Sorry, Not Sorry: My Problem With Apologizing


I’m starting to hate the word “sorry”. It follows me everywhere- it’s in my classrooms, dining halls, weight rooms, and GroupMe messages. Even worse, it has become a permanent resident in my precious vocabulary. I find myself apologizing for things that aren’t even my fault! My emails and text messages are saturated with “I’m so sorry”’s and my conversations are littered with them. One time while walking back from class, I was struck by a vicious coughing fit and found myself apologizing to a random man who happened to be walking past as it happened. Like, what is wrong with me? It wasn’t his fault (or even mine, really) that I was hacking up a lung outside of Hopkins Hall. Yet there I was, apologizing for something I had no control over, merely because it was something that I have been conditioned to do.


Apologizing has been something that I have been so accustomed to doing that I didn’t even really realize it was a problem until the other day. I was just coming out of the Goodrich bathroom (an admittedly sick upgrade from my 225 year old dorm room’s bathroom) when I was met with panic-stricken eyes and flailing arms. I had walked out of the bathroom at the same exact time a girl had missed a step on the stairs and tripped, landing just about three feet from my right. She frantically picked herself up, yet before she could even adjust her glasses, she looked right at me and said “I’m sorry”. I mean, I appreciated her concern with my personal space yet, her stumble didn’t offend or hurt me and definitely did not warrant an apology (I don’t think the stairs cared very much), yet she still apologized. Why? I left the interaction feeling bad for her- sorry, even, but mostly unsettled.


For the rest of the day, I became hyper-sensitive to “sorry”. It poured from the mouths of bright, promising, and intelligent women even before they could convey their messages. “Sorry, I just have a question…”, “I’m sorry, I don’t know if anyone already said this, but…”, “Sorry, what was the due date on that again?” became recurring phrases that looped like a broken record in almost every space I occupied. Sydney Beveridge from the Huffington Post explains that:

Women end up saying “I’m sorry” even when the situation doesn’t require it.

Tannen explains that this kind of “sorry” operates as a “conversational smoother.”

As she describes in her book Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work, a

conversational apology in this kind of situation is not about accepting blame, but

rather conveying, “I’m sorry that happened.” When I say an unneeded “I’m sorry,”

I am trying to soften the blow of whatever has just befallen you or gotten you

down. Throughout the day, I toss piles of these conversational pillows out to

cushion other people when they don’t actually need it. Many women have an

impulse to smooth things over, creating an environment full of too many

apology-shaped throw pillows. This is caring and friendly, but often entirely

unnecessary, not to mention exhausting (“I Am Woman, Hear Me Apologize: My Quest To Stop Saying “I’m Sorry” All The Damn Time”).

Furthermore, I noted that most of the men/ masc folk I knew in my life did not say sorry nearly as much as the women/ femme folk in my life. Whether it’s accidentally bumping into someone’s table, speaking passionately about a subject for an extended period of time, or asking questions, women around me (myself included) could not stop apologizing! While it’s one thing to apologize for one’s wrongdoing, it’s another to apologize merely for existing.


So here is where I challenge you, reader. Stop saying sorry if the situation doesn’t warrant an apology. Seriously, like stop. If you have something to say in class, just say it. If you need to say something uncomfortable, say it! If you accidentally drop your water bottle near someone’s desk, tell them “thank you” when they hand it to you instead of “sorry”. If you’re running late, say “thank you for waiting for me” instead of “sorry I’m late”. Change the way you speak about your existence- for taking up space isn’t always grounds for a “sorry”.