I had no idea how much of an apologiser I was until I recently set myself the task of going a full week without saying sorry. I’ve climbed mountains, I’ve birthed ten-pound babies without drugs, I’ve been to an Elton John concert and stayed conscious the entire way through, including two fucking encores. But nothing prepared me for how hard it would be to not say sorry for a week.
It all started because I read a great article a couple of weeks ago by Lena Dunham on the compulsion a lot of women have to apologise. Lena talked about how her father challenged her to live a week without saying sorry, and I figured, if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me!
The first thing I discovered was that I say sorry a lot. And I seem to use it as a form of friendly communications with strangers. It’s like my primitive way of letting them know I’m no physical threat to them. (Because otherwise I’m sure they’d be terrified.)
I said sorry to strangers on Day 1 when:
- I walked around a corner at the supermarket and someone was in my way with their trolley. “Sorry, can I get past please?”
- it was my turn to be served at the post office: “Sorry, I just want to pick up this parcel please.” (Extra points for also including “just” – UGH!)
- there were road works at the end of my street and I wasn’t sure whether I could use the footpath: “Sorry, can I go through there?”
- two of us arrived at the front door of kindy to pick up our kids: “Sorry, after you!”
- someone at the office misheard me and started off on a ranty tangent about something I didn’t say: “Sorry, that’s not what I said.”
- I accidentally walked in front of the cat trying to get to her bowl: “Sorry Sneakers.”
I mean, crap, this is Day 1. And this doesn’t even begin to cover how much I say sorry to people I know. Interestingly, I rarely feel the need to say sorry to my children, but I do it a lot with my husband, which bothers me because I feel like I’m handing him a whole lot of power or superiority on a silver platter that – believe me – he does not need.
The trick, I discovered on that first day, is that you need to have something locked and loaded that can replace the sorry. Lena Dunham had a grand idea in her article: “Well for starters, you can replace it with an actual expression of your needs and desires.”
So I started with, “Excuse me”. Which worked quite well for the first few days, but something strange happened around Day 4 when I was realised this still make me feel subordinate and like a bit of a loser. I started to think maybe Lena was right. So I started to be more direct.
- Can I get past please.
- I’ve come to collect my parcel please.
- Can I get through here?
- After you.
- No, that’s not what I said.
- You’re the cat; I’m the human. You can wait.
And what do you know, people responded to me better than they ever did when I was apologising. It seems being direct and asking for what you want is empowering and gives everyone the clarity they need to interact with confidence and then get on with their freaking day. Who knew? (Men, that’s who.)
Even my husband seems to appreciate the direct approach. I asked him about it at the end of the week and he said he hadn’t actually noticed a difference, but now that he thinks about it, “I haven’t had to work so hard to decode what the hell you’re on about lately.”
I’m going to cautiously call that a win.
So that’s where I’m at now. I am direct, forthright and clear in my communications. If I run over your foot or accidentally poke you in the eye, I’ll still say sorry. But I’m determined to cut the false mealy-mouth act and sound like the powerful woman that I like to think I am.
Are you an apologiser? Could you break the habit?