top of page

Never Say “I’m Sorry.”

One of the quickest ways to totally confuse, and often piss-off, another person is to reject their apology as meaningless. Even if it’s just a statement of fact. The words “I’m sorry” don’t mean anything. Nothing.

They COULD mean lots of things, but I don’t like the game where one person says something, then the other person tries to guess what they mean, makes decisions about things based on their guessed-at meaning, and then later gets bit in the ass because that wasn’t what the other person meant. It’s a crappy game.

What does I’m sorry mean? It could mean, “this is not what I intended,” “I didn’t think you’d catch me,” “I’m confused by your response and I don’t know what to do,” “can we just pretend this never happened,” “I don’t like seeing you in pain,” “I don’t enjoy knowing that I caused this,” “I want to fix this,” “I’m embarrassed and don’t want to talk about it,” “this is just the way it is….”

But, “I’m sorry?” I don’t know what to do with that on a tactical level. It shows no understanding of the situation, whatever it is. And without an understanding of the situation, it’s very likely to repeat itself. Worse than that, it does not involve the person saying “I’m sorry” taking any responsibility for their own actions – it literally takes the focus OFF of the offending act and on to the person who felt bad as a result.   So, I’m sorry, but “I’m sorry” is not useful information to me.

Sounds bitchy, right? But, I approach every situation as if it is nothing more than the result of a series of actions that took place on the way to a happy ending.  Some results feel good, and I want more of those. Some results feel terrible, and I want less of those. But unless I understand the actions that led to the result, I’m not going to be able to effectively replicate or avoid them to get the result that I want.

In the scientific method of conducting the experiment of life, “I’m sorry” is junk data.

As soon as I hear the words, “I’m sorry,” I know there’s a conversation that needs to be had. And I get all excited. We’re gonna learn stuff, grow, make progress, figure things out, get to the next level.

I think I’m alone in my enthusiasm for these little experiments.

Let’s say that you told me we would go swimming this weekend. Instead of going swimming, you chose to go skiing with some other friends. So you say, “I’m sorry.”

Do you regret the decision to go skiing instead? If yes, why? Rather than saying, “I’m sorry,” you might mean, “I think I caved to the peer pressure, they were giving me shit about not hanging out with them enough, so I went, and the whole time I realized I have more fun with you.”   Cool, we learned something. I feel confident that this will not keep happening.

If no, why? Rather than saying, “I’m sorry,” which might be false, you could say, “I know that I told you we’d go swimming, but the truth is, I’ve been feeling a bit stuck, and I just needed to go out with the guys and get my groove back. If you are uncomfortable with that, we should figure out why, but the truth is, I like spending time with my friends and I need to do more of that.”  Cool, now we can figure out how to spend time together in a way that doesn’t make you feel stuck, because the last thing I want is the slow simmering death of resentment.

Either one of those engages a conversation that gives you the kind of data you need in order to make decisions that help your relationship rather than hurt it.

Even if it’s not news that you want to hear. For instance, you tell me that you have realized that you want to ski every single weekend. I have a right to know that, so that I can choose how to integrate you into my life. It may be that I don’t want a relationship in which I can never see you on weekends, and I may choose to end it.  Or, I may tell you that I actually like the time and space, and we are both even happier.  Because we had the conversation, we both have a clearer idea of what we want and can build new relationships – together or apart – using that new understanding. “I’m sorry” would not have gotten us there.

A lot of times people apologize for things that they needn’t apologize for. Never apologize for your taste, your opinions, your values, your needs. On the contrary, live with them honestly and with integrity. If people know who you are and what you value, and you act in accordance with that, then you have nothing to apologize for.

By being honest in your actions, however small, there is never a reason to apologize.

“I’m sorry” seems to be used as a way to “fix” someone else’s feelings or reactions to something. That will never be your job. People need to have and deal with their own emotions honestly. You will, I promise, hurt and disappoint people in your life. And that’s okay. As long as you acted with integrity, then you need to let people process their own shit, their own way.  Assume they have both the strength and sensibilities to learn and grow from their life, but their process is not yours to control.

Lastly, if you are apologizing because you knowingly did something hurtful to me, don’t bother. And don’t expect me to protect you from the natural results of your actions. If you caused me pain, I will learn from it, and I will not deny you the opportunity to learn from it as well. If you don’t like the results, then it’s up to you to decide to behave differently. But don’t apologize for it, learn from it.

I was dating a guy who I really liked, but he kept cancelling plans, so I ended it.  He asked why, and I explained that I like to know that people will do what they say they will, and won’t do what they say they won’t.

He apologized to me. I laughed (the whole conversation was very light and friendly,) and said, “you have nothing to apologize for, at all.” “I don’t get it then, if you’re not mad, why are you ending it?” “It just is what it is, I’m not mad, but it doesn’t work for me.”  “I’m sorry.” “No, really, don’t be. You’re awesome. Don’t apologize for being you.”

I was true to myself. And I gave him the opportunity to learn that his actions have consequences and if he didn’t like the consequences, he would know how and why to change his actions, next time.

I’m constantly telling people not to apologize to me. I think that they think I’m being generous or understanding or something. I’m not. Usually when people are apologizing to me it’s for something that doesn’t warrant an apology. If it’s the truth, there’s nothing to apologize for.

If you were rude or thoughtless, don’t apologize; explain what you learned, then just don’t keep doing it. If you don’t like the results of your actions, then change them, but don’t apologize and think that make it “all better.” Actions speak louder than words. Especially words with ambiguous meaning.

Ironically, the few times that I’ve really deserved an apology, I’ve not gotten one. Which is okay, because what I really wanted was to understand the situation and for the person to take responsibility for their actions. But in a world where we can just say, “I’m sorry,” that’s just not gonna happen. I no longer associate with those people.

It’s not because they didn’t apologize, it’s because they had no integrity. And because I assumed nothing was going to change, and have the right to choose something better. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, ignorance is hell.


bottom of page