I’m Sorry, So Sorry

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Researchers analyzed the number of self-reported offenses and apologies made by 66 subjects over a 12-day period. And yes, they confirmed women consistently apologized more times than men did. But they also found that women report more offenses than men. So the issue is not female over-apology. Instead, there may be a gender difference in what is considered offensive in the first place.” (“Women Apologize More Frequently Than Men Do,” Scientific American; 9/25/2010)

I’ve always been big on apologizing. At least with friends. Well, specifically with friends. If I’m snippy with a pal, I’ll express my regret pretty quickly. I get embarrassed by my bad behavior, and scared said friend might get angry with me. And I’m someone who hates, absolutely hates, when someone is mad at me. I’ve mentioned this before. I always think of this Office quote from Pam: “I hate the idea that someone out there hates me. I even hate thinking that Al-Qaeda hates me. I think if they got to know me, they wouldn’t hate me.”

Yes! Exactly!

In order to avoid tiffs with friends I’ll almost always bite the bullet. Though it’s probably worth pointing out that this hasn’t come up in a while. But in middle school? I was an “I’m sorry” machine.

Let’s face it, I probably did something worth being sorry for. (Except in the evil letter incident. That was all her.)

I’ve never observed anything similar in male friendships. I’ll witness an exchange between two guys and think, “Woah, someone better apologize but quick or this friendship’s kaput.” And minutes later they’re all buddy-buddy again, laughing and drinking beers.

Um, don’t you remember him calling you a douchebag ten minutes ago? Aren’t you, at least, peeved?

Turns out that the answer, often, is no. These men are not peeved. They have a “higher threshold” for bad behavior. Something that might be grounds for friendship dismissal to a woman may be a non-factor to a guy.

This research, though not shocking, provides a good context for why female friendships might be plagued with more petty fights than male relationships (bromances, if you will). We find more behavior offensive. While we apologize more, we probably also get mad more.

Drama drama drama.

There’s insight to be had here into romantic relationships too. You know that moment when you demand—or at least strongly request—an apology, and he says “I’d apologize if I thought I did something wrong”? That moment you want to ring his neck a little bit? Turns out he’s not trying to be difficult. Just honest. (Still, that line is the worst.)

Have you noticed that women apologize more than men? If women get mad more, and apologize more, does that mean that men have it easier friendship-wise? I don’t want to believe it, but this round might go to the guys.


Filed under The Search

10 responses to “I’m Sorry, So Sorry

  1. Lorrie Paige

    Men always did have it easier overall regarding friendship. Guys call each other names all the time. lol! Guys just don’t take things as seriously. Women are all about emotions…..

    I tend to apologize a lot to everyone and I think mainly because of me working in retail for several years in the past; when you work in the retail business, you tend to get overly polite in saying things like “I’m sorry” (whether it’s your fault or not because after all, the customer is always right), and saying “Thank you” more than necessary.

  2. Maria

    I have a friend who says I’m sorry so constantly that I’m never really sure what she is appologizing for. It really bothers me but I have never told her. Should I? She would probably just appologize for saying I’m sorry.

    • Hi Maria,
      When I was young I used to apologize all the time for nothing too. I remember once my basketball coach yelling at me because every time he would coach me during game I’d say sorry.

      I’ve gotten better in my old age, though certainly not perfect. (I say I’m sorry on the job a lot when I shouldn’t). What reminds me not to say it is when people ask “what are you sorry for?” That makes me really think about what I am apologizing for, and usually realize it’s not something apology-worthy. I say the same when someone else says sorry for something silly. It makes you self-reflect a little… Maybe that will help?

  3. L

    @ Maria: I wouldn’t recommend flat-out confronting your friend on her apologies. As you mentioned, she might feel the need to apologize for saying sorry too often. Rather, I would suggest that you call her out on her uses. For instance, when her cart in the grocery store gently crosses someone else’s path, remind her that would be an appropriate time to say “Excuse me” rather than, “I’m Sorry.” Or if she needs to break away from a phone conversation encourage her to say, “Thanks for holding” instead of, “Sorry that I had to take that call.”

    I too was a chronic overly-apologetic person. It frustrated others because it took away the power of the word, and made them think that it wasn’t sincere. On my end, I was taking responsibility for things that weren’t my fault or false intention. To cure this, I witnessed every moment that I felt the need to say “Sorry” and really got honest about the situation and my true feelings toward it (much like the scenarios I provided earlier.) So perhaps your friend is using this one phrase as a blanket to cover other emotions. Just like there is a spectrum of emotions, there are a variety of ways to express them. Appropriate use is the key for effective communication and lasting relationships. Good luck to you and your friend!

    • Maria

      L –
      You were able to pinpoint exaclty what is happening so well. I will try to help her see the emotions she may really be feeling, but in a very gentle way. Thank you for your thoughts.

  4. TJ

    Sooo interesting! I apologize constantly, and am trying to catch myself apologizing for things I have no control over, but it’s hard! The worst thing is that I recently noticed my 4 year old daughter apologizing to her friend when her friend’s block tower fell over (not my daughter’s fault, either). Yikes! Maybe there should be a better word than “sorry,” that would let someone know we empathize, and then we wouldn’t apologize as much? Like, maybe we could start saying, “I feel ya” or “ugh” more often. I always like it when one of my friends comments with, “boo, hiss,” when I’m complaining about something. Maybe that could be the new “sorry.”

  5. Pingback: The Friendship I Covet | MWF Seeking BFF

  6. I remember reading a book about 100 things to do before turning 30, and one of the things was, “Stop apologizing all the time for things you don’t need to be sorry for.” This one hit home!

    Apologizing for requesting that you’re treated fairly is a common fault of women – we apologize for asking for our boss’s time, requesting help from the clerk at a store, or other times when it’s actually the other person’s ROLE to do what we’re asking.

    I particularly notice that women tend to apologize for being “in the way,” like when they need to get past me when I’m blocking the aisle at the grocery. I used to be that girl! Now I simply say, “Excuse me,” if someone is in my way and they practice the common courtesy of moving. I shouldn’t feel sorry that I need to get past them.

    Saying, “Excuse me,” instead of, “Sorry,” is polite and it also keeps me on the same level with the “offender.”

  7. Julia

    I think women’s friendships are just more serious. We tell each other everything? Yeah, totally more serious. 🙂

  8. Pingback: When Is it Time To Let a Friendship Go? | MWF Seeking BFF

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