I have long believed that apologies cannot start with "I'm sorry if..." or "I'm sorry, but..." My father often apologized this way, and it drove my mother crazy. (So much of what any of us learn about love and relationships begins at home, n'est-ce pas?)
You're not in fact sorry if you're sorry if. Or if you're sorry, but. You have to be sorry that.
One of the many important lessons I have learned in therapy is to neither blame or credit other people for my feelings nor to accept blame or credit for theirs.
You make me happy.
You make me feel guilty.
You make me disappointed.
Nope. I'm not responsible for any of that. Your happiness, guilt, disappointment? Yours. Not mine.
A recent voicemail (paraphrased): "I'm sorry you hurt me. I'm sorry you ruined us. I'm sorry that this is hard for me. I'm sorry if I lashed out at you. I'm sorry, but, I'm just so upset!"
These are not apologies. At all.
I should start over. My parents were high school sweethearts. Then they went to colleges in the same city, and then my mother broke my father's heart. Then he went to graduate school in a different state, where he had the audacity to do just fine without her. Then she "came to her senses." (Divergent recollections of their story exist.)
They have been married for almost 34 years.
Most days, they have made marriage look easy. They complement each other really well. They share the same values systems and the same idea of fun. They are affectionate, they take care of each other, and they have an incredible partnership.
But it's work. Their relationship is still work. They still have to apologize. And mean it.
When my brother and I were little, and we would get into a fight, Mom would make us hug and kiss each other, say we were sorry, and say we loved each other. It didn't matter who was at fault, who was the victim, who was hurt. We both had to say, "I love you."
I explained the effect of this in a letter I wrote my parents in August 2008, when they had not spoken to me in nearly 10 weeks. (Nate was my boyfriend at the time. He gave permission to reprint with his name. "Feel free to post. My name is really auxillary to the whole thing.")
I used a blank card with a black and white photo of a girl's feet dangling from a pier, barely touching the surface to create a ripple.
Nate's father died two weeks ago. Nate's father and Nate's uncle did not speak for several years before his father was diagnosed with cancer in April. But then they realized that life is short.
Nate's family put together a DVD photo montage of Bobby's life. It was really fun to see pictures chronicling his life, although it was difficult to watch Uncle Ray witness and realize all he had missed.
I couldn't help but think of what we all might miss if we continue our silence. I know you've been to Birmingham and Napa. I know Andrew [my brother] has a new girlfriend. Y'all probably know that I was laid off. Maybe you heard I've learned to drive a manual transmission, my friend Kerry came to visit for July 4, I have tried to like baking, and I miss you some days more than my heart can hold.
You do not know that I was diagnosed with cervical precancer in late June. I haven't told anyone because I didn't want y'all to feel emotionally obligated to speak to me. Additionally, my doctor doesn't seem too concerned, so neither are we. Nate drove back from Houston within the hour of my doctor's call of abnormal Pap results, without my prompting and despite my resistance, so that he could hold my hand while a vinegar solution was applied to my cervix. Because life is short.
When Andrew and I were little, and we would fight, we were forced to kiss and make up. This taught me a lesson that has become integral to my soul: You must forgive and love people, even when you don't want to.
So, here I am. Testing the water. Saying I'm sorry for hurting you, and I love you, and I would like to kiss and hug you both. Because life is short, and I don't want to miss yours.
For the record: I don't remember a time in my life when I tried to like baking.
My point is this: You still have to apologize, and mean it. And you must forgive and love people, even when you don't want to.
Or, as I am apt to remind myself and others: Be gracious if it kills you.