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The Last Time We Said ‘I’m Sorry’

“I’m sorry,” means a lot of things these days. People say it when they accidentally bump into one another, politicians and CEOs say it when they don’t mean it and some people, most often women, say it when they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. Unfortunately, in today’s “Sorry-not-sorry” world, the shortest version of the apology has lost its luster. At least that’s what we found when we asked some of the MEL staff to talk about the last time they said, “I’m sorry.”

Nick Leftley, Senior Editor: The last time I said sorry was probably while I’m typing this sentence. I’m English, and for us, the word sorry has long since overtaken the words the, of, and and to in the list of the most commonly used conversational words. It’s how we start any sentences directed at strangers: By apologizing for even being alive.

“Sorry, could you tell me how much these shoes cost?”

“Sorry, can you tell me what the next stop is?”

“Sorry, could you stop punching me in the face, please?”

Being English is, quite literally, a sorry existence.

Tracy Moore, Staff Writer: I’m a woman, so I apologize at least five times a day, whether I need to or not. Within the last 24 hours alone I’ve apologized to:

  • A stranger, who stepped in front of me on the sidewalk
  • A cashier, for not putting a menu back in the menu holder after ordering
  • A debt collector, for refusing to give them my sister’s phone number
  • A therapist, for running a few minutes late
  • A coworker, for stating that I’m really good at meeting deadlines while working from home, because I thought maybe it seemed like I was bragging

In other words, it was like any other day.

Josh Schollmeyer, Editor-in-Chief: I’m neither English nor a woman. But I, too, apologize at will and at all times. I like to chalk it up to my Midwestern guilt, which makes it almost impossible for me not to find fault in myself for pretty much everything I do. I’ve often worried about being wrongly accused for a crime. Not so much because the American criminal justice system would fail me but because I would give myself away even if I had absolutely nothing to do with it. How did I get myself into such a situation to begin with? And all the trouble everyone is going to prosecute me! I’m so, so sorry for the inconvenience.

And if someone tried to help me clear my name? I’d just apologize profusely that they were going so far out of their way for me.

Though, on second thought, maybe it’s less guilt and more some sort of warped appreciation for my fellow man — a two-word plea meant to express how much what they’re doing means to me.

Of course, like with Tracy, that doesn’t quite explain why I say I’m sorry when someone bumps into me. But I like the sound of it, and so, for this, I refuse to apologize.

Andrew Fiouzi, Editorial Assistant: The last time I said I was sorry, was also the first time — I think — my grandfather heard me curse. It was just a few days ago while I was cutting his hair and trimming his eyebrows. Everything was going great until I started on the caterpillars above his eyes. I buzzed the first one, no problem. But when I got to the second, my patience was wearing thin and I grew a little careless.

I took the buzzer and ran it against the comb I was using to block the blades from shaving his eyebrow off entirely. But I fucked up. The comb slipped and caught the edge of his eyebrow, cutting off a small chunk of his eyebrow off. I had no idea what to do so I immediately said, “Oh fuck!” My grandpa looked at me funny and I quickly murmured, “I’m sorry.”

I’m not sure which thing I was more sorry for. Shaving off a chunk of his eyebrow or following it with the word fuck. So here it is again: I’m sorry, Grandpa, for shaving a part of your eyebrow off, and I’m sorry you had to hear me say “fuck.” Won’t happen again.

Jeff Gross, Content Marketing: In my day-to-day, I think I’m good about only using sorry when I actually have something to be sorry for. But in my personal life, sorry is one of my favorite words.

Inevitably, people in relationships get into fights. My relationships are no different. Unfortunately for me, I’m OCD about resolving them. The idea of sleeping on an argument is a physical impossibility for me: I won’t sleep; I won’t think about anything else. It consumes me. So I find myself apologizing just to resolve an argument neatly, even if I’m convinced of my own innocence.

Girlfriend gets drunk at the bar and starts an argument? “I’m sorry.” Girlfriend blows off plans at the last minute, and doesn’t understand what the big deal is? “I’m sorry.” It’s no wonder my long-term relationships have often felt inequitable.

John McDermott, Staff Writer: I gave a half-hearted apology to my doctor this morning for showing up a few minutes late to an appointment. And I was kind of sorry — I didn’t mean to hold her up — but giving a somewhat disingenuous apology almost made me feel worse, in a way.

Because when people apologize profusely, it makes their sorries meaningless. For example, I had a female roommate a few years ago who prefaced everything she said to me with “I’m sorry.” And it was infuriating after a while, if I’m being completely honest. Because she wasn’t really “sorry.” It was just a verbal tic, and it made it hard to discern when she was being legitimately apologetic. By the way, when I pointed this out to her, she apologized for it.