours drudging through the mall, buying dinner, and quite possibly suffering through a mind-numbingly insipid romantic comedy. In the case of a certain political talking head calling someone a “slut,” a self-imposed unpaid suspension is a good way to start.
d) It is in proportion to the offense. If you forgot his/her birthday and you’re at your buddy’s place watching the game or something.. the most sincere heartfelt “I’m sorry” is just not going to cut it. Multiply that by 10, add in time, gifts, human sacrifices, etc. You have a lot to do to make the apology stick, and it’s going to involve a hell of a lot more than a few words.
Now on to apology #2) The “passable” if not totally heart-felt apology.
If you are married, or in a long-term relationship, you will get to know this one very, very well. Sometimes, there are battles you just can’t win. The longer you are in a relationship, the more you learn to lose the battle without losing the war. Inevitably, no matter how good the communication is between you and your significant other, there will be an impasse. There may be several. They may occur daily. They may seem to be very uniquely designed for the very express intention of putting you in a position where you are forced to apologize… but.. I digress.
Anyway, you and the other half have managed to piss each other off. Neither is going to back down. Someone has to, or else no one is going to make dinner or take the trash out. So, you swallow your pride, man (or woman) up, and just utter the words. It works… barely. Your partner knows the impasse isn’t going to be resolved, but is tired of fighting. They merely appreciate the gesture of saying you’re sorry, even if they know you totally don’t mean it. The words themselves are enough… for the time being. So what constitutes apology type 2:
a) It is not immediate, but fairly soon after the blow-up (almost certainly within 24 hours).
b) It may be, very briefly, followed by a short qualifier or attempted explanation of why you said what you said or did what you did, angling for empathy but not going as far as to retract your apology or to deflect blame (this attempt totally won’t work, but you’ll feel less like a sap).
c) It at least espouses the fact that you don’t want to fight, and that you’ll swallow your pride for the sake of quelling acrimony. It’s not the full monty of apologies, but it will do.
d) It is at least close to being in proportion to the offense. i.e. if you said something a tad insensitive, the quasi-apology may suffice, sans the bouquet of roses or acquiescence to watching the Julia Roberts flick. If it’s for something big, or a lot of stuff, chances are this type of apology isn’t going to cut it. If it does, you are one hell of a bullshit artist..
And that leads us to……
3) The bullshit apology
This one, may look like an apology, sound like an apology (at least 2 words worth) but it is totally not an apology at all. In the course of a relationship, you will do this, whether you realize you are doing it or not. For a lot of couples, they experience the pain of giving and receiving this one and it is the only way to learn to move on to types 1 and 2. The “apology” in this case is merely a doorway to jump right back on and keep hammering away at the point that got you in the shit in the 1st place, or to deflect blame on your partner or someplace else besides yourself.
It won’t fool your partner, and it will only prolong the misery. Sure, while you’re yammering on you think you might “break through” and that your partner will finally see it your way (or buy your bullshit), but that of course defies the logic of even giving an apology in the 1st place. This behavior comes about for one of 2 reasons. 1) You are not being mature and rational (very common in relationships) or 2) You are being an asshole. And of course when you’re being an asshole, it’s either because: a) you’re using really bad judgment at the moment in spacetime or b) you’re an asshole.
Here are the bullet points of the bullshit apology:
a) The words say you’re sorry, but the actions don’t. Trying to deflect blame onto anyone other than yourself is not an apology. Following up the “I’m sorry” with 5001 rants that are merely a continuation of the shit that got you in the doghouse in the 1st place isn’t an apology. You’re just digging yourself deeper, whether you know or care.
b) The apology comes wayyyyyyyy after the offense. If you fucked up bad enough to totally piss off your partner to where they are like.. totally pissed off.. it means 1 of 2 things. 1) You fucked up real bad. I needn’t give examples. We know what that constitutes. 2) Your partner is totally fucking unreasonable. There’s actually good news for 1. You can redeem yourself. If it’s 2, you have bigger problems than mere apologies will solve. Anyway, if you fucked up real bad, any effective apology better come real soon. If it doesn’t come ’til like 3, 4 days, or a week after the fact, the credibility of your apology will be in serious question, as it should be.
c) It is nowhere close to being in proportion to the offense. Examples? “Hey.. sorry I kinda wrecked the car into a pole.. what’s for dinner?” Crude example there that usually only appears in sitcoms, but you get the idea. Let’s say instead of one big fuck-up like the prior example, you’re in the shit because of a series of nasty things said or insensitive actions over a period of days or weeks. If your partner hasn’t already put all your shit on the front lawn, you better have some serious passionate contrition lined up and a damn good explanation of why you were acting like a flaming shitbag for all that time. Well… tell you what. I have experience with that last one. On both sides (but mostly.. being the shitbag) And unfortunately.. sometimes no apology will do.
I bet you can guess where this is going in part 2….