Women are notorious for apologizing for everything. It’s like the words don’t even register in our minds; they simply flow right off our tongue.
Trying to get around someone’s shopping cart at the grocery story? “Excuse me, I’m sorry.” Showing up 60 seconds late to day care to pick up your daughter, “Oh my goodness, I’m soooooooo sorry.” Even squeezing into a long line of traffic for most women brings a sheepish hand wave, half “Thank you,” and half “I’m sorry. I know you think I’m an asshole.”
Here’s a thought: Maybe people don’t think you’re an asshole.
This constant apologizing is exhausting. We apologize because we somehow assume we’ve disappointed/offended/annoyed/inconvenienced another human being.
But maybe we haven’t. Maybe people don’t care about us as much as we think they care about us. In a good way.
During my last doubles tennis match, I counted how many times the four of us apologized to each other for making a mistake during our warm up. The count came to 17. It was a 12-minute warm up, so that means someone uttered the words, “I’m sorry” more than once every 60 seconds.
The action that drew the most apologies was accidentally hitting the ball into the net instead of over it, therefore momentarily ending the back-and-forth warm-up rally.
The apologies happened without fail, every single time. And they got meaner with each mistake. “I’m sorry” statements that started out with an undertone of “Oh, silly me, ” soon escalated to “I’m soooo sorry.” There was an undertone of “I’m such an idiot. Why can’t I hit this little yellow ball over the net like a normal human being?
As a social experiment of sorts, I stayed after my match to watch a men’s doubles match. Not one “sorry” was uttered the entire match.
Like most tennis players, the men regularly made mistakes, even hitting the ball into the net during the warm up. But they never apologized for it because they considered it — and themselves — to be perfectly normal.
That’s life. Sometimes you hit the ball into the net.
Here’s what I observed as the difference between men and women on the court. For the men, hitting the ball into the net during warm up was a natural mistake and they quickly picked up the ball and moved on with their game and their lives. For the women, hitting the ball into the net during warm up was a clear indication of their inferiority and continued to play under that cloud.
And apparently on Venus people feel the need to apologize for their every move.
But maybe there’s something we can learn from Mars.
Case in point: Last Saturday I was in a yoga class with twelve women and one guy. About halfway through the class the instructor encouraged willing participants to attempt to “kick up to a handstand and see what happens.” It was a risky proposition. About one-third of the class gave it a whirl while the smarter two-thirds opted to relax in child’s pose and avoid bodily harm.
The one guy in the room, who was at least 6’2″ tall, went all in. He thrust his long arms down, and his long legs up and promptly landed in what appeared to be the perfect handstand.
Until it wasn’t.
Approximately seven seconds after striking his pose, he turned into The Leaning Tower of Pisa and all 74″ of his body went crashing down in the opposite direction from which he came — meaning head over heels. He flopped down on his back like a fish out of water and frightened the shit out of every woman in the room.
I happened to be right next to him and as I saw him crashing to the ground, I prepared my sympathetic response (“Oh, it’s OK. Don’t worry about it. It’s perfectly fine”), ready to console him for when he said, “Oh my Lord, I’m so sorry.”
But he never said he was sorry.
He peeled his long-ass body up off the floor and got right back to his yoga practice. Maybe he was mortified; maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he felt like a buffoon for falling; maybe he felt like a hero for trying.
We’ll never know. But he didn’t suggest he was a knucklehead by saying he was sorry. He simply shook it off and moved on with his life.
His lack of saying sorry said everything. His silence suggested he was human and not an idiot.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa taught me a valuable life lesson. There’s a time and a place for apologizing.
If you’re a jerk to a friend, say you’re sorry. If you yell at your children or husband unnecessarily, say you’re sorry. If you forget to pick up your sister — as promised — to go to yoga class, say you’re sorry.
But if you fall over trying to do a handstand during said yoga class, do not say you’re sorry.
Here’s the difference: Saying you’re sorry for something big and meaningful suggests that you feel regretful. Saying you’re sorry for something meaningless or expected suggests that you feel pitiful.
Aim for the former and avoid the latter. Life is full of balls hitting the net. It’s how you respond that matters.