I have a friend who can't seem to do anything—arrive one minute late for dinner, ask me to pass the wine list, breathe—without saying, "I’m sorry..." Not only do we all probably have this same friend, but we’re too guilty of this type of habitual apologizing—even over things for which we’re not necessarily sorry—to the point where the only thing we should really be apologizing for is apologizing too much.
My apologies run the gamut. I once apologized to an ex for having my period during one of our sexual escapades. Because I am the controller of biology! And I say "sorry" on my morning commute more than I say "excuse me." And while we all use these empty qualifiers more than we probably should, one study does show that women tend to overuse “I’m sorry” more than men, for reasons including our collective gender binary-enforcing cultural upbringing. Why we use the filler so much is up for debate, but a quick skim on the internet will show you that it’s become something of an epidemic.
A year ago, Gmail introduced a plug-in titled “Just Not Sorry,” which underlines “undermining words,” like “sorry” and “just,” in emails in an effort to get users to use it less. In 2014, Pantene released a commercial asking “Why Are Women Always Apologizing?” and a 2015 sketch from “Inside Amy Schumer” pokes fun at the culture of over-apologizing.
Sloane Crosley wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2015 urging women to stop using it as a way to tone-down a command (i.e. "I’m sorry, but can you turn the music down?”) and start saying what we really want to say via declarative statements. I agree, though it was interesting to read Ann Friedman of New York Magazine, who made a counter argument that when we ask women to alter their speech, it's “just another way we are asked to internalize and compensate for sexist bias in the world.”
While I understand Friedman's point, suggesting that women dial back on the word "sorry" doesn't feel like language policing to me. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to look at why I apologize so much.
I’m not big on resolutions, but I’ll put this into the universe anyway: From here on out, I won’t apologize for taking up space or voicing my opinion or putting myself first or simply trying to fine-tune my life and the people in it. Or, you know, for things I can’t control, like getting my period or having a sudden bout of emotions. Look at Beyoncé: She made a whole song about the art of being unapologetically angry last year. She had a right to that emotion, and she owned it. When it comes down to it, isn’t everyone’s goal to be more like Beyoncé? Yes, yes it is.
That’s not to say I’ll be giving up the phrase altogether. There are moments when an apology is not only warranted but necessary. Like yesterday, when I had to tell my editor this very story was going to miss its deadline. Or, yesterday again, when an email sent to me over the holiday slipped through the cracks and didn’t receive a response in a timely fashion (which, we were on a break, but that’s a whole other story).
But also more serious moments, when you’re very much in the wrong, have hurt someone with your actions, and are truly remorseful. Those are when an “I’m sorry” comes in handy. It’s when the term is frivolously thrown around in an attempt to be polite that it starts to lose its meaning.
So, next time a dispensable sorry is directed toward me, I’ll respond with an “it’s okay, no need to apologize” in return. We deserve to be here and take up space and exist, and you should never have to apologize for realizing that.