I’m not sorry. So why do I keep saying it?

To the quasi-aggressive fellow straphanger who wasn’t looking and ran smack into ME: “So Sorry!”

To the school committee members who are borderline harassing me to join the fundraising efforts: “Sorry, I can’t help out…”

To my husband who asked if I’m getting my period soon in response to me saying I felt anxious; “Sorry, must be the terrorist attack that just occurred in our city – forget I mentioned it.”

To a client who continually miscommunicates his expectations: “Sorry, I will fix that asap.”

I didn’t feel one shred of remorse in any of those scenarios, and yet my knee-jerk reaction was to incessantly apologize. This realization gave me pause; I needed to take a moment to evaluate these situations. A little self-examination and a few snacks later, I began to see the connection between why I apologize and to whom. 

Nobody likes a rude person, but incessantly apologizing to strangers you bump on the street is fruitless and self-defeating. I live in a city of 8.5 million people and consequently will unwittingly bump into someone. This is an easy one to eliminate from the apology arsenal. Let’s all be adults and assume we are not trying to cause bodily harm as we go about our day.

Looking at our close relationships is a little more challenging. My core tendency to apologize lays in my relationship with my family and husband. The expectation that I will be the first to apologize was cemented long ago. It doesn’t matter that my husband’s default response is to blame my fluctuating hormones (wrong on so many levels) rather than ask me what was actually bothering me.

As women, we tend to prioritize peace-keeping in our homes, our place of work and apparently, on public transportation. The idea that there’s conflict, ill-will or bad feelings can make us so uncomfortable that we will downplay our truth and apologize just to avoid other people feeling our discomfort.

After resolving our momentary tiff, I queried my husband and asked him to reflect on his apologizing M.O. Not surprisingly, he didn’t do it very often save for the occasional misunderstanding at work, (“Sorry, I wasn’t clear on the expectation”) and even admitted that he had a difficult time saying it when he did. We are just two people but I suspect we reflect a good portion of the population in terms of gender and propensity to apologize.

If needless apologizing is an ailment we are suffering from, saying no is a closely-related symptom. We love to soften the blow of declining an invitation with a heartfelt sorry, don’t we? I’ve even pushed off a new “no” by saying “maybe” to buy myself time. Newsflash: We can feel badly that we can’t attend or help with something, but we don’t need to apologize.

Here’s what I am going say next time I’d rather not do something: “I’m not able to make it to your party, but appreciate the invitation!” or “I am unable to help on your committee at this time – wish you all the best as you pursue fundraising for the Senior trip abroad!” Both of these responses end with a positive thought and feel better than simply responding with a flat “no.”

Let’s have our yeses be yes, our nos be no, and not apologize for any of them. Who’s with me?