The Perpetual "Sorry"

Recently in my Creative Writing class, I was assigned to read a flash fiction piece. It was full of one of the many, many phrases that women are taught to say by their families while growing up, while in relationships, while in public, and overall, by society. These two words are: “I’m sorry”.

This flash fiction piece is titled “Swerve” and is penned by Brenda Miller. Miller’s story is packed with passion, tension, and compressed writing, which is what communicates her message clearly; she is trying to voice that women are usually more inclined to apologize, and sometimes this can be dangerous for all parties involved.

The story depicts how her relationship with her partner gets progressively more and more possessive and unhealthy. She apologizes for trivial things, such as the eggs being overcooked, light bulbs being too expensive, and even when she was driving because he was drunk. Particularly, she shows how their relationship is defined by her running over a piece of driftwood left in the street; the author was so sorry about this that she said “I didn’t swerve, I didn’t get out of the way” (Miller).

I think this is a very relevant issue for Miller to bring up. Saying “I’m sorry”, especially for women, is a phrase that is agreeably overused, yet ignored. In her story, the narrator depicts saying the phrase so often that she “would apologize, finally, for being alive.” (Miller). It might be that women are not even aware they are saying this phrase so often. Of course, Miller uses a narrative account based off the perspective of a woman, but humans are known to issue a lot of apologies on a daily basis, especially when we don’t fully believe them while we are saying them.

“Sometimes apologies come too easily and too frequently, as when we apologize for things that are clearly not our fault, not in our control, or otherwise unworthy of apology.” (Psychology Today) This can be a way for people to try and avoid conflict, confrontation, or even their own personal issues.

Although it is indeed perpetuated by society for all humans to say “I’m sorry” often, it has been established in several studies that women are more prone to voicing the magic words for more minor offenses than men.

In one particular study, women reported believing they committed more offenses worthy of apologies than men did. This finding suggests that men apologize less frequently than women because they have a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior. This can be interpreted as a nice way of saying that sometimes men are oblivious to others emotions, or that women pay too much attention to issues that others don’t find offensive.

Sometimes too much social observance can make people cross into a habit of self-destructive and overused “I’m sorry’s”, like how Brenda Miller’s story suggests.

Overall, don’t apologize for living; life’s too short to avoid conflict; sometimes, conflict can be a beneficial learning experience for all who is involved, and being submissive will only make you feel more out of control.

Brenda Miller is a professor for the MFA and MA programs in English at Western Washington University.

If you would like to learn more information about the story that sparked this article, check out Brenda Miller’s work on http://www.brendamillerwriter.com/.