One year into my relationship: We borrow each other’s toothbrushes (leave me alone — I know it’s kinda gross), leave clothes in each other’s rooms, have gone on a trip together — and yet I still apologize every time I’m sarcastic with my significant other. Why?
Logically, I know that he has a taste for self-deprecating humor and that we both get a kick out of our banter. It doesn’t hurt my feelings when he teases me because I know that he’s joking. Yet, for some reason, I worry that every joke I make will go too far, that my tongue is too sharp. That’s when I start apologizing, despite frequent reminders from him that doing so is unnecessary. (And, seriously, he does need to be told when his facial hair looks like trash.)
What am I afraid of? It’s not like he’ll suddenly decide I’m no longer worth the time of day when I’m just continuing our tradition of regularly giving each other shit. Everything is clearly a joke, and nothing we say is ever meant with malice.
As I thought this over more, I realized that this need to trip over myself in apology is not restricted to my significant other. So many of my social interactions are colored by a constant preoccupation that a joke will be too sassy, that I’ll seem harsh or unlikeable. Essentially, I’m afraid of being viewed as a “bitch.”
The imagined scenario goes something like this: My friends and I are hanging out, good times abound, when I make a joke about what a mess their room is. The room goes silent. Scowls replace smiles. My friends’ attitudes towards me sour, and I am exiled, cast out of the group.
. . . But, realistically, when would that ever happen? My friends know me. They’re friends with me because of my personality, which includes my snappy sense of humor. Again, I know all of this, but it’s far more difficult to circumvent my gut-reaction to apologize than one might think. Some studies have shown that women have a greater tendency to apologize than men do, not because we have more to apologize for — obviously — but because we have a greater tendency to perceive our behaviors as offensive.
To me, this explanation offers a very accurate rendering of the root of my social anxieties. I view my behavior as more offensive than others might actually receive it, meaning that I’m more likely to apologize, or even to stay quiet and avoid the possibility of annoying someone with an opinion or request (this is why I couldn’t ask my friends to put on SNL the other night when it wouldn’t have inconvenienced them at all — they weren’t even actively watching the computer monitor).
With all of this in mind, and in the interest of enabling future-me to watch SNL in my friends’ rooms (more SNL would be a win for all, not just for me), I’ve resolved to question the origins of my apologies. Am I apologizing for something that warrants apology, or am I just apologizing because I’m (unreasonably) afraid I’ve done something to annoy/upset someone?
Obviously, this isn’t a call to forego apologies. There’s a time and place for everything, and being polite is important. But this is a reminder that sometimes we (women, especially) apologize without truly needing to do so — and I don’t need to apologize for something as simple as voicing an opinion or making harmless jokes.
After all, by apologizing for so much of what I say, am I not just apologizing for being myself? If I don’t apologize, and none of my worst fears come true (others’ rejection, annoyance, whatever it may be), then I’ll prove myself wrong for expecting the worst. That, and maybe I’ll discover that some of my friendships run deeper than I sometimes worry: The people you can trust are the people who don’t want you to apologize for who you are.