Apparently, it needs to be covered: How To Make an Apology.
Let’s start with some context. WHEN to apologize.
The answer is “yes.”
1. Whether it’s been 10 minutes or 10 years (or 90 years)- if you need to apologize, do it.
This is a hard one, but there it is: it is never too late to apologize. If it’s something you believe you did that was “wrong” – even if you (or maybe especially) if you thought differently at the time.
There are a ton of examples I could pull of my behavior as a teenage that I’m downright embarrassed by today. And some of it is that I was 17 and stupid (I blame lacking a complete prefrontal cortex). Some of it was that I was stupid. Some of it I look back and cringe. I have apologized for things years after they happened because in retrospect I learned they were bad ideas or actions. And as often as not, the person I apologize to appreciates it, even if they have already worked through it and it no longer hurts them. I did a dumb thing. I apologized for the dumb thing.
2. Repentance & Apologies are not the same thing.
This is one of those times my Christian beliefs are going to sing loud & long. Repentance goes way beyond just saying the words of an apology.
An apology is the words. Repentance (according to Merriam Webster) is “1 :to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life. 2 :to feel regret or contrition.”
TURN is a key word here. I might apologize for eating the last piece of cake, but frankly if there is cake there tomorrow I’m probably doing the same thing. And every day thereafter…. really, just don’t leave cake around me.
If however, I know that I said something or did something I should never do again I might repent. I don’t repeat the behavior. I apologize and change forever. I might not apologize but still change forever. That change is very important. If you apologize but don’t repent – was it a sincere apology?
I mean obviously, there are things which might repeat – I am somewhat clumsy and end up dropping & breaking something (a plate, a cup, whatever). I apologize. I am super-duper sincere. Next time I am double-careful, but after a year…. I forgot I ever did it until I break something else because I’m clumsy. I am equally sincere and I temporarily (?) repented, but did I really? Yes, but…. but.
This is also why an apology isn’t always enough.
4. Apologizing don’t fix it
Even if you truly repent (ie you are changed and would never repeat that mistake) – it’s already broken. I can’t magically wave my wand and fix that plate/cup/trust and fix it.
An apology is a good start. It is not the end of the break in trust (you can make the argument apologies always stem from a break in trust). Whether it’s a broken plate you dropped or a broken heart or just straight-up broken trust – an apology is a start not an end. An apology isn’t worth the carbon dioxide you release unless it’s sincere.
We all know the person who learned at 3 if they apologize and look cute they think they can repeat the behavior without significant increasing consequences. Know that old phrase:
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Life application. Guy fondles me/smacks my ass. He “apologizes” but the next day DOES IT AGAIN. Well he can apologize as much as he want – I now know that the initial apology wasn’t sincere. Abusive relationships frequently abuse the “apology contract” where when someone apologizes we’re “supposed to” forgive & forget. Same with public issues where someone like a politician might apologize – but a year later the press catches him again!
Be aware that just because you can get away with it (for a time) it doesn’t mean you should. And eventually these things tend to catch up with you.
4. They don’t have to forgive you or forget.
Whew, this is always a tough one. You feel guilty. You want that freedom to know the person you hurt – and the worse the hurt, the more you want it – forgives you. Man that’s a craving. You put your courage to the wall and manage your apology.
They don’t respond. Or they tell you to go to hell. Or they say thank you. They apologize for what they did that they’ve carried as their guilt. Any of these are 100% acceptable responses.
There is no rule that says when someone apologizes you have to forgive them. The same goes in reverse. If they tell you to go to hell (or whatever equivalent) you bow your head and say, “Thank you for giving me these few minutes.” Then you should walk away. The apology is given and they may not be ready to forgive. You have to respect that boundary.
This is the hardest part – but let’s say I am in a car accident and kill the other driver’s child. There is no going back “to the way thing were” (even blissful indifference to each other). I will forever be the piece of shit who destroyed their world. FOREVER. I can apologize. They can forgive. Our worlds have still be drastically altered. FOREVER.
And what might not have seemed as serious to the apologizer might be traumic. A man thinks he’s being sexy, so he pushes his date against a wall for a good long “first kiss” (they had been laughing and having a great time all through dinner – let’s take this to the next level!). She squirms and screams and says no. He immediately backs off and apologizes – he’s very repentant. That doesn’t mean she has to forgive him. And she may never forget that he was obtuse enough to not pick up that although she was laughing, she was almost always arms-across-chest/leaning away/not encouraging him. She may never forgive him for even for a heartbeat making her feel unsafe. She may never willingly be alone in a room with him.
5. Trust Broken is never the same.
Go back to my #3 – it’s broke and you can’t fix it. As the person apologizing, sometimes you also have to allow that you can’t fix it. Trust once broken might not able to be repaired. When it can, it might be damn difficult.
Just look at how much people spend on counseling if a partner cheats. Alone or as a couple – it is damn difficult to repair that. And then it’s never the same. You might have a patched-together trust. Your trust in some ways might be deeper and stronger, but it’s because there is a scar there that had to be patched and that scar is there forever.
One of the difficult parts of an apology is that even after the words are spoken: repentance is a thing proven not said. I might say “I Repent!” but until I’ve proved it (possibly over and over), I can’t expect people to believe me.
Apologies suck. I don’t know anyone who enjoys giving a sincere apology. Humans don’t like being wrong. We really like being right, or at least feeling right. So we justify our actions so we don’t feel wrong.
And for something traumatic like sexual harassment (and all the hubbub around them at the moment) an apology will never be enough – but damn if it isn’t a good start. Once you sincerely apologize you get to the repentance-proving grounds. We will see if the men who have come out and said “oh, I’ll go to therapy for a few days – surely that will fix it!” can understand it isn’t going to be such a short journey – there isn’t a quick fix. But then, most of them haven’t even started with an actual apology.
For an example of “I think he really repented” I’ll point out Michael Vic. I agree he should never be allowed to own a dog again – but you know what, it’s been a bunch of years and he’s still sounding pretty damn repentant. I think he probably means it. I think I might believe him. I also think he’s earned the loss of trust that he will never be allowed a pet again (which sounds like a circle of hell to me).