Kit Steinkellner
June 26, 2015 7:00 am

Do you find yourself  apologizing for things you’re not really sorry for? Like “I’m sorry, but parking is assigned here and this is actually my spot,” or “I’m sorry, but there’s a bug the size of my thumb in my meal, could you please take it back?” Of course we’re not sorry that people are ignoring the million signs posted around our apartment building and parking wherever they please and we’re not sorry that the kitchen’s vermin issues all of a sudden became our very unpleasant lunchtime problem. And still we apologize.

We say sorry about things that are not our fault, things that are sometimes very much someone else’s fault the way we would apologize if we ourselves had committed the faux pas. There are men who preface a request with an apology, true, but this particular social quirk is, for the most part, something impressed upon women at a young age, a behavior we learn and then habitually fall back on throughout adulthood. The question, of course, is why? Why do we apologize when it’s completely unnecessary? Why do we say we’re sorry when we actually aren’t?

It’s a question author Sloane Crosley (she of I Was Told There’d Be Cake genius/glory) wrestles with in a recent op-ed for the New York Times. She comes up with a pretty compelling theory re: why ladies feel the need to insert an “I’m sorry” at the beginning of so many of our sentences.

I think it’s because we haven’t addressed the deeper meaning of these “sorrys.” To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing.

It’s a Trojan horse for genuine annoyance, a tactic left over from centuries of having to couch basic demands in palatable packages in order to get what we want. All that exhausting maneuvering is the etiquette equivalent of a vestigial tail.

So do we just start excising our sorry’s out of our daily vocabulary and reserving our apologies? I mean, yes, that’s pretty much exactly what Crosley thinks we should do.

It’s not what we’re saying that’s the problem, it’s what we’re not saying. The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want.

The idea of asking for something, especially asking for something from someone I don’t know very well, really makes me nervous. As a female, I have been hardcore socialized not to get within a thousand miles of anything resembling rudeness, and my “I’m sorry’s” feel kind of like a social security blanket at this point.

That said, I think Crosley is right. I think it does none of us good to use language that constantly puts us on the defensive in cases where we don’t, in fact, have anything to defend. So I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take this one to heart, and do my best to stop apologizing for all the myriad things that happen every day that are maybe someone else’s fault, or maybe no one’s fault, but are definitely not my fault.

(Image via iStock)

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