I apologize too much.
Recently, a man came out of a coffee shop, texting while he walked, and slammed his shoulder into mine.
“Sorry,” I said.
He didn’t say anything.
Last week a bartender forgot to make my drink. “Sorry,” I said when I reminded him.
“Sorry” to the Uber driver who had a hard time finding my obvious location. “Sorry” to the grocery store cashier when I decided to not buy a bag of broccoli that was rotting. “Sorry” to my neighbor when I asked her to do something about her constantly barking dog.
I’ve had this compulsion – to apologize for things that aren’t actually my fault – since I was young. And I’m not alone. I’ve known many people – women actually – who do the same thing.
I’ve tried to consciously stop using the s-word but it leaps, unbidden, out of my mouth in every situation. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that it’s almost physically impossible to stop.
When I was ten-years-old I attended a manners camp for girls.
While there, I learned many important lessons like: A lady eats chicken drumsticks with a fork and knife.
On the first day of camp, I showed up in purple khaki shorts, a purple and yellow sleeveless denim shirt, and my giant glasses. In other words, I was looking my best.
During check-in – after they’d determined what ‘season’ of colors most complimented my skin tone (autumn) – a woman asked me to stand against a wall as she took the “Before Picture.”
“Before what?” I asked.
She smiled brightly.
“Before we make you beautiful.”
Do you hear that? It’s all the feminists in the world screaming.
I’m screaming too – but only on the inside, like a lady.
A few days later I posed for my “After Picture” with no glasses, my face caked with make-up, and wearing a white and blue pants suit.
I looked like a 10-year-old Murphy Brown.
I felt uncomfortable but I supposed that was just what beauty felt like: Awkward, not quite right, and not at all what I started with.
Even then, I was learning to apologize for who I was.
Young girls are taught this kind of thing all the time in various forms – that maybe we’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough without some simple additions.
Now, twenty-two years and many-more-stories-like-that later, that message for me is slowly fading.
I’ve learned a few things. Important things like I don’t look good in pants suits.
And I don’t have to apologize for who I am.
So lately, I’m really focusing on stopping the constant apologizing. I know it’s just a leftover word from my less-confident days but I’ve realized that by keeping that little habit in my language I’m actually saying something much bigger.
I’m sorry for being here. I’m sorry for having an opinion that’s different than yours. I’m sorry you feel threatened by my confidence.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m sorry for those things. Because I’m not.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.