Dear Women, Enough with the “I’m Sorry”

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I went to the grocery store a few weeks ago. I needed a package of Almond Joy pieces and some celery. (Don’t judge.)

I had taken one of those little mini carts, just in case I got a hankering in the chocolate aisle. Upon returning it, I was met by a lovely woman unloading her groceries from her own itty bitty cart.  As I approached, she looked down and muttered, “I’m sorry.”

I uttered my cheerfully automated, “No worries,” pushed my cart to the side of hers, and pulled my bag of bliss from the cart.

And then I stopped.

Why was she sorry? She wasn’t in my way. She wasn’t even near to being in my way. And… even if she had been in my way, I would need to wait. She was there first. I’m not one of those creepy apes on 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was in that moment when I realized that she was apologizing for her very existence.

Maybe you think I’m exaggerating.

I don’t think so. It seems to me that women are constantly apologizing for just BEing. My rote “No Worries” made me realize that I’m so completely oversaturated by these occurrences that it doesn’t even phase me and I’m constantly responding with, “No worries” (a.k.a. = “It’s okay that you exist.”) To a dozen. women. a. day.

Holy shitballs!

Since I’ve had this epiphany, I’ve been hearing “I’m sorry” for weeks. It’s been like a symphony – from the woman at Target browsing for a new book as I stood next to her; from the gal at 7-11 searching for a sugar fix as I searched for more Almond Joy pieces; from another woman just trying to get out of the bakery that I was about to walk in to.

And… I just don’t commonly hear this phrase from men. Not that it NEVER happens, but in my experience it only happens about 1% of the time. In fact, just yesterday as I walked into the grocery store, a burly dude in Crossfit paraphernalia with three carts full of what I can only imagine were protein powder and bananas took his ever-lovin’ sweet time blocking six of us from being able to grab a cart and not a peep came out of him. Ten minutes later a line of twelve rushed for the carts as he strode past with forty plus bags on each arm.

Typically, I only hear men tell me they’re sorry when they actually have something to be sorry about.

So what is this, dear women? Aside from an apology for our very existence? Are we all hanging on to the adages of our childhood, “Be nice,” “Apologize,” “Say you’re sorry, Melanie, that’s not how little girls act.”  I don’t have a definitive answer, but I’ve caught myself apologizing all over town these past few weeks, despite myself. How many apologies have I uttered in my lifetime? I bet I can’t count that high.

And… don’t get me wrong, I’m all for good manners. Saying “thank you” and “please” and not being that creepy ape I mentioned earlier, but apologizing for book browsing or sugar fixes should just never happen. Ever.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, why do you think women are so quick to say “I’m sorry” when it’s clearly not necessary? Any theories? Any experience of this yourselves?

Aside from helping me to figure this one out, I challenge each and every one of you to stop saying you’re sorry. Unless you accidentally punch someone wearing Crossfit gear in the groin, then an “I’m Sorry” might be in order.

Maybe.

23 replies
  1. Sheila Bergquist says:

    Very interesting observation Melanie and so true. I have caught myself saying “I’m sorry” and then wondering why I said it. I never connected it to mostly women doing it until reading this, but you are right on the mark! I have wracked my brain trying to figure out why, in addition to the reasons you have already mentioned, and can’t come up with an answer. Something to ponder for sure!

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Isn’t it strange, Sheila? But, yes, I do think there’s something else – I mean I don’t want to go into raving and ranting but there’s something there that I’m not putting my finger on also.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  2. Tracie Nichols says:

    Ohmygosh – yep, I know this phenomenon from both sides. It is creepy, isn’t it? To add a feminist spin…we’ve been taught we’re less smart, less capable, and certainly a burden to the long-suffering men or parents who must (sigh) take care of us, and anything we do is to be apologized for. And then there’s the “women are the root of all evil.” school of thought, which tends to provoke all kinds of apologizing on the part of women who are embedded in it.

    I’ve been on a campaign to eliminate selfl-diminishing patterns of speech – and thinking – for about a year now. “I’m sorry.” is at the top of the list. Followed closely by “just” and “only” used in front of any self descriptor. Things like I’m “just” a writer. Or I “just” help abuse survivors. I’m “only” a mom. Sheesh!!

    Love that you wrote about this Melanie!!

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      YES!!! “Feminist” spin = truth. I think you’ve nailed those underlying issues – women as something to handle and women as the root of all evil. It hasn’t been all that long ago in history when women were harmed for being healers. To rant even further, it hasn’t been that long ago that women were told they needed to use Lysol in their va-jay-jays because we “smell.”

      This is going to sound crazy, but I just watched Mulan about a week ago and was thinking about this. That women really were a burden in China and the only way that they could bring honor to the family was to marry well. Okay, I know it’s Disney and I know Eddie Murphy played a mini dragon, but these issues drive my thinking all of the time, this history, and wondering when it will just fade away and there will be no more apologizing.

      And… WOW, I adore your thoughts on eliminating self-diminishing patterns of speech.

      And… I adore you. Thanks for commenting.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  3. Adonica Sweet says:

    OK, first off, I just want to say you are an amazing person. And that is just praise. Here is the acknowledgement. It’s like you can reach into my soul and draw out where I am at and need to learn more. I appreciate your candor and authenticity in your writing. When can we meet?

    Second, this article of yours really struck me because on Jan 8 of this year, I started noticing others (women) say “I’m sorry” for no apparent reason including myself. I talked about it with another coac. The only reason I have been able to come up with is that many women are such caregiving women that we would give up ourselves for the sake of others. Thus, I’m sorry I may have inconvenienced you in ANY way… in your space, about to be in your space, etc…

    A phrase in my life is “Own your own” responsibility, space, whatever. I believe, as individuals, as women, we need to step into ourselves and “own my own”. No apologies necessary.

    Thank you for BEing you, Melanie.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Oh, Adonica, I adore you (and I’d LOVE to meet you!) I love hearing that others are experiencing the same things as I am, it just makes the magic all the more, um… magical.

      I think you’re right. Sheila said something similar and I agree. We really are hard-wired to be caregivers. And I love that about women, I really do. But I also think the pendulum, at some point in history, swayed too far past the point of women being able to “Own their own.” (I love that phrase!)

      Thank you, love.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
      • Rosa Spadavecchia says:

        I used to call it strange, but now, just realize it is an everyday pink fuzzy sparkly miracle. I finally had time to sit an enjoy the wondrous words of my dearest Melanie (and my not so secret girl crush – sorry to spill the beans Mel), and I see a post from my lovely Adonica.

        Interesting how a girl from the Canadian prairies, while reading tales from a soul sister south of the border sees her friend from the west.

        What are the chances, you ask? For a miracle? About 100%.

        Love to you both.

        Rosa

        Reply
        • Melanie Bates says:

          You are a miracle. Just YOU. Wowza, love. It’s such a small world. I adore you and hope married life is giving you such sparkle and bliss. I have a crush on you too, I bet everyone who comes into contact with your spirit does. Of course they do.

          Love you!
          Melanie

          Reply
        • Adonica Sweet says:

          Thank you Rosa!

          It was you who introduced this wonderful woman into my life.

          I believe every moment holds a miracle. Thank you for sharing this one with me.

          And yes, I have been captivated by Rosa’s spirit.

          Sending you both pure bliss!
          Adonica

          Reply
  4. Sarah says:

    Melanie. I have noticed this. Particularly in women I speak with who have eating disorders. Which would make sense because the whole thing behind disordered eating – for me – is “I must have no needs.” or “My needs, appetites, desires…are shameful.” Since learning this, I have made a concerted effort NOt to say ‘I’m sorry.’ It feels great. My mentor taught me to value my work, be gentle with myself and to realize I am doing more than I credit myself with. She taught me that I am not flailing, I am learning. And I certainly don’t need to apologize for not knowing everything. Excellent piece. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      The whole word “shame” keeps coming back to me when I read this. There’s something deep to that which I haven’t quite put my finger on. I definitely feel the “I must have no needs” because I think, from a very young age, women are taught to care take others first. My Grandma never had a bite to eat until she ensured that everyone was at the table eating, getting full, and already on seconds. It’s so deeply ingrained from so many angles.

      Thanks for your thoughtfulness, as always, Sarah!

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  5. Mick says:

    I’m sorry.

    All kidding aside, women are nicer and more polite than men. I find myself saying I’m sorry if I about run into someone or am blocking the isle. It’s just the polite thing to do.

    But sometimes it’s too much and it comes from women almost all the time when it’s too much.

    Sorry about the long comment.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Smartass! No, I hear you, and I really am down with good manners, but, as you said, sometimes it’s just too much and often times it just isn’t necessary.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  6. Stephanie Fitzgerald says:

    I’m glad you wrote this because when I hear people apologize it annoys the crap out of me. I am 26, I am not a mother, I work in sales, and I have a reputation of being a pretty take charge sometimes sassy confident young woman… but I don’t aplogolize unless I am truly in the wrong. What’s interesting is that when I say, “I’m sorry” it holds a lot of value because it’s not used often. I don’t know what the sorry craz is and how or why it has spread the way it has all I know is I life my life (and maybe this can be used as a comparison not so much a point) but I have this love and let live motto where there is absolute freedom in others doing being saying living as they please and I have this “if you want to know ask her” “that’s there life and there business” if a person who is not in need of assistance and does something like drop something it’s like, “oh man that is too bad” but I don’t always rush to help because it’s their mess and they don’t need the help (if they did I’d be the first on the scene) but I feel like it’s a difference in maybe codependency? Are people taking there codependency public?! Seriously though.. all I know is every time someone apologizes to me I respond with “for what”?! Then they give me the reason and about half way through they realize they are being ridiculous. Now, I have heard males apologize as well (maybe the shorter ones or ones that carry less testosterone) but I still respond with “for what”?! Same song and dance but then I say, “save your sorries for an angry woman”! Hahaha great topic! I loved chiming in!

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Stephanie,

      I love your spunk and attitude. I’m wondering if future generations will, more and more, have that attitude as the passing down of these ingrained mindsets falls by the wayside. Like our need, as women, to serve others first, to always be kind, to always care take will go extinct in some ways and things will balance out.

      Just pondering here – I love it when folks make me ponder. Thank you.

      I’m not sure I see it as codependency so much as a trait we’ve been assimilated for thousands of years and passed down. Nurture vs. nature, if you will.

      Thanks for making my brain twirl this morn.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  7. Amber P. says:

    I have, in the past few years, noticed the “I’m sorry” come out of my mouth and the awkward feeling after. So when I truly think about why I say it when it isn’t necessary, low self esteem pops in my head. My self esteem guides my thoughts and actions through out my day. Here is a great example of what happened today: I was pushing my infant in his stroller and heading toward the entrance into Kohl’s. A gal came walking out through the doors and kindly held the door open for me. In my mind, I was thinking that she wanted me to walk faster so that she didn’t have to waste anymore time on me. That I was a bother. I was walking at a steady pace and I am sure she never thought either of those things. But because of my low self esteem and trying to have kind manners, I apologized. I often don’t feel worthy of good deeds from other people (not feeling good enough) and have a hard time accepting compliments. So instead of accepting her kind gesture, saying “thank you” and just walking through the door, I had to try and please her by rushing through the door with an unneeded apology, so that in my mind I would feel acceptance from her. It is definantly a learned behavior (“Im sorry”) stemming from my childhood. I do think a lot of society struggles with the same issues and using “I’m sorry” is a quick fix and gives a false sense of self esteem.

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      These are really GREAT points, Amber. Someone mentioned on my FB page yesterday that it was rooted in self-esteem and I’ve been thinking about that a lot and I do think that’s a big part of it and I so relate to your story.

      There’s also something in here for me in the way our little girls (myself and so many others) are raised to care take others, to be subservient, not expressing our needs, wants, sexuality, power, etc… It’s getting better, but it’s as if there’s this residue left over from so many centuries of being powerLESS in so many ways.

      It’s been so enlightening to read all these different points of view and to see how they ALL play into it, thank you for being a part of it. Truly.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply
  8. Sheila Bergquist says:

    I love all the answers to this! I think self esteem is a key to it. I had to laugh (and NOT in a bad way) at Amber P. because that’s exactly what I would have done!
    I wanted to say though that the other day I was talking to a friend on the phone and said “I’m sorry” and then immediately thought of your article and said, “I take that back, I’m not sorry” and explained your wonderful post to her. I was actually apologizing for something I felt was a weakness in me (not anything rude I said to her) but it felt great to take it back! To say, “this is nothing I should be sorry about.”
    I not only say I’m sorry to others when I feel I’m bothering them in any way, but I also say I’m sorry for things about myself. I have an anxiety/panic disorder and am constantly saying I’m sorry when I can’t do something because of it. People push me constantly and it is so overwhelming and irritating and yet I apologize for my disorder!
    You brought up an important issue here. This has been so enlightening in so many ways!

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Thanks so much, Sheila, that’s exactly what I was hoping for – that we would all become more mindful and only apologize when it was truly necessary. I’m so happy to hear this.

      And… here’s to no apologies for your anxiety disorder too! Woot!

      Big love,
      Melanie

      Reply
  9. Pamela says:

    Wow, I know this was a cpl years ago, but I found, recently many people telling me to “STOP APOLOGIZING SO MUCH!”. I only thought I was being polite and using the manners I was raised, in the deep South, to use. Only, I knew that wasn’t really the case. I am a strong woman, as, again, I was raised to be, with a modicum of pretty good self esteem, meaning I can accept a compliment and say thank you, but when it comes to this “I’m sorry” business, it’s practically overtaken me. I had attributed mine to the quite verbally abusive (both ways, probably) relationship that I have found myself in after 18 years of marriage, 10-12 years of that – wedded bliss. This “I’m sorry” thing has gotten worse for me as the marriage has gotten worse, so I do know where some of mine stems from, but also, with that said, I sure do appreciate and applaud the way you have written about it, (mainly because I did not feel as if you were yelling at all of us wonen, as I’ve been yelled at about this as of late, and because that is exactly what I feel I am apologizing for, my very existence, for even being born, and being adopted, takes it to an entire different level. I almost wrote that very statement, regarding apologizing for being born, to someone who continues to seem to yell, if one could yell through an email message, at me to “Please stop apologizing & no more apologies!”, when I actually believed I was only being polite. It sure hurts my feelings when I am told that, and in the tone that it “feels” it’s coming thru to me. Whew!
    I know I’ve thrown you a mix of issues and reasoning here, (and I almost just wrote, “sorry about that” ohhhh…hahaaa) hopefully you can make some sense out of some of them.
    I am new to your blog and already loving it very much, and looking forward to more reading!
    Blessings and Much Love,
    Pamela

    Reply
    • Melanie Bates says:

      Dearest Pamela,

      Thank you and welcome, welcome, welcome. I hope you’ve found a soft space to land here.

      And, yes indeed. Being yelled at to stop apologizing isn’t helpful at all. It’s something we need to notice within ourselves, and it’s a good opportunity to ask ourselves “why did I just apologize?” I wholly believe in good manners, and sometimes an “I’m sorry” is necessary, but I was doing it all the time, for no good reason, and realized I was apologizing for my very existence.

      But don’t allow anyone to tamp your spirit as you explore what this means for you. If an “I’m sorry” for no good reason slips out, just notice. No judgement. From you or from others. That feels akin to “I’m sorry for saying I’m sorry.”

      Just remember “turtle steps,” and be so super kind to yourself.

      I’m so happy to have you here.

      xo
      Melanie

      Reply

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