Sunday, December 13, 2009

Civilization means Always Having to Say You're Sorry

If there's one thing the Holidays mean, it is that there will be ample occasions for Apologies. People will screw up gifts. Harsh words will be exchanged between family members. Harsh words will be exchanged about family members. It will be an endless festival of bitterness and recriminations.... Wait.... is that just me?

Now, I am not exactly the demographic the late Randy Pausch's Last Lecture was geared toward. That's enough about that because there is no need to speak snark of the dearly departed. But I must give him this: he got the word out about the Art of the Apology. You can dress it up, but it rises and falls on these three components:
  1. What I did was wrong.
  2. I'm sorry I hurt you.
  3. How do I make this right?

As I've said before, I have this printed on index cards and hand it out to everyone I date. The execution of Number Three depends on the size of the infraction. A modest misstep might be rectified with say, a donut. Anything much larger, and I'm registered here. If it's so big Agata and Valentina or our friends Harry and David can't atone for it, well, I believe you know my attorney, Mr. Cohen.

Though I should stress at great length, it's never about the expense; it is always about the integrity of the gesture -- it is not possible to buy one's way out of the doghouse. My last ex pissed me off over a vacation a few years ago, and brought me home a Mac airbook ... which I rejected -- because he was being extravagant, but not thoughtful (and being thoughtLESS was what landed him in the doghouse in the first place). I really, really wanted that airbook too, but how was he supposed to learn?

This past summer, a guy bailed on me for a big evening out... where I was one of the guests of honor. And what I got was an email explaining why he couldn't make it (a really, really flimsy email). Clearly, there was no d'anjou pear, no matter how succulent, that could atone for a transgression so monumental. I didn't answer the email, and as far as I was concerned, that was that. And by that, I mean, if I never saw him again as long as I lived, that was fine by me. A few more half-hearted desultory emails and texts followed, which I answered with five words, "you are dead to me."

Awkwardly enough, I ran into him a little while later -- in  a very public place, which is why I felt like it was socially acceptable to just keep walking. Again, as I've said before, I don't confront people to their face. I was raised right.

But no, he ran me down, and what followed was an "explanation" (which sounded a lot more like a harangue) about how he had a perfectly good reason for not being at my gig; that if it came up again, he would do the exact same thing; and how he couldn't really believe I would just never speak to him again because of it. (Really? Have we met. Cause anyone who knows me would tell you that is exactly the kind of thing I would do, and that it is not even a little bit out of character.)

So instead of: I was wrong; I'm sorry; how can I make it up to you? -- what I got was: I was right; I'm not sorry; and you're being rude for not accepting my non-apology apology.

And at that point, he'd have had to buy me a smallish third-world country, and my own enlightened-despot to run it. (Again, it's not about the extravagance -- I just like to boss people around.)


  1. ah yes. the entitled types. gotta love 'em. #sarcasm

  2. Had similar situation this week with the EX friends, the ones who called me "materialistic" (and not in a good way) to my husband, through email. They are officially dead to me. I do not care that they made the trek down for the visitation/funeral appearance. When they said hello, I was singing that Dionne Warwick song to myself 'Just Walk on By'. I felt no obligation to aknowledge them, much less sit them and visit. There is a pepperidge farm sampler big enough.