19/03/2016
Yeah. Sorry. It’s like a tick.

Words by

Rebecca Russo

I’d already scoured the shelves at Myer and DJs, and was just about to head into the only brick and mortar bookstore that I knew still existed, when something happened. I was rounding a corner at great speed (I was not going to miss out on a copy of the new Harry Potter you guys) and didn’t see the man approaching from the other side. We immediately bumped into each other. 

Like a well-ingrained instinct, I apologised. “Sorry!” I said, as I rubbed my shoulder from the impact (like I said, I was in a rush. HP waits for no one). I waited for the reply from the man I’d bumped into. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. He simply brushed himself off and continued around the corner I came from. 

Not to get all Carrie Bradshaw on you right now, but I couldn’t help but wonder: do I apologise too much? 

I’ve thought about it many times before, and I think I’ve come to a sobering conclusion: “sorry” has become my favourite filler word. 

I’m sorry for being a minute late to a brunch date. I’m sorry for reaching over someone to get to the last copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’m sorry for asking where my takeaway coffee is, twenty minutes after I’ve ordered it. I’m sorry I’m lactose intolerant. I’m sorry for making demands. I’m sorry for being a pain. I’m sorry for everything, really. 

And I know this might just be me being pedantic or neurotic, but I think I really have a problem. I also know I’m not alone. There have been essays, comedy sketches and even a surprisingly on point Pantene ad about how women have this incessant need to apologise for stuff out of our control. 

Of course, I’m not saying that men are the opposite; that being rude and unapologetic is something men have down since birth. No. Rather, there’s something about women that goes far beyond being polite and inoffensive. 

With this in mind, I decided to try something this week. I decided to break the habit and give up saying “sorry.” 

I should note, this wasn’t about *not* apologising. There’s a distinct difference between consciously avoiding the word “sorry” and just being plain rude. Many occasions call for an actual apology, like when you’ve done something wrong that warrants asking for forgiveness. But in my bumping encounter above, I could just as easily have said “excuse me.” And that’s what I wanted to keep in check. 

To be honest with you, I really thought this would be easy. I thought I had maybe a second of thought before words came out of my mouth and into conversation. But boy was I wrong. 

The following is an enlightening look into the world of a crazy person.

DAY ONE: 

Um, I’m really bad at this. By lunch I’d already apologised three times. And for menial things too. It was particularly cold in the office and my workmate decided to open the door to outside to let some fresh air in. When she noticed me trying in vain to warm my hands with my breath, she said: “Oh, are you cold?” “Yeah, sorry, would you mind if we closed the door?” I replied. Yeah. Sorry. It’s like a tick.  

DAY TWO:

Does saying sorry in a text message count?

My friend: I’m just out the front
Me: Ack! I’ll be there in 15!
Me: More traffic than usual!
Me: Sorry!!!

(I probably deserve another scolding for just how many exclamation points I used in that simple exchange, but that’s a whole other story.)

I’d also apologised for stepping on someone’s foot on the tram but I think that one was warranted.

DAY THREE:

I was feeling some seriously bad after-lunch sleepiness and was trying my hardest not to fall asleep at my desk. Usually when I feel this way, I feel compelled to G-chat my boss with an apology for being slower than usual. But I resisted. Everyone gets tired after lunch. She’d just have to deal with my droopy eyes and glacial working pace. (I grabbed an apple to munch on in the hope that it would wake me up… minor success btw.)

DAY FOUR:

I’ve come to the realisation that because I’m trying not to say “sorry,” I’m using additional (and maybe unnecessary) qualifiers to make myself sound less demanding: “I hope I’m not interrupting, but did you need something from me?”; “Just checking this is due on the 18th?”; “Would you mind if we met at 8 instead of 7?”; and this horrible encounter: “Could you please email it to me please as soon as it’s done… please?” Yikes.

A few of my emails were also beginning to include a few extra smiley faces and – you guessed it – exclamation marks!!!!

DAY FIVE:

At this point I thought I had this thing in the bag. I was getting much better at saying “excuse me” and I’d only slipped once when I’d lost concentration during a conversation with my mum (she rambles). But sadly my Simone Biles winning streak came to a hasty end at dinner. I was trying to get the attention of our extremely busy waiter (I am historically bad at this) when it slipped out: “Sorry, can we get the bill please?” Ugh.

DAY SIX:

Out to lunch in a desperate search for some cold-weather ramen when I accidentally tripped over a small child splayed out on the sidewalk. Managed to exit the encounter with only a “oops”. Major success.

DAY SEVEN, the end:

Today is the day when I came to a pretty significant realisation about why I feel I need to pepper my conversations with “sorrys”. 

I think I do so out of a deep down desire to please people. I know, cringe. But it’s a hard habit to kick. “Sorry” comes out like a nervous tick. And sometimes I feel that if I don’t say it, I’m not doing all I can to help this person in need. You haven’t got a hair tie? Sorry. You left your phone charger at home? Sorry.

But even though I think throwing a futile “sorry” out there is covering my tracks, it just might be undermining everything that I set out to achieve. Maybe my “sorry” isn’t as empathetic as I’d like it to be. Maybe it’s actually a selfish way to reassure myself that whatever the problem is, it’s not my fault. And that’s pretty problematic. 

While I’ve still got a huge way to go on my road to curb over-apologising, I do know this: there will be times when it is your fault and you should apologise for putting someone out. And then there are the other times. The times when throwing out a perfunctory “sorry” just seems normal. That’s the one we need to rein in. 

I haven’t figured out a solution just yet (sorr- ah, um, never mind) but I’m going to try to be more conscious of it. And maybe someday I’ll be able to ignore that ingrained instinct that tells me I need to apologise before asking someone if they’re in line to order or not.

Illustration by Twylamae who also put it on a T-shirt.

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