If you are dateless this Valentine’s Day, as many of us are, it is probably because an old or potential significant other has screwed you over. When that happened, you may have been subjected to a predictably insincere apology. We throw apologies around every day —that person you didn’t hold the door for or that person you accidentally ran into — so shouldn’t we treat the people we care deeply for with a little more respect? In romantic relations, as with others, apologies should be replaced with something much more tangible: change.
I tend not to apologize because I get confused about what I am really sorry for. What we are actually apologizing for tends to be the pain we caused the person, instead of whatever caused that pain. In my opinion, because of its vagueness and overuse, the phrase “I’m sorry” has lost its value. It has turned into a mere societal convention, which should only be applied to the polite treatment of strangers.
In my relationship experience, I haven’t wanted my ex-partner to apologize. I have wanted them to discuss the situation with me, to listen to what I have to say, or to understand my point of view, but I realize that I expect these things regardless of a preceding apologetic phrase. I say, skip the apology altogether and go right to the action of trying to scrape off the residue stuck to the relationship.
I asked some other single U of T students to give me their take on apologies. Nancy Yu agrees that action speaks louder than words and that “apologies should be quick so you can both move forward. Drawing them out destroys the apology’s value.” So in order to maximize the positive effects from an apology, says Nancy, it is ideal to quickly move onto changing what went wrong as opposed to dwelling on apologizing.
Liza Korp finds it hard to accept apologies because significant others use them “as an excuse. It is easy to fake being sorry through an apology.” Saying two words is a lot easier than proving to someone how much you care, that the mistake won’t occur again, and that you are aware of your slip-up. However, those three tasks is exactly what an ex-boyfriend of mine claims is covered by an apology.
I decided to check out the flip side of these opinions by asking a couple of my ex-boyfriends to share their thoughts about apologies. The aforementioned ex said that “apologies are really important to me” and that by saying “I’m sorry” his partner would cover those three important tasks. I agree that acknowledgement, prevention, and compassion are key when mistakes occur, but how they should be conveyed vary by person. He said that “it might not be the same for someone else” but an apology accomplishes that task in his opinion.
What is accomplished in an apology could be accomplished better through action, or even just different words. Why can’t partners just say that they cares about us, they realize they messed up, and they won’t do it again? What does “I’m sorry” really do?
Another ex-boyfriend of mine take a position half-way between the two alternative. “I think it’s obviously more meaningful to show you’re sorry rather than just apologize,” he says and he agrees with Nancy that “you need to put things behind you quickly.” The “timing” of the mistake is important, he notes, because often “the other stuff in your life” influence the behaviour in relationships, even though the two don’t necessarily correlate. “If possible you would both just show you’re sorry. But both [apologizing and showing you’re sorry] is even better.”
All in all, I think there’s mutually agreed on being sincere and moving forward from what goes wrong in our love lives. What isn’t as clear cut is whether the phrase “I’m sorry” is really necessary. Every connection with another person is different, but showing you care about the other person by respecting what they deem to be fair seems to be universal. Perhaps getting to know how your partner deals with problems before you have them may be your key to a V-day date next year.
Christina Atkinson is a first year student studying Economics and Public Policy.