When apologizing is a sign of strength.

Person breaking free of handcuffs.
Breaking free of handcuffs. Image courtesy Pexels.com.

When I was a sophomore in college, I drove to Fort Lauderdale for spring break with my two roommates. It was my first time in Florida, first time on a road trip with friends, first time being threatened with arrest.

We were at a bar somewhere on the boardwalk. Most of the patrons—the guys, at least—sardined themselves into the back of the room around a low stage, whooping and hollering at a wet T-shirt contest. The air was a haze of cigarette smoke. The floor was sticky with beer, covered in peanut shells, and littered with empty plastic Solo cups.

When I finished my beer, I didn’t want to throw my cup on the floor. I didn’t see the big deal in throwing it in a trash can. Trouble was, I couldn’t find one. Wandering among the drunken hordes, avoiding the stage and the wet floor surrounding it, I searched for a place to deposit my empty cup.

When I got near the front entrance, I saw an overflowing receptacle just outside the door. Stepping out into the glaring light, I paused for a moment to reflect on the ribbon of people waiting to get inside. The line seemed endless. The bar must have been full to capacity, and a bouncer stood guard, waiting for people to leave before allowing new customers to enter.

I tossed my cup, then returned to the dungeon of debauchery.

After my second beer, I didn’t bother searching inside for a trash can. I knew right where to go. One step out, one step back in. Except this time, the bouncer stopped me.

“On no, you don’t,” he snarled at me, “you butted line once, you’re not doing it again.”

“But I was just …”

“I don’t wanna hear it. Go to the back of the line.”

“But I just …”

“Girlie, if you don’t move now, I’ll call the cops and have you arrested.”

I was stunned. The bouncer’s words stung like a slap to my face, and my face burned in response. My sense of injustice at being wrongly accused was crushing.

I’m trying to do the right thing, I wanted him to know. But my hands were effectively tied, and I knew I had to leave.

Shaking, heart pounding, gesturing wildly, I pleaded with the bouncer to let me back inside to retrieve my purse. He threatened to come in and find me if I wasn’t out in five minutes. I hurriedly found my purse, told my friends what happened, and waited for them outside. As soon as they joined me, I broke down, sobbing.

The fact that I remember this incident, and that I can still conjure the hurt, says a lot about the depth of that hurt.

It comes to mind today because I’m in the middle of a similar hurt.

It doesn’t involve beer or bars or garbage cans, and the only wet T-shirts are my husband’s in the washing machine.

But the hurt involves unwarranted accusations against my character. My attempts to defend myself are being ignored. My hands again are effectively tied.

This time, my accusers are people whose opinion of me I value. Hearing their condemnations is crushing.

The wound is still fresh. It’s so deep, I can’t imagine how it will heal. Writing about it, exploring my thoughts, sharing it here is part of my healing process.

In most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.

I believe that in most interpersonal conflicts, each party has some culpability.

In this recent conflict, I recognized my culpability, and apologized–in person, and via phone, text, email, and snail mail. None of the other parties has apologized yet. But I’m not responsible for them. I am only responsible for myself.

Undue apologizing–when you haven’t done anything wrong–is usually a people-pleasing, victim-y reaction borne of low self-esteem. Women fall into this trap more often than men. However, when an apology is justified, delivering that apology takes courage.

Apologizing, when justified, is courageous.

Even more courageous, requiring incredible restraint, is to apologize without requiring an apology in return, even when a return apology is warranted.

What strength it takes to say, “I’m sorry,” and to let that stand alone when an I’m sorry is due back to you.

I’ve learned that one of my super powers is to hold myself accountable for my mistakes, to apologize when necessary, and to let go of my expectations of other’s apologies or lack thereof.

Apologizing without requiring an apology in return is my superpower.

It doesn’t always feel good. In fact, right now, it sucks. But I’ll hold myself to a higher standard. That feels good. That will help me heal. No matter how much trash lays at my feet, I will always move toward the light.

My husband will hate this. But I’m doing it anyway.

 My husband's birthday cake for his surprise beer-tasting party. He would hate if I put his picture here, so I didn't. (But you can find it below.)
My husband’s birthday cake for his surprise beer-tasting party. He would hate if I put his picture here, so I didn’t. (But you can find it below.)

My husband is not the attention-seeking kind of guy. In fact, when I mention him in my blog, he prefers to remain unnamed. 

When we first met in college, about 37 years ago, (when I was around 5, if my math is correct,) I called him Mike, as he was known by his friends.  After dating for about a year, he asked me to call him Michael, as he is known by his family. That’s when I knew we were getting serious.  

So the first thing he’ll hate about this is that you know his name – both of them.

The next thing he’ll hate is that I’m calling him out for his 60th birthday. Not that he cares if people know his age, but he’ll hate if there’s a fuss. (Don’t worry, Dear –  I promise you won’t even notice the commotion from my huge flock of subscribers and followers – all three of them, including my mom.) 

Besides, I already made a fuss. First, we spent a weekend in Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Ommegang Brewery.  (If you ever have a chance, check out the Bed and Brew weekend package at the Inn at Cooperstown – it was a blast!*)  That trip was to throw him off the scent of the two surprises I planned for him: 1) His sister and our son coming in from out of town.  2) A surprise birthday beer-tasting party.  And now, here’s a third whammy – this blog. 

 My husband at the Ommegang Brewery during our Bed and Brew weekend. The wine bottle in the background is mine. I know - it's such an embarrassment.
My husband at the Ommegang Brewery during our Bed and Brew weekend. The wine bottle in the background is mine. I know – it’s such an embarrassment.

SURPRISE, Dear!

My husband’s a great guy.  He would hate if I told you that, so I’ll just share this story: 

It was the early 1990’s. (Let’s see – that would have made me about 15 by then.) I came home from a really bad day at work in tears. He gave me a hug and said: 

“Come over here and sit down and tell me all about it.”   

I swear to you, I am not making this up,  And he didn’t even read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, even though I conveniently left it laying around the house. In fact, after his statement, I looked at him sideways and asked him what planet he was from. It certainly wasn’t Mars.

In subsequent years, when I had a bad day, he would cut to the chase by handing me a Manhattan he had chilled in the freezer. But you didn’t hear that from me.

So as to not embarrass him, I won’t tell you about his Type 1 diabetes, and what a role model he is for living well with this disease. Nor will I say that he’s been a great role model for our two grown sons. And I won’t mention his integrity, how he believes in doing the right thing and then does it, even when it’s inconvenient.

I wouldn’t want to tell you that stuff because it might make him reconsider being a nice guy. Not that I think that’s possible, but I don’t want to jinx myself. We’ve had a pretty good run.  

(Sorry, Dear, but if you were a jerk, you wouldn’t be subjected to this right now.)

By the time you read this, my husband will no longer be 50-something.  He’ll have crossed the threshold into a new decade of life.  At this very moment, he’s probably squirting out his morning coffee, falling off his kitchen stool as he reads this. He’ll hate it. Almost as much as hates turning 60. 

But I’m not worried about it.  

Because love trumps hate any day. 

(*I don’t get anything from this endorsement, and it really was a blast!)

(Have trouble commenting to this post? Click the Facebook “F” and you can comment there. Or send me an email at karen@thewellnestedlife.com.  Be prepared – anything you do, my husband will hate.)