Is an apology ever unwelcome?
February 12, 2010 2:48 PM   Subscribe

Is it appropriate to apologise for things long in the past? I know that I would appreciate it but I'm curious how others feel. Story inside.

I have become friends on facebook with some old school friends. I'm 32 now and haven't seen them since I was 15. One of the friends in particular, I know I was mean to. In our group of friends, we were all sort of mean to this girl. We found her "annoying" mostly because she didn't quite fit in and she "tried too hard".

I feel bad about how we were mean to her and in particular my participation in it. We never did anything outrageously horrible, just excluded her and made it known we didn't think highly of her. Still awful.

Even at that time I knew she was a sweet person. Part of fitting in yourself and elevating yourself in the hierarchy is putting down some other person... Personal insecurity. I know that's why I did it at the time. It doesn't excuse it at all and I hate that I did it.

Anyway it's now years later and we're facebook friends and I just really want to say "sorry for being a bitch to you in highschool. I did it because of wanting to fit in and be liked and it was really shitty to you, because you were a good person." etc. I just can't tell if someone would appreciate this or hate it.

For me personally I love to get apologies even if they are years overdue. But I was never picked on in highschool by other girls. I was picked on by a group of boys and I would be thrilled if they apologised. But I just wonder if it's something she would rather forget or pretend never happened and by apologising it would just painfully remind her of that shitty time... THough I feel that if she is friends with us all who were mean to her maybe ... well I'm not sure what that says.

Anyway, I'm really interested in what people think, particularly if you were picked on or had similar bad experiences, would you welcome a humble apology or would you resent it?

thanks folks
posted by saturn~jupiter to Human Relations (68 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For what it's worth, some guy I went to high school with publicly apologized to me on Facebook for something he did (I don't remember the incident) and it apparently backfired on him because he got a slew of nasty emails from mutual friends, essentially calling him dishonest, and other savory things.

It was like I was in high school all over again!

Discretion is the better part of valor, etc.
posted by dfriedman at 2:51 PM on February 12, 2010


unsavory things.
posted by dfriedman at 2:52 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a recent post on the green about whether A should apologize to B years later for sleeping with B's then girlfriend, now wife. The consensus was a resounding no. I think the same applies in this circumstance.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:58 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I would of COURSE make the apology a private note, not public...
posted by saturn~jupiter at 2:58 PM on February 12, 2010

i would love if some of the people i'm friends with on facebook would acknowledge their shittiness towards me when we were kids. i've obviously moved on as i have friended them (i just ignore the people i still harbor anger and resentment towards), but to hear that would still be nice.

reading dfriedman's comment - yeah - don't do it in public. write them up a little message, send it through DM and then never speak of it again unless they bring it up to you.

this is great to say: "sorry for being a bitch to you in highschool. I did it because of wanting to fit in and be liked and it was really shitty to you, because you were a good person."

this you should leave out: We found her "annoying" mostly because she didn't quite fit in and she "tried too hard". as someone who was guilty of both of those things - it's still very much a fear i have about myself...
posted by nadawi at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2010

In AA, the standard is that you make necessary amends where doing so would not cause further harm. That's a pretty safe rule to use.
posted by greekphilosophy at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

I had something similar happen with a person I FB friended. They had been blamed by some people, including me, for some bad things that happened in our circle of friends, and I had always felt bad about it after I figured out the situation wasn't what we thought it was. I mentioned something to him and it turned out that he didn't really remember it the same way I did and that it wasn't a big deal anyway. I think it showed me to be A Nice Guy but not particularly significant in the cosmic scheme of things.

I'd just lay it out in a couple sentences, "I've always thought you got a raw deal back in the day," or whatever. Just lead into it with your point up front. If she wants to engage, she will, but at least you'll get your nugget out there and known.
posted by rhizome at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2010

sorry for being a bitch to you in highschool.

I'd leave all the rest of it off and just say this if it seems appropriate [i.e. if high school comes up or something like that, I wouldn't be falling over myself waiting to apologize]. All the whys about why you did it are sort of your drama not hers. All she needs to know is that you're sorry. I got teased sort of a medium amount in junior high and high school, but I'm way past it now. If someone said they were sorry to me, I think I'd be concerned that they'd been carrying it with them this whole time. SO, if you do decide to bring it up, I'd make it a pretty smallscale deal since the general overarching theme should be, I'd think, "Oh how nice to be adults and past all that"
posted by jessamyn at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think it would be nice, in a private message, and trying not to make a huge deal out of it or in any way acting like you think she should think it is a huge deal. I would drop any rationalization whatsoever, so do not say "I did it because of wanting to fit in and be liked." Instead you might say that you were incredibly immature and you behaved badly. (Like many teenagers, but you shouldn't say that.)
posted by grouse at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine just recently told me about an apology that he received from a former school mate who was mean to him in middle school. It meant a lot to my friend, so I would definitely vote "yes" for a private apology.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:06 PM on February 12, 2010

In the scenario Admiral Hitchcock mentions, that is an issue of not wanting to stir up old, ridiculously out-of-line controversy. In your predicament, your behavior could have seriously impacted this girl's life. She may, in fact, be "over" it, but if 10, 20, 30 years down the road someone felt so obligated to apologize for guilt they felt over having treated me bad, the worst that could come of it would be me telling them too little, too late. And even then the fact that the perpetrator held such feelings would mean something.

The best scenario? She could have totally forgotten about it or brushed it off as kids being kids, but having your honesty will mean a lot.

On preview, Nadawi makes some great points as well. I could only wish that some of the kids that treated me like crap would do something like this. Fortunately, after having friended them on Facebook, their lives haven't gone much further past when I knew them anyhow.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a recent post on the green about whether A should apologize to B years later for sleeping with B's then girlfriend

this situation isn't even in the same ballpark except that it involves an apology for something done long ago. that situation was "i slept with dude's then girlfriend, NOW WIFE, and i'm wondering if i should throw salt and lemon juice on that wound again". this situation is "i take responsibility for not being a mature person and in retrospect i can see how my actions might have hurt someone" - there's no third party and no sex so the advise is probably going to be very different.
posted by nadawi at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend used to tease an albino girl in school. He tracked her down by E-mail and apologized. He then sent a huge bouquet of flowers. She was deliriously happy about it.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on February 12, 2010 [8 favorites]

I would err on the side of not saying anything. If you were to see or hear from her again in a way that suggested she was still hurt, then an apology would be nice; without knowing more, though, you risk hurting her by reminding her of a painful time that she has tried her best to forget.

Let the way you treat her now be your unspoken apology for the past.
posted by sallybrown at 3:08 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a female (45 y.o.) who was recently sent an apology from a High School classmate who taunted me because of my weight I say go for it....the simple apology meant the world to me.

Obviously you can't "take bacK" the past but IMHO it's never too late to say you're sorry for being a jerk. Hopefully we are all older and wiser now than we were back in High School and realize that adolescence is an awkward time for many.

Keep your apology simple and sincere.
posted by labwench at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2010 [11 favorites]

Obviously I can't speak for your situation but as someone who was on both sides of youth bullying, I'm trying to imagine how I'd feel if somebody who was cruel to me at that age made such a gesture.

And I think I'd hate it.

There are people who have reached out to me over Facebook or through email (when it comes to class reunions, etc) and we go about our business as adults even though I hated them then. But we have a shared past that makes us "friends" now. And I suppose if we were to become close through some weird confluence of events, it might come up -- but that would mean we were actual friends (no scare quotes).

But up until that point, I'd just assume the past stay in the past, and we act like the adults we are, not the children we were and focus on the things that bring us together, not the things that should (perhaps quite logically drive us apart)

I've buried that stuff quite nicely, thank you very much, and someone else bringing it up with hurt (even though it's stuff I'm totally over) and feel like something somebody was trying to deal with their own guilt, not do anything kind for me.

So do a favor to the one you did wrong and deal with your own guilt yourself.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:12 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yes, it is a decent thing to do. I have apologized to high school classmates for all kinds of slights. Burhanistan is correct about the timbre of other replies.
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 3:15 PM on February 12, 2010

I hate to bring in the gender card Mike, but guys and girls tend to handle these issues much differently.
posted by june made him a gemini at 3:17 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

We all grow up as we get older. Part of growing up is forgiving, part is forgetting (a large part in my case), and part is saying sorry. If you feel it is due, and you mean it, then say sorry. It's not going to hurt anyone after all.
posted by Elmore at 3:19 PM on February 12, 2010

i doubt she would have friended you if she still resented you. it may be that she doesn't remember things the same way, or that she dealt and moved on, or that it just didn't hurt her as much as you remember meaning to hurt her.

that said, if the opportunity presents itself--i.e. you are conversing about the old days--then sure, apologize. otherwise let your current goodness and maturity speak for itself.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:20 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely appropriate. I was the one who was picked on in my school, and it would mean a lot to me to have someone come back and acknowledge it.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:26 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have made such apologies to certain people. In most cases, they did not remember what happened or had moved on in such a way that the apology was somewhat awkwardly received. I agree with all others, keep it very short, to the point, and include no background information, especially justifications. It might help to express some relief ("I'm glad I finally have the chance to apologize") to make it a little bit about you, so that the pressure is off of them to respond in some appropriate way.

Be prepared for them not to remember, not to care, or not to seem receptive to your apology.
posted by fake at 3:27 PM on February 12, 2010

Yes to apology. But say "I", not "we" were mean (or whatever) to you.
posted by Namlit at 3:32 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't do it. Obviously they've moved on if they are "Friends" with you on FB. I could apologize to at least four or five "Friends" of mine for similar crimes involving me being a snot as a child, but it's somewhat insulting to them to assume that they are still feeling wounded by it.

I think it would just make the person feel awkward and as if they have to relive the experience and accept your apology. This feels like it's about your guilt, not an injury on your "friend"'s part that probably scabbed over long ago.

I am a woman, for what it's worth.
posted by tk at 3:39 PM on February 12, 2010

I'd say there's only one real way to do it:

"Dear [person], you may not remember me from [place we knew each other], or perhaps you do, but I absolutely remember you. I'm writing this letter because I [bad thing I did to you, summarized briefly] and I've never apologized for it. The reason I'm apologizing now isn't really important to you, I'm sure, and perhaps my apology isn't either, but for me it's very important, because it's the right thing to do and I should have done it long ago -- or better, not done [bad thing] in the first place. I'm not looking for forgiveness, and I'm not hoping to alleviate guilt or absolve myself of any responsibility. I have simply reached realized that I am responsible for my own actions no matter how long ago or what impact they had, and thought it might bring you some small comfort to know that when I think back to [what I did to you/how I treated you], I know that you didn't deserve it and I was wrong."

Words to that effect, anyway. The point being, you want to communicate that you're apologizing because it's the right thing to do and you want them to benefit from your acknowledgment, not because you're looking for comfort or redemption or forgiveness. Make sure it's about them rather than you, and fully expect never to receive any kind of response.
posted by davejay at 3:46 PM on February 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

note: even my little fake letter there was a bit too much about "me", in the line "but for me it's very important", so I wouldn't use mine verbatim.
posted by davejay at 3:48 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: i find it interesting how many people saying "don't apologize" were the bullies, not the bullied in school. not that it all breaks down on those lines, but some of it certainly seems to.
posted by nadawi at 3:48 PM on February 12, 2010 [11 favorites]

Two anecdotes:
I sent a friend from junior high a (private) message to apologize for something slightly horrifying that I did back then, and she wrote back to say, "wow, that's ancient history, I don't even remember it really" and invite me out for coffee. We have had a great time reconnecting, and it's been overwhelmingly positive.

A girl from around the same period in my life who actually bullied me in a pretty serious way tried to add me as a friend, and I have declined the request twice. Had she actually written me a note, rather than just tried to "be my friend", I might have really appreciated hearing from her (but my instinct says that she's just trying to mess with my head, so I don't find it interesting to have any contact with her). So in future endeavors, definitely DON'T just send a friend request, send a message.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: I got an apology for being bullied by this one girl. I was back in my home town and she randomly saw me and said sorry. I didn't even recognize her. I took it then as a sign of just how many people had bullied me, that even someone I didn't know would apologize, and it sort of reconfirmed my narrative. At the same time, I was put off by her apology. This was for something she'd done in elementary school, and at the time I was in college.

Now, about 8 years later, I'm glad she did it. It's memorable, and it means that probably a bunch of people want to apologize but haven't gotten a chance, and it just generally feels nice to think that she went out of her way to do that.

So yeah, go for it. Don't make it about you though - just apologize for your behavior, not why you did it, and end on a positive note if possible, like how glad you are to see she's happy with her puppies / trips / whatever.
posted by lorrer at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, as an adult, part of my job is giving workshops for girls on friendship and dealing with cliques, bullies, conflicts, etc.--I and my coworkers have reported a few apology-over-Facebook incidents like this to one another, and none of us have had poor results from apologizing. It's not about absolving our own guilt, but acknowledging the experience of the other person in that equation now that we have the maturity and opportunity to do so.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:17 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

A very mean girl who was nasty to everyone but especially to one of my best friends came up to her at a class reunion and tried to apologize. My friend just turned around and walked away from her. The apology years later did not make up for the harm she had caused.

I'd say leave it alone, and if you want to be her friend now go on from here but don't go back into the past.

Hexatron's wife
posted by hexatron at 4:18 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

An old boyfriend friended me on facebook and also sent a note that he was sorry for being shitty. I appreciated it a lot. Though, of course, I barely remember why he was so shitty -- we were 15! Everyone was stupid and said and did stupid things at 15. But, it was nice to know that it still weighed on him, lo these many years.

Another friend I tracked down on Facebook I owed an apology to. We were high school friends and then I moved away. Sometime at the end of college I found her and called her and we talked. She was really upset about how I treated her which surprised me -- I didn't know at the time that I was being a pretty lame friend. We recently reconnected (ten years on) and I apologised as it really weighed on me and I treasured our friendship as kids. She said she really didn't remember anymore but I feel like we have a clean slate.

So, yay! I guess I would just question what kind of relationship you hope to have. If you're just facebook friends but you never comment on each other's wall posts or whatever then maybe let it go. If you do post on her wall or she posts to yours and you respond then I think it would be nice to clear the air.

There's another guy who was in my circle of friends who if I ever friended him I would need to apologise (I really wasn't a raging bitch as a kid, I swear! I just feel guilty, I think...) and I don't think I could ever apologise. It was similar to the situation you described -- everyone piling on someone and it was just so insidious. However, I didn't at the time have anything in common with the guy and I don't think I would now. I don't want to have a connection with him so, I'd probably just ignore his friend request (still mean, I guess!). But, sounds like you've already friended her so just say something short and not overly labored if you feel you must or if you are planning to interact with her. Go with your gut! And once you do that, let it go... forever!
posted by amanda at 4:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

i find it interesting how many people saying "don't apologize" were the bullies, not the bullied in school.

tk is "many people?" Because that's the only "no" answer I see above from someone who was "the bull[y] and not the bullied." (MCMikeNamara also says "no" but he was both.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:23 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Has anyone actually ever resented an apology? Have any of the poeple here saying you shouldn't do it been in the position of receiving an apology? I mean one person is saying "don't do it" because they were mean to lots of people and they haven't apologized. Seriously?

Go ahead and do it if you feel bad.
posted by delmoi at 4:24 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't see this hurting, really. Go for it.
posted by andrewcilento at 4:29 PM on February 12, 2010

Anecdata: A former middle-school bully of mine found me on Facebook and sent me a thoughtful apology. I was touched and greatly appreciated the gesture.
posted by mellifluous at 4:32 PM on February 12, 2010

I've received apologies from people I've reconnected with on Facebook and I appreciated it even though I no longer needed the apology.
posted by orange swan at 4:38 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

This person has friended you on Facebook? That suggests to me that an apology would be received favorably. Don't know about anyone else, but I've already blocked the people who I never wish to hear from again.

However: Saying that you're sorry she got a raw deal, as suggested above, doesn't take ownership of your actions. I think your own version would be much more appreciated.
posted by gnomeloaf at 4:42 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: I have been friended by dozens of Facebook folk who physically and emotionally bullied, tormented, and generally abused me in grade school. Not a single one ever went so far as to -acknowledge- their behavior. Some have invented memories in which they defended me from tormentors.

One apology from even one of these people would mean more to me than I can fully express. It wouldn't have to be elaborate. "I treated you badly, and I want you to know that I'm sorry" would be wonderful.
posted by DWRoelands at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

One of the first people I connected with on FB was a guy I haven't seen since I was about 15. He apologized for being such a douchebag to me back when we were teens. He filled me in on why he'd been such a jerk - in a completely non-justifying way - and told me how badly he felt for years about how he treated me back then. It was so nice to hear - I mean, everyone wants to actually matter, right? - and we got pretty close after that. I felt like I'd been given an old friend back who'd been taken away for a long time.
posted by 8dot3 at 4:53 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think do it. This song by Kate Miller Heidke has obviously touched lots of people exactly because of this.
posted by b33j at 5:00 PM on February 12, 2010

I'm going to go against grain and advise you not to do this. The fact that she is friends with all of you on FB makes me wonder if she's rationalized her memories of those years in terms of "oh, we were all horrible to each other, it was just the age." Apologizing to her just confirms that, yes, she was the outcast of the group. And even if she's over it now, which she likely is, no one likes a reminder of how much they used to not fit in.

I would just go with being really nice and decent to her now. Send her an ecard on her birthday, respond nicely to status updates, etc. If you ever become closer friends, then bring it up, but otherwise, just leave it be.

The caveat here, of course, is if you ever did something that was exceptionally cruel, beyond the pale of ordinary middle-school awfulness. Then it might be appropriate to say something about that particular incident.

it's somewhat insulting to them to assume that they are still feeling wounded by it.

posted by lunasol at 5:03 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would love to receive an apology from my middle school bullies. I think you should send her a note, and I think your wording is perfect.
posted by desjardins at 5:11 PM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm going to go against grain and advise you not to do this. The fact that she is friends with all of you on FB makes me wonder if she's rationalized her memories of those years in terms of "oh, we were all horrible to each other, it was just the age." Apologizing to her just confirms that, yes, she was the outcast of the group. And even if she's over it now, which she likely is, no one likes a reminder of how much they used to not fit in.

Or, like me, she's incredibly nosy and curious about the people who were mean to her, even if she still doesn't like them very much.

I got a few calls from my mother today. When I called her back a couple hours later, she told me that a girl who graduated in my class was her waitress at a diner earlier and she'd wanted to put me on the phone to say hello. "Amanda L.?" I replied, "She was a total bitch to me when we did summer theater together. She told me that all of the kids from my elementary school were weird and then she and all of her friends laughed. Glad I didn't call back sooner. How's she doing, though?"

I'm sure OP's former friend remembers, because people always do remember these things, and it sounds to me like the above is a big rationalization for not acting decent--just as OP tries to rationalize being a bitch in high school by talking about how everyone did it to gain social status. If Amanda L. or any of the other people who were transparently mean and catty to me ever apologized, I'd gladly accept it. As someone who was never that sort of horrible to other people, I never understood how people couldn't just own up to it (and quit it!) and instead relied on telling themselves that everyone did it. Everyone didn't. Sorry, but they didn't.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:24 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

In 8th grade, there was this kid in our lunch group. For some reason my best friend and I designated the people who ate with us as cool people and hangers-on. The kid didn’t make “cool” status. Probably it was for one of those middle school offenses, like the “trying too hard” that you mention.

The three of us were all pathetic D&D nerds who got picked on. But as the two Honors English snobs, my best friend and I classified this kid as a notch below us in sophistication. His poems about goblins and dwarves in the Mines of Moria were a little too on the nose. He carried around a dog-eared copy of Oriental Adventures, the D&D guide to monks and ninjas, and he was just a little too into talking about the “vibrating palm."

Years later, the best friend became a cad and jilted his wife. The ninja kid became a kind and soulful human being. The ninja kid and I recently got back in touch through Facebook and hung out, and it was really good to talk openly about our stupid middle school pecking order.

So I think it’s always worth apologizing for being a bitch to someone. It makes for good soul-searching opportunities. And I’d be glad to receive an apology from anyone who was a bitch to me, just for the sake of straightening out what bitchiness I might have imagined from what bitchiness actually occurred.
posted by thelastenglishmajor at 5:42 PM on February 12, 2010

I, for one, would like to know what happens if you do it.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:54 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would appreciate something like that. Just a simple apology would be perfectly fine, the way you wrote it would be fine by me.

But to take it to another level, did/do you actually like her, or is she just "a good person"? Would you have wanted to be friends with her if she wasn't "the annoying one" that everyone teased? If you do like her and would be genuinely interested in being in touch, and if you've been interacting on Facebook at all (rather than just being on eachothers' friend lists), you might consider framing your note along the lines of "Hey, it's nice being in touch again. I was just thinking about the way we interacted back in school, and really regretting things. Partially because I'm sure it was hurtful to you, and I'm really sorry about that. But also because I knew even then that you're a good person and I regret letting my immaturity and need to seem 'cool' get in the way of getting to know you better. Anyway, I'm really glad to hear about your [boyfriend/job/house/baby/etc.]" If this is true, it's something that I would find really awesome to hear. Not in a way that would make me feel pressured to be friends with the person if I didn't want to be-- but hearing them say "it wasn't you, it was me-- I valued you then, and I value you now" could be a big deal, especially if the person is still wrestling with self-esteem issues to some degree. Don't say this if you don't mean it, though.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 5:57 PM on February 12, 2010

Female here, went to all-girls high school >20 years ago. Was bullied, ostracized, etc, by the "mean girls" and several trusted friends who suddenly turned on me -- you know, the usual. The damage was lasting, but I've put the specific pains of the experience behind me long since, rationalizing that perhaps the people who behaved this way were seriously cognitively or morally impaired for one reason or another. I don't harbor any grudges; I can't imagine that the "mean girls" went on to have very successful lives, anyway. If anything, I feel kind of sorry for them as I approach middle age -- when I think of them at all, which is quite seldom.

However, if one of them contacted me to "apologize," I'd be infuriated. I'd view it as their saying:

1. I knew all along that what I was doing was wrong, and I kept doing it because it was entertaining/convenient/socially profitable.

2. I feel uncomfortable about that, and I don't like feeling uncomfortable, so be a dear and hear me out as I dump my bad feelings on you (again!). I mean, what are you going to say? "Boo hoo hoo, I'm still butthurt about decades ago, I can't forgive you"? That'd be pretty petty, wouldn't it?

Of course, I'm not FB friends with any of my former tormentors, either, so take that into account. But even if I were FB (or IRL) acquaintances with them, the above would hold true. I've long since forgiven them on my own terms, but IMO apologizing would be a fresh new slap in the face, and adding any embellishments like "you were a good person" or "you seemed cool after all" would add an extra dollop of unwelcome condescension.

In other words, I'm with MC MikeNamara. Leave the past in the past, and deal with your own guilt without involving the wronged party. Consider this a contrarian "no."
posted by ROTFL at 6:28 PM on February 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

I just want to address this theme, from the bully/apologizer anecdotes, about the apologizee "not even really remembering" or "shrugging it off" or "being over it." Of course that's what they're going to say to you!!

How pathetic would it be if they told you how it still hurts when they think about the mean things you did in particularly low times, how they still hear your voice sometimes when they look in the mirror and see their fat thighs/mustache/big noise/frizzy hair, how sometimes they think maybe they're still annoying and maybe no one likes them just like in middle school?

And ditto with the "friending you means they're over it." No. It means that they think that holding a grudge or still being hurt is immature/pathetic/silly, and Facebook is public, and they don't want to look stupid. Or they've rerationalized what happened and they're trying not to dwell on it. Or they're going to ignore/bury whatever past you have in the interest of maintaining the friendship/social contract, just like they did back in school when they still tried to be your friend no matter how mean you were.

I can't imagine that anyone who was truly bullied as a child/teen could "not really remember."

I've grown up and become way more confident and don't think about it much. I'm definitely not crying over it ever. But I'll never ever forget it. There are times when certain comments or mean things come back to me, or certain insecurities flare up. I have no clue what I'd do if someone apologized, and I haven't had the guts to apologize to the girls that I was horrible to. But don't let "she's probably over it or has forgotten" affect your decision.
posted by thebazilist at 6:31 PM on February 12, 2010 [13 favorites]

Is your apology to make you feel better, or her? I think an honest answer to that question will help you decide.
posted by nelvana at 6:52 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

A boy I dated a bit one summer about 20 years ago, recently apologized for having dumped me way back then. I didn't remember being dumped and had somehow thought that I'd broken it off. His apology made me feel miserable; it was as though he was breaking up with me again today. I guess I'd just been in some happy haze of denial and rationalization. So I'm not sure it's a good idea to bring these things up again, even if to apologize. Your friend might have forgotten.
posted by SandiBeech at 6:58 PM on February 12, 2010

I think that there is a way of apologizing that doesn't imply that she was a big loser and you were the cool kid/mean girl.

Do you think you could (honestly) write to her and say something like:

"You know, getting in touch on Facebook with people from back when I was teenager has made me realize that I acted really badly and meanly toward other people so often because of my own insecurities. I just wanted to say that I admire the fact that you were always kind/never tore other people down/were so friendly/etc and I wish I'd followed your example in that way."

This way you are acknowledging your bad behaviour but also acknowledging the fact that she didn't do this - you are remembering something positive about her from that time. I'm always thrllled when people people remember something good about me from that terrible time.
posted by witchstone at 7:03 PM on February 12, 2010 [8 favorites]

I was never really a bully, but I do remember occasionally making fun of one girl in elementary school, and I regret that. She was one of those odd kids who always stuck out in a bad way and got made fun of by a lot of people. If she added me on Facebook and didn't say anything about my being a jerk, I'd probably just accept the request and occasionally give nice responses to her posts and hope she understands by now that kids can really suck. If she approached me about it or otherwise seemed still hurt by it (I don't really remember anything specific aside from maybe saying she was a martian, but whatever it was wasn't nice), then I'd make my feelings clear, that I am horrified by the fact I used to talk to her like that and I am sorry. But I wouldn't take the first step in that case, and I don't think I was a star player in terms of people who were mean to her at one time or another.

On the other hand, there were a couple unrelated people who were really mean to me around the same age, and I would appreciate an apology from either of them. One guy especially was really cruel to me and one of my friends in 9th grade. Neither has ever contacted me, and I'm ok with that too. If one of them tried adding me on Facebook, I wouldn't accept it unless it came with a message saying, "Hey, I'm sorry I was such a jerk to you in school. I think about it sometimes and I feel really bad about it." That alone would be really nice to hear, and I would no longer resent them as I know how it feels to be both the jerk and the jerked.
posted by wondermouse at 7:27 PM on February 12, 2010

it's somewhat insulting to them to assume that they are still feeling wounded by it.

True, and this is the reason I suggested something like "You may not even remember me, but I remember you" -- letting them know you don't assume they're still feeling wounded by it, and acknowledging that it's still important to you.
posted by davejay at 7:31 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I realized that while I told my own bully/bullied stories in my post, in neither case did I actually hang out with the people I made fun of or who made fun of me. We were never friends, and I wouldn't have dreamed of hanging out with a girl I thought was really mean to me. I hated girls that were mean to me. The fact that she remained in your circle of friends, despite the mockery, makes me think that she might be sort of oblivious to the fact that you were mean to her.

Is it possible, since she was such a sweet person and hung out with you guys even though you were mean to her, that she didn't ever really think you were mean to her or just thought it was a normal part of hanging out with the girls?

This might be one of those cases where it's best to leave well enough alone, unless she brings it up. Just be nice to her now, and treat her the way you think she should be treated.
posted by wondermouse at 7:48 PM on February 12, 2010

One- or two-time incidents can be forgotten. Most people who were bullied for months or years (and aware of it) don't think about it often, but I don't personally know any who have really forgotten. Getting a simple, sincere apology from someone who made my life difficult ten years ago would mean a lot to me. Maybe I'll feel different in another twenty years.

Most of the people I went to high school with are Facebook friends with a hundred or more other classmates whether they like(d) them or not. People want to stay informed. It doesn't necessarily indicate "getting over it."
posted by hat at 8:32 PM on February 12, 2010

A friend apologized to me via Facebook for how she treated me over ten years ago and it actually made me feel a lot better. I think you should do it.
posted by Nattie at 8:37 PM on February 12, 2010

I tried to read all of these, but did not, so if this has been said before, I apologize.

It sounds like you are being really selfish to me. You feel guilt over doing something when you were 14/15 years old. Well, if you haven't gotten over it, go see a therapist. If she does remember it, she probably does have negative feelings towards it in which case she wouldn't have friended you.

My opinion, of course, would be completely different if you had put her in a hospital, physically or psychologically.

Suss out why you would actually be apologizing, to make yourself feel better, or to make her feel better. Whatever you decide, be authentic.
posted by TheBones at 8:51 PM on February 12, 2010

I think you should do it, too, without going into a lot of detail because chances are she remembers things differently than you do. But, we only go around once so it sure can't hurt to apologize. I know I would appreciate it if it were me.
posted by ourroute at 9:05 PM on February 12, 2010

I don't see any down side to apologizing. It might be awkward, but there are worse things in life than "awkward."

I would ask, out of everyone you've wronged, why do you feel the urge to apologize to this particular girl? That's a question worth exploring for your own edification.

On the flip side, please don't feel obliged to apologize. Specifically w/r/t Facebook, everyone seems to have taken a vow of forgetfulness, or (more charitably) of forgiveness. The unwritten Facebook social contract seems to state that "water under the bridge" is the order of the day.

(If only for practical reasons. If everyone on Facebook apologized to everyone they'd wronged, it would doubtless bring the Facebook servers to their knees under an avalanche of decades-old atonement PMs, and "Oh that's okay" polite replies, and "No really, I fall upon my sword" counter-replies and on and on and on.)
posted by ErikaB at 9:47 PM on February 12, 2010

I don't see how an apology could ever hurt. As to whether it's necessary depends on an AWFUL lot.

I was bullied, not just in grade school, but also in junior high, and then in high school. And then beyond. I've run into people from each of these stages of my life, and had very different reactions.

* One of the girls who tormented me in second grade ran into me here in New York about 10 years ago, when we were both adults, and I was so taken off guard that I didn't stalk off in the other direction. We had a pleasant "so what brings you here" conversation and she ran to catch a train a couple minutes later. I never got an apology from her, or an acknowledgement -- but I had already realized long before that "for fuck's sake, she was SEVEN, she didn't know what she was doing anyway". So that's truly water under the bridge.

* Three "Frenemies" poked at me all through high school -- well,, they ran hot and cold with me. It was the kind of thing where individually they were okay but collectively they were assholes. I was about to give them slack after we graduated, but they even kept it up afterward (they were all at my best friend's wedding, and got totally smashed and cornered me so they could poke fun at me for having broken wind once during a slumber party in 1984), and I just wrote them all off.

But a mutual friend kept in touch with them, and would occasionally tell me things about them -- which dramatically affected the way I treated them later. Two of them "found Jesus" -- but I put that in quotes because I'm not so sure about the sincerity of their conversions. A sincere conversion I can respect -- a hide-your-head-in-the-sand-about-having-hurt-people-before-you-were-saved and fakey-makey-nice-because-Jesus-says-you-have-to, I can't. So when those two sent me friend requests on Facebook, I ignored them both -- because I could tell they had zero reflection about how their relationships with me REALLY were back then, and they were just trying to go with a fakey "oh, we were in HIGH SCHOOL together! Keen!" kind of thing. If either of them ever apologized, it would be a sign that they finally acknowledged the truth of what our relationships had been rather than a fakey "oh, we were in HIGH SCHOOL! Whee!" And I don't need that.

However, the third friend had a run of shit luck -- and it came to light how hard his luck had been before as well. And when we ran into each other again, he didn't even seem to remember what had happened; but he was sincere in his happiness to see me. Knowing what I knew about what was going on with him at the time, and knowing that he was sincere about being happy to see me in the present, I let it go, and I'm really, really happy I did. (For the record, in a later conversation the Wedding Incident came up -- he hadn't remembered, but apologized then. I told him -- honestly -- that I'd already forgiven him anyway.)

So I don't see how an apology would do harm. But as to whether it's required, I think it depends on exactly why you're ofering it, and how you've been relating to her today.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 PM on February 12, 2010

Dear X --

I'm so glad you got back in touch with me via FB. It's been great to see your name in my feed along with Amy and Linda; it's brought back memories and got me thinking a lot about our school days. I realise now we were often very unkind to you and I want you to know that I feel awful about that. Even then I knew you were a sweet person and I'm so happy that, looking at your kids/husband/dog/cat/posts about work, it seems like things have really worked out for you.

So really, just a short note to say I'm sorry and that I'm glad we've got this wonderful internet to re-connect us.

All the best,
Saturn Jupiter
posted by DarlingBri at 1:25 AM on February 13, 2010

Response by poster: Okay. I'm loving all the responses encouraging the apology so I have sent it. It feels right. I sent a low-key apology, no justification, just sorry.

My relationship with this girl was kind of typical of lots of teen relationships - when we were hanging out just the two of us or with one other person we'd have great times and laughs. But then in bigger groups or with other, meaner girls, I would decide she was annoying and be shitty to her. HORRID behaviour.

I think that the apology isn't necessarily to make me feel better, just to hopefully make her feel considered, and put some love out there. If she doesn't respond or doesn't care that's fine. I don't need her forgiveness to complete the equation.

THANKS everyone for your input.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 1:50 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I would ask, out of everyone you've wronged, why do you feel the urge to apologize to this particular girl? That's a question worth exploring for your own edification.

Hmm, I HAVE apologised to some of the other people I've wronged, and there's not all that many. I wasn't an all-out bitch. I guess I'm really into the idea of apologising because it means you have considered what it felt like to be the other person and you are acknowledging that what you did was shitty. not about forgiveness. just about acknowledging that you acted badly and that someone was hurt by it.

For the record I LOVE getting apologies.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 1:57 AM on February 13, 2010

I was bullied. I don't want to friend any bullies from that time, and don't really want any contact, including apologies.
posted by bleary at 6:11 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

She is only friends with all of you to laugh at how much your lives suck and make fun of your pictures.

The nicest thing you can do is to act jealous of her life so that she can really get her schadenfreude on.

You already apologized, so maybe this is a good second step.
posted by kathrineg at 7:22 AM on February 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

I agree with Katherineg. I'm always curious enough to add them as friends, but I have not forgotten they made me so miserable, and I never will. Every time they post about crashing their cars or their relationships falling apart, I get a mean little thrill -- they deserve it. Not sure how an apology would go.

And sorry, B33j, but if you're talking Kate Miller Heidke songs, I think this one's more appropriate in my experience!
posted by indienial at 12:17 AM on February 14, 2010

Response by poster: In case anyone's still reading, I apologised and this was the response I got:

Ahh dont worry about the school thing, so long ago. I have found it difficult to be friends on FB with some girls that I know were mean to me at school, they are on my Friends list but I choose not to interact with them. I appreciate your apology though.

I thought that was nice... and was glad I did it.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 4:55 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

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