I think it comes of not having apologized enough in the first 20 or 25 years of my life. With a naturally aggressive personality, I was unapologetically myself. And that sounds great, in a novel. In real life, where actions have consequences, sometimes we end up owing someone an apology even if we didn’t mean to cause them any badness.
That is fairly new information for me. The idea that maybe I bear some of the responsibility for things I don’t intend is really difficult to get my mind around in a productive way. In the past few years I have begun to be made aware of the way other people react to things that I say and do. I blame my husband for this. J is always saying things like, “If your dad is making this face, you should probably stop talking right away.” And you know what? It’s EXHAUSTING. I never understood when I was younger why everyone thought it was so “brave” or whatever when I spoke my mind. Now I do. Speaking your mind when you have a clue about what it might do to other people is often terrifying. Sometimes I have even wished I was able to live my life without being outspoken.
Where I am right now is the place of apologizing all the time. When I’m late. When I’m early. When I’m on time. When I bring food. When I don’t bring food. When I say something and it’s awkward. When I say something in a really thoughtful way, and it’s still awkward. When it’s not awkward (I over-think things until I apologize just in case and then, well, it’s awkward).
Where I am going, I believe, is where I can be really clear about how much of a situation belongs to me. Maybe I’ll figure out which things are mine to apologize for, and which things just are what they are. One rule of thumb once I get to that place will be not to apologize if no one is upset, annoyed or even inconvenienced. What not to say: “I’m sorry I want to make this meal instead of that other meal I suggested, even though you didn’t seem to care either way…will you still eat it?”
I will think a lot about moments when other people are having their Big Feelings and while I will certainly own and apologize for things that are mine, I will not clumsily attempt to carry the blame for something that does not belong to me. I will remember how much that can be like grabbing at the shadow of someone else’s baggage. Because if I do that, probably I’ll just trip and fall on my face, I won’t actually help them, and then they’ll still have their baggage just like before. In the end (okay, in the middle…), I’m finding that too much apologizing is no better than not enough.