Last night, I did what thousands of parents do every night on their way home from work: I stopped at the grocery store to pick up dinner. Although I try and plan out our dinners and shop on the weekends (as I detest trying to figure out what to make every night) I found myself needing to stop to pick up something quick. As I rounded the deli department, I walked past a woman who wasn’t paying attention and accidentally bumped her carriage into another carriage. A carriage that was alone. In the aisle. With no person attached to it. She immediately apologized to the carriage, and when she realized what she had just done, burst out laughing. I couldn’t help but join her. “Did I just apologize to a carriage?” she asked me.
Yes, it seems this is nothing new. Women apologizing. Feeling bad about something. Wanting to make everything better. Carriages and all. As nurturers, it might just be something in our DNA which makes some women lean towards the “I’m sorry” card when we want to fix something. I recently read an article about how women tend to over-apologize for well, just about everything. In I Am Woman, Hear Me Apologize: My Quest to Stop Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ All The Damn Time, writer Sydney Beveridge vows to take control over her self-described “over-apologetic” nature. She wants her words to “stop cowering, when they should stand tall.”
I wondered. Did I do this by apologizing? As a mom, I’m a caregiver and yes, of course I want everything to go smoothly for my family, and if it doesn’t or if someone is the least bit uncomfortable, I apologize. All. The. Time. I want everyone to feel okay and perhaps I say “I’m sorry” to make others feel better. It’s something I’ve done forever. I think as moms we are conditioned to say “I’m sorry” from the moment we give birth. We feel something fierce when one of our children is hurting and so of course it’s natural to say, “I’m sorry”. And we are. We are so sorry they are hurting and want to do everything in our power to make them feel better.
However, I think this apologizing can get out of control. I remember making my oldest apologize to her little sis when they were toddlers for pushing her. I’m not even sure she realized what she did, but she knew she had to say she was sorry. As they grew up, apologizing was part of being a kind person, and making sure when you hurt someone’s feelings you apologize. It’s called being kind. But then I think did I make them apologize without any real meaning behind it? Were they just apologizing to apologize? Did I toss the word “sorry” around so much it lost its meaning?
After the carriage accident, I laughed but then realized this could have been me. I love to say “I’m sorry”. If I miss a phone call from one of my sisters I call them back and apologize. I called my bank this past weekend and apologized for bothering the customer service representative. I was in awe by how often the word slips out. And I hear so many other women say it. Whether it’s to make someone feel better or because we are so used to it, we defer to it quite often.
I asked my husband if he notices women apologizing and he said absolutely. “You mean like you do?” was his immediate response. After agreeing that yes, this was what I meant, he nodded his head in agreement and said he hears women apologize all the time. Mostly to begin a sentence, “Like they think they are interrupting something,” he said. When I asked if he hears men do this, he emphatically said no. Come to think of it, I don’t often hear men saying “I’m sorry” either to begin a sentence.
As a mother to two teenage daughters, I know this is something I could be subconsciously passing along to them. I wonder if they are already apologizing for something or beginning their sentences like this? I know this is not the worst thing in the world, but wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t feel the need to always apologize?
Author, humorist and Distinguished Professor of English literature and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut, Gina Barreca, Ph.D., writes about this in a Women Apologize for Everything and I’m Sorry About That (Psychology Today, November 29, 2010). Barreca says she spends much of her day “apologizing, justifying, explaining, and asking for forgiveness.” “Women could save a lot of time in our lives if we stop double-thinking everything we say and everything we do,” she states.
So, I wonder… what if we made a conscious effort to NOT apologize for ever little thing? What if we did not feel responsible for things beyond our control like the elevator door closing or having to change an appointment. What if we tried to use other words instead of “I’m sorry” next time we have a disagreement? What if we held our heads high with confidence and compassion, and didn’t apologize to grocery carriages?
Or to to take a line from Demi Lovato, “Sorry, I’m not sorry.”