One of the most dramatically powerful artforms in human relationships is a good apology.
A good apology can soften the hardest heart, heal deep wounds and restore hope to what seemed lost.
But…there are a lot of bad apologies floatin’ around out there. And I’m here to point out the bogus ones and help us learn how to do it right.
Most of the times I hear someone attempt an apology, my inner George Costanza comes out and I start muttering, “You can stuff your sorries in a SACK!” And George is right… most sorries are only worth a sack stuffing…
Because I dare say that 85% of apologies – blow. Yup. They’re terrible. They’re either disingenuous or lazy or just plain wrong.
First – let’s talk about what a good apology is NOT:
1. A passive aggressive way to criticize someone.
I have a friend who’s in a bit of tense ongoing conversation with her parents and she receieved a text from her mother, apologizing, seemingly sincerely, about not having told my friend earlier all the ways in which she was disappointing her. What? That’s like saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner that you suck.” That, friends, is NOT an apology. That’s a coward’s way of skirting around an issue. Just say what you mean – don’t couch it as something good and kind like an apology, when all it is is criticism.
2. A sneaky back-handed way of shifting the blame back onto someone else.
This one is common in romantic relationships. Example: “I’m sorry that you were sensitive and took what I innocently said and heard it as something hurtful.” Translation: “You’re insane and I did nothing wrong. But, I’m sorry that you’re crazy.”
If you really don’t think you did ANYthing wrong… then there is still a way to do a “sorry you got upset” without invalidating the other person…but that’s a conversation for another day.
3. A way to end an uncomfortable situaion, rather than a true attempt at peace.
Saying something generic like, “I’m just sorry this whole thing happened…let’s move on” leaves the other person thinking (and correctly so), that all you’re really sorry about is that you’re having to endure some relational discomfort. A much better tactic at this point would just be to take a break and come back calmer to do the real apologizing.
4. JUST saying “sorry.”
Sure, the world of romantic-comedies has women HOPING for the empassioned and pleading “I am a lout and am unworthy of a woman like you…. is there ANY way you’d take me back???” apology that dips into the pool of idol worship and unquestioned adoration. Heck – I’d take one of those any day! But, it’s not realistic. And not particularly healthy.
However, the other end of that continuum – the weak, half-hearted “whatever” of apologies is no bueno either. Pushing out the word “sorry” from your unyielding, annoyed lips doesn’t count. It’s not honest. And everyone knows it.
A true apology contains these elements:
– Acceptance of responsibility
That’s it, folks. I’m here to say that you don’t even need to FEEL a ton of remorse to offer up a decent apology…though, remorse definitely makes it better.
But, sometimes you apologize for something because you KNOW you erred and you hurt someone, but the feelings of sorrow haven’t caught up with you yet because your body’s too busy feeling frustrated or embarrassed or….the biggest player in this game –> stubbornly prideful.
And yet…you recognize the wrong you’ve done, and you make it right.
That’s all it is – seeing your error and making it right. Restoration. Repair.
When my children mess up and hurt each other, they have to apologize to the other person and include WHAT they did wrong.
Bad: “Sorry…” (eyes rolling, half whispering it as you walk past the other person)
Good: “I’m sorry for scratching you with my toy.”
They have to identify what the ‘wrong’ piece was and own it.
That’s all we have to do as grown-ups too! The problem is that our silly pride gets in the way. And so often, BOTH people are at fault, and in our stubbornness, we don’t want to admit our OWN culpability until they do theirs. We want things to be FAIR.
But, what would happen if we tried- even as a social experiment – apologizing for our part of something REGARDLESS of whether the other person ever owned up to his/her stuff. And see if it doesn’t make relationships move more smoothly and make you feel better.
The other day I had a small moment of friction with a friend where he said something that hurt my feelings. But, when we talked about it, I realized that I am probably overly-sensitive in this area because of some junk in my past… and so I may ‘require’ my friends to tread softly in that arena. And that’s not altogether bad… good friends recognize each others’ areas of woundedness and can be especially tender in those places. But, I also have to own up to my fragility and not put all the blame for my hurt on him. So, I said so – without demanding anything back… and it was HARD! It’s hard to press the pause button on waiting for someone to say, “Oh – I hurt you? I am SO SORRY!” and simply call myself out on my own transgression. But I did… and it was quite freeing. For us both!
I think my willingness to take the one-down approach to the situation made him feel less like he was on the chopping block, and so he felt free enough to say he was sorry too.
And my apology didn’t negate his wrong. He still did say something hurtful. Me admitting my own frailty and apologizing for being overly senstitive doesn’t take away his role in the hurt. But, it helps shed light on the situation AND shows him that I’m willing to turn toward him, even while hurt, and do my part to make this right again.
The point is this – when friction arises… there’s a strong possibility that you’ve done SOMEthing to contribute to it. Even if the part you played was only 10% of the problem… if you identify that and take responsibility for it – you’re intentionally participating in restoration. And restoration is ALWAYS a good thing.
Don’t wait (necessarily) until you “feel” sorry… we are grown-ups… we can recognize when we’ve messed up even if our feelings of remorse haven’t caught up to our brains. Do the hard work of swallowing your pride to apologize for your piece…and see if it doesn’t move the whole relationship closer to wholeness.
I’ve recently started dating again and was trying a “new MO.” I confess that I watch The Millionaire Matchmaker and she has a rule of ” no sex before monogmamy.” So, I thought I’d give this a try. So, I dated this guy several times, liked him a lot, had lots in common etc. After we had a discussion about seeing other people, we decide to make the whoopee.
Bad bad bad.
It was so bad on so many levels that I’m embarrassed to go there again. Here’s my dilemma…in the old days, it was an easy fix.
But since I’ve gone out so many times and I genuinely like him as a person, how do you ditch someone over bad sex (not to mention unfortunate anatomy issues)?
Thanks for your wisdom and advice.
Dear Disappointed in bed,
First – let me just applaud you for making the bold and counter-cultural decision to wait on having sex. I know this couldn’t have been an easy choice when the temptation is so strong!
And the issue of when to take intimacy all the way is a touchy one (no pun intended) because I know I have readers on every part of the continuum from no-rules to no-sex-before-marriage and everything in-between. So – let me make this caveat that my answer to this question isn’t a commentary on when people should enter into a sexual relationship, but rather, thoughts on how a less-than-desirable sexual partnership can be turned around.
Ok – so – are you sure you want to end it? Have you come to that conclusion? Or is part of you wondering if this is salvageable? Not surprisingly, I have some thoughts on this.
I don’t think bad sex is insurmountable. Now – please don’t hear me say that I think people need to settle for less than everything they want in the bedroom… I think it’s great to aim for an amazing sex life. BUT – I think the factors that make the sex bad – can be fixed. Hear me out.
If you find a good man (and that’s a big if, I’ll admit), then you can turn bad sex into hot sex.
If the problem isn’t the sex, but the person behind it, then…yeah …it may be time to end it.
But, if the person you’re with WANTS you – that is, he wants you physically AND he wants to know you and love you, then you have all the tools you need to have great sex…with a little help.
My dad used to tell us (yes – my pastor father …dispensing sexual wisdom to his children…it’s true!) – that the most important sex organ is the mind. Not the “bathing suit parts.” If you devote yourself to another person, make their wants/needs as or more important than your own, learn about them and care for them in this way, you can have the hottest sex life. It’s true.
But, it also requires the scary step – communication. And communicating about sex is one of the most terrifying subjects, especially when you’re not on the same page. Talk about vulnerability! Talking to someone about how they are when they’re at their MOST exposed (literally naked) is the trickiest conversation to have.
THIS is why many people save sex for when they’ve reached the point in the relationship where they feel emotionally safe enough to talk about anything. Where they feel loved and cared for so much that they have the FREEDOM to speak up about any issue. This might also be why first date sex isn’t always as sizzling hot as you’d hoped… because you aren’t in a place where you can let your desires be known.
Reader – if this man seems like a catch in other ways, (and…heck…if you’re ready to, as you say, “ditch” him, then you really have nothing to lose), why not talk about this in a gracious way? You might be surprised that he WANTS to have this talk because he’s eager to please you in this arena. Now, obviously, this is an area in which to tread softly and use non-judgmental language. But, I’ll bet if you broach it tenderly, maybe over a glass of wine, and using phrases like, “I really like you and I’m excited about making this thing great. Would it be ok with you if we try a couple things differently next time we’re in the bedroom? I really like it when…”
I know what some of you are thinking… “some people just aren’t sexually compatible.” And I call BS. If you have the right parts, you’re sexually compatible. That’s just physics. A plug and an outlet will always WORK, unless something else is wrong. What most people mean when they say that, is that they’re not compatible in other ways – communication, intimacy, levels of desire, the ways you express passion, etc. But all of those things are areas that CAN be changed or modified if you care about someone enough to truly learn them and they you.
That whole joke/phrase that women say and men scoff at: “size doesn’t matter… it’s how you use it,” ….well, I think there’s some real truth to that. I’m not saying that body types don’t enter into this discussion at all – but at the core of great sex – is desire, care, understanding, ….love.
So – I say, don’t go down without fighting. You don’t have anything to lose. If you try to talk about things and his ego can’t handle it…then you’ve just gained more information about him and he’s perhaps not the catch you thought he was. And then, breaking things off becomes easier too – because you have more reasons than just bad sex – you have the much greater dealbreaker of his unwillingness to do the work to make the relationship great.
But, maybe you’ll be surprised that he likes you enough to endure a little conversational discomfort for the sake of compatibility – in every room of the house.
Today’s topic: the internal monologue, also known as intrapersonal communication or, “self-talk.”
Now, before you go all Stuart Smalley on me, (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people LIKE me!)… I’m talking about something a little more nuanced and therapeutic than all that.
This is a skill I’ve been working on in my own life over the last decade, …though, at some level we do this from birth. Remember talking to yourself as a child? Or talking to an imaginary audience? Or just that silent dialogue in your head that you’d go through when thinking about something? It’s all part of it. But, for today’s post, I want to talk about self-talk, as it relates to interpersonal conflict.
One of the most difficult elements of relationships, is that all-too freely given – criticism. Some people are well-intentioned and offer up “constructive criticism” to help you – and to help heal/improve the relationship. Others are narcissistic jerks who feed on tearing others down to feel empowered and adored. And then there are all those moments in-between – moments that have SOME truth, and SOME unnecessary damage – all in one tidy conversation.
What do we do when criticism comes our way? And it will!
One of the first lines of defense, is the art of self-talk.
If you take the time to know yourself and to know what it TRUE about you, one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal is to TELL YOURSELF those truths WHILE someone is berating you. Imagine a scenario where someone is talking to you in a condescending way and intimating – not full-on saying it, mind you – but implying that you aren’t smart enough. You can be saying to yourself, in your mind – “I know that I AM an intelligent person.” And while it definitely doesn’t take the sting of the criticism away – it does take the “BUY-IN” out of the scenario. The buy-in (my own lingo) is that slippery slope where we allow ourselves to believe untrue things about ourselves because of others’ critical remarks.
A friend and therapist I really respect, told me that when you’re dealing with a narcissist (and this applies to generally disagreeable or critical people as well), you only have two paths to take:
1. Escape. This can come in the form of numbing the pain (drugs, addictions to distract, etc.), divorce/separation, or the ultimate escape – suicide.
2. Belief. This is, in some ways, the emotionally easier route. Though, it is extremely self-destructive. Believing that what the other person says/believes about you is, in fact, true.
This can look different for lots of different situations:
- Your boss makes you feel small, so you accept that you’re not an important piece of the workplace.
- Your boyfriend criticizes your appearance, so you begin to believe you actually are ugly/unattractive.
- Your mother questions your life choices so much that you start to think you’re not smart enough on your own. The list goes on and on.
Accepting criticism and hearing the truth in it is an elegant character trait. But, to do that wisely, you have to know what is true and what isn’t, and be able to hear criticism for what it truly is – to be able to tease out the truth. And the best way to do this is to know yourself and speak to yourself during and after conflictual moments.
Example: I had someone in my life who would become easily angered and then tear me down. It went quickly from the actual point of frustration to claiming things about me in more global attacks. Often, this person would call me “lazy,” or “selfish” or “foolish.” And while those words cut – and hurt – I was running my own internal conversation with myself, self-soothing if you will, where I reminded myself of what was true about me – that I do work hard; that I care about others; and that I try to be thoughtful and wise. Obviously I’m not perfect. And everyone is selfish. But, to the extent that I CAN overcome that base human instinct, I give it my best. I would remind myself of specific circumstances that prove that to be true – mothering my children, sacrificing things I wanted/desired so that others could be happy, etc., etc. So – when the conversation was over, instead of having TWO problems (licking my wounds and wondering how I’d become so worthless), I could concentrate on the injustice at hand – that untrue things were said. Because my self-talk kept me confident in what was true.
Try it. Next time someone comes at you with anything remotely conflictual, be listening to them while running a script in your mind at the same time about what’s true about you. Even if you don’t yet know what do say, you can begin wtih thoughts like, “I’m worthy of love. I matter.” And see if it doesn’t help shape your emotional response to the attack. Sure, you’ll still have an obligation to respond gracioulsy, but your own spirit won’t be crushed. You will be able to recognize the truth in what that person was saying (that is – areas where you maybe DID mess up or areas where you DO have a blind spot), as well as shield yourself from the more broad-stroked personal attacks.
Because, despite the enormously high cheese factor, Stuart Smalley was onto something …unless you’re in the estimated 3% of society who don’t operate with a conscience (and that’s a whole other post!), you ARE good enough. And knowing your worth can make a world of difference when your enemies attack.
Over the years I’ve kind of developed this theory that what pornography does to men destructively, the cute romantic comedy and romance literature, and Disney movies do to women (obviously they’re not the same in terms of decency). I mean that it creates a false sense of the norm, generates unrealistic expectations, and encourages dangerous unhealthy behavior. That said, there’s a fine line between romantic and creepy. Things on the silver screen which can take your breath away positively, would negatively take your breath away in real life, and possibly end with mace. Wild romantic gestures, whether in a relationship or to initiate one, wreak of creepy more than cute in real life.
I think about this often. One of the recurring themes is the “supermarket serendipity”. Women often dream of meeting their guy at the grocery store. When I’m grocery shopping I notice women, but it certainly seems like the most inappropriate place to hit on girls. If you strike up a conversation over things in the buggy, that’s weird. If you look like you’re hanging out there to pick up chicks it’s pathetic.
When I go to the grocery store I leave the kids at home; it’s a mini vacation, and my grocery bill is lower. I love the idea of randomly bumping into someone and meeting, but it definitely seems like poor timing. We’ve all got ice cream in our carts, and making a date is next to impossible.
Oh well, I’ll quit blabbering, but I’m curious what you think.
Well, we talked about the idea of women’s unrealistic romantic fantasies/expectations in Part 1, but today, I’m going to tackle the way more fun topic of the ACTUAL supermarket serendipity.
Yes – many women have this fantasy in their mind – that while at some public forum, a dashing single man will notice them and initiate conversation…ending in a kismet moment that they’ll look back on 3 kids and 10 happily married years later, and smile.
Is that too much to ask?? (kidding… no, but seriously. ok, ok – kidding.)
Before we launch in – let me say that YES – this can flop. Yes, these moments can be disastrous. I’ve heard several accounts of this going awry – women who are all-but-stalked in a grocery store where some guy follows them and then hits them up with an unbidden conversation dripping with an alarmingly high creepy factor and a suspiciously multi-level-marketing-ish tone.
That’s NOT what I’m talking about. Those are men who are ‘hunting,’ not just noticing/looking. A man on the prowl is different from a man who notices you’re getting a bottle of wine he loves and uses that as a springboard for authentic conversation.
What I AM talking about is a man (or woman!) being bold enough to acknowledge someone who strikes his fancy – and reading his audience so he doesn’t creep her out, but initiates a conversation that they can continue later if they’re both interested.
I carry cards with me that have my name, website and phone number on them, so that if something like this ever happens and I’m intrigued, I can give a guy one of my cards, flash him my winning smile and tell him with my equal-parts-seductive-and-genuinely-friendly eyes that I’d look forward to hearing from him. Boom.
The problem with these public conversation start-ups is that people feel more exposed and vulnerable than they do in more culturally acceptable venues. Men will easily sidle up to you at a bar or a club and tell your their life story, but ask a man about a ripe avocado and watch the fear take over his face. Geez… why is it BETTER to be ‘picked up’ at a bar than at Whole Foods? I dare say that I’m more my true self while checking out with my quinoa, kale, and ice cream (see …if you get enough health foods, you can sneak in the junk and NO one will notice…) than 2 craft beers in at my local watering hole. I’m the real life me – not the dolled up, tipsy version. Plus – think of all the fuel for conversation! At least once every couple of weeks, I’ll remark on what someone ahead of me or behind me is purchasing – man OR woman. If I see steaks, veggies, wine and cheese, I’ll often joke, “So! What time shall I be there for dinner?” People always chuckle and it usually opens us up to a brief conversation. Or I’ll ask someone who’s buying something I’ve never tried, if it’s good. What do you have to lose?
Tell you what – here are some simple tips for lighting the match of a potential match – in the grocery store (these can be adapted for WalMart/Target, home improvement stores, boutiques, jiffy lubes, and on and on the list goes):
– DO smile and be yourself, even if that means a little stuttering or tripping over your words. We find that way more endearing than the slurred speech you’ll give us a few hours later while ordering your stout.
– Do NOT follow a woman through the aisles. Speak or don’t. But, don’t stalk her until you get up your nerve. Having a ‘tail’ isn’t romantic, it’s cause for a restraining order.
– DO start the conversation with something relevant (about what you’re buying, etc. I’ve had men give me tips on which wines are good when they see me surveying the options. I’d be happy for them to follow that up with, “You know… I know a great wine bar not too far from here… if you’d ever want to go grab a drink?”)
– Do NOT use a ‘line’ like you might at a bar. “So…you come here often?” doesn’t really dazzle the way you think it will at Kroger/Jewel/Publix. Of course we come here often. We eat.
– DO make friendly eye-contact. It’s the first bait you can put out to see if she’ll bite. Does she look back and smile? Bam! That’s your invitation to strike up a friendly conversation. If she rolls her eyes, well – you have your answer.
– DO read your audience. If she’s racing through the store in a near panic, she does NOT have the time to be hit on. If she’s exasperated with 6 children nipping at her heels…she’s not feeling sexy. If she’s buying tampons, ice cream, St. John’s wort and the latest Cosmo…well, I’ll let that speak for itself. But, if she’s shopping leisurely and seems in good spirits, I say you go for it.
– DO go for it! What’s the worst that will happen? She’ll dismiss you and move on? Ok – well, you didn’t know her before, so you’ve lost nothing. And perhaps you’ve gained a bit of bravery?!
I talk with people all the time – men and women – who don’t want to do the online dating thing because they want their love story to start off “more organically.” But, what does that MEAN? If online dating is too contrived, I can understand that – but, then what? Does that mean you don’t ever take the initiative to make contact with someone in public? Are bars ok, but Lowe’s isn’t? Is Friday night salsa dancing acceptable, but forget saying hello at church on Sunday morning? Or are you ONLY waiting for someone to introduce you? You might be waiting a long time.
Women like to be wanted. And we like when men take a risk. If you start up conversation while waiting in line for your Diet Coke at Burger King, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Instead of waiting for life to plop someone in your lap, why not look around at who life has plopped within 30 feet!? That way you can have it your way – right away.
The post last week about women’s expectations of fantasy/romance (you can read it here) has sparked quite the feedback, especially from my male readers. Totes interesante.
In particular, my friend and blog-reader I referred to in the post as being a real-life romantic, wrote to me about a theory of his, that WOMEN create the unromantic men. Interesting, no?
So, I decided to post our sparring here for you to read. Enjoy. And feel free to weigh in with your opinions!
For far too long, women have claimed they mature earlier than men. When it comes to relationships, I posit a contrary hypothesis. Men learn in their early teens that sensitivity is rewarded with rejection. Middle and high school girls enjoy the bad boys. They cling to guys who treat them poorly. Guys learn quickly to deal with heartbreak and – perhaps through survival instinct – that an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure.
Sarah asked whether women’s expectations have been skewed by romantic comedies. I prefer to believe that women are capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Instead, women are reaping the rewards (or consequences, as a matter of perspective) of years of male training.
Here’s a muscular analogy in honor of Sarah. Think of men in the comfortable colloquialism piled on us for ages. Men are dogs. In a sense, this is true. We have been trained to salivate for the bells women ring. Our greatest desire is to be happy with a woman. To achieve that end, we strive for attention. When we fail, we observe those who succeed. When women/girls provide attention to the bad boys and ignore the nice guys, we notice. We learn. We adapt.
The next time the bell rings, we salivate in the desired way, expecting the reward. It works. The behavior is reinforced. This pattern continues with reinforcement of those behaviors through high school and college. By the time women realize they want something different, those dogs are trained.
Not wanting to accept the responsibility for their actions, women blame men’s behavior on movies, porn, immaturity, selfishness, or not being raised right. The dogs continue to salivate at the sound of the bell. Women, now desperate to find something more tangible, provide rewards for less than they want – further reinforcing the behaviors they no longer desire.
Women begin to adapt. The security of a relationship being their reward; lowering their expectations, their salivation. Men continue to observe.
Today’s moral, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Brad… may I?
I wholeheartedly agree that much of what women complain about in men – we have only to blame ourselves for. We have contributed to the unfortunate cycle by settling for less than what we truly want, or rewarding the sort of behavior that feeds on insecurities rather than cultivates confidence.
But… (and there’s always a but in this contrarian mind of mine)… in the same way that not all men drink the kool-aid of high school conditioning, not all women are drawn to jerks. In
fact, there is a large contingent of us who didn’t even DATE in high school because the inverse of your theory was at play.
Guys want to date the girls who don’t have self-esteem and will LET themselves be abused. And girls like me – who were raised in a healthy home and taught that our value lies in our character – don’t get asked out. So….which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Sure – high school boys look around and see weak-willed women swooning at a guy who has the emotional intelligence of a doorknob and so they slowly morph into a bad boy archetype. But, aren’t women (girls) taught the same thing – just mirrored back? We look around at the girls who get asked out and it’s the ones who are throwing up in the bathroom between classes to keep their waists thin, who are panting at the scraps of attention thrown their way by a self-centered tool, and who laugh at the jokes that subversively make fun of them – not standing up for themselves because that would probably push jerky-boy away.
I’m not sure what the answer is (not that I don’t have lots of THOUGHTS about how these things begin in our families of origin, experiences, etc.). But I do know that unilaterally blaming women for men acting like trolls can’t be right…
I mean, c’mon – sugar and spice and all that!? (wow… who’s thirsty for tea?)
Of course there are exceptions, but on the whole, human beings develop behaviors that are rewarded. The problem now is that women in the dating pool are competing for extremely limited resources. You addressed this in a previous post to your readers. Ignoring exceptions, I see two possibilities:
You’ve made your bed. Lie in it. The pool of men has been shaped by your hands ladies. Accept the results and move forward. I suggest treating the sculpture the way you would children’s artwork. It isn’t pretty, but you find the good in it and focus there. Most guys are still worthy of refrigerator magnets.
Take your ball and go home. So you don’t want to face the results of your creative efforts? Fine. Enough women will choose to accept the flawed men in the dating pool – providing no reason for the men to change. Stay home and complain about how terrible the men are “out there”.
Enjoy the “Spinserthood of the Traveling Rants”, available now in paperback.
So, there you have it folks… what do YOU think?
Brad Culbertson has been teaching elementary education in Florida for ten years. His two children, Kendall, 14, and Gabriel, 12, and his love, Jaime, are his greatest passions. He has published a book of poems dedicated to her available here and he is currrently writing his first novella. Sneak a peek here.