Should I make contact and apologize after all this time?
June 6, 2010 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Ruined things with a couple people in high school. Older and wiser now. I feel I need to make contact and apologize, but is that a bad idea?

Fifteen years ago, in high school, I wrecked a couple of great friendships with D and N. Short version: D, N, and I were friends at the time. I almost-sorta began going out with D eventually, immaturely and rather immediately ruined that, then in a fit of also-too-immature-to-handle-that, managed to trash the friendship with N. I'm sure I remember what happened worse than how it actually happened, but suffice it to say I said a lot of awful things and handled it all like a petulant asshole.

I feel bad to this day about the whole mess, which was entirely my fault. I want to apologize to both of them. On a whim, I did a search on The Facebook(tm) and found them. Yay! I can get in touch and apologize!

. . . But is that a good idea? I'm not so concerned with things going badly for me, but I don't want to dredge up something that they've more than likely forgotten about and selfishly force bad memories on them. That doesn't seem cool.

Hive, you're good with these things. Should I do this?

(throwaway address:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Letters are good for this: They're a minimally-intrusive way to get your thoughts off your chest/apologize in a well-considered manner, and give the person the opportunity to digest their thoughts and consider their own in private. Then they can contact you or not as they please.
posted by Ys at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the kind of thing that, believe it or not, happens in high school all the time. If you're on Facebook, they may have already checked to see you were there or saw that you were friends with other friends. Or they might not give a damn about high school any more in any way shape or form and not only don't want to 'friend' you but just don't care.

You don't say anything that doesn't make this sound like teenagers being teenagers. Let it go.
posted by micawber at 12:43 PM on June 6, 2010 [7 favorites]

If they live near you, you could try sending a short message along the lines of "I'm sorry I was such a jerk in high school. Will you let me take you out for _____ (a beer, coffee, ice cream... etc) to apologize and catch up?" If they say yes, go for it. If not, it's their loss.
posted by ladypants at 12:52 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

this thread might help.

my advice there is the same as it is here - 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.
posted by nadawi at 12:52 PM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

15 years ago, huh? You're the same age as me, give or take a year or so, and I also regret some of the crap I pulled back then with friends and the like back then. Now, if I were to get an apology from someone else who felt they wronged me during that time? I dunno. It was a long long time ago, I moved on eons ago, and, well... it was high school. I would wonder the motive behind it - are you doing this to make yourself feel better, not really so much the others? To ease your guilt? I would kinda resent you digging up the past. Why now? Why not 14, 10, 5 years ago?

People are idiots when they're teenagers. We all make mistakes when we're young, but that's part of growing up. We learn from them. Let it go. If you really really want to make contact and and feel things out, and perhaps try to rekindle a friendship - facebook is great for this. I wouldn't just message them and apologize out of the blue however -- that would be creepy if you haven't talked to them since then. Do what you need to do, yourself, within your own head, to get over the guilt - but don't involve them.
posted by cgg at 12:53 PM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I did this about a year ago. I had a best friend, we grew up together. She had a brother, we grew up together. I was over their house A LOT. And before you know it, I was crushing on the brother and eventually he started to like me too. After a year away at college, I came home and thought the brother and I might start something. But stuff went wrong, mainly my fault and it ended. I was still best friends with my best friend, but not so much her brother.

Anyway, I went back to college and this situation just bothered me for years (we're talking 15+ years). I wasn't sure if life, time and distance caused us (BFF's brother) and I to drift apart (he would barely acknowledge me at BFF's wedding, but I chalked that up to him having a lot of responsibility on that day or if there were some ill feelings toward me). I had heard over the years through other friends that he didn't think much of me, but the few times our paths did cross I never really thought he was harboring any hate feelings for me. I just thought at that point that we didn't have much in common, he was busy with other things in his life, etc.

But in the back of my mind I knew that something was wrong. And I wanted to apologize. So I sent him an email basically saying that what transpired between us has weighed heavily on me over the years and I wanted to let him know how sorry I was for the pain I caused him. I did not expect or even want a reply. I just wanted to let him know that I was sorry.

He replied and thanked me for my apology and ended with the fact that this was not a friendship he ever wished to rekindle.

Ouch. But that was okay. I didn't expect any more than that.

I am with the camp that if you made a wrong, you apologize for it. You may not be forgiven, but I think it's important to acknowledge your responsibility and make amends to those who you have hurt.

The little silver lining in my scenario was that finally he knew that what happened between us was not trivial in my eyes, that I carried sorrow for my part (for a very long time) and he now knew that. He also gave me props for having the guts to express my regret knowing that there was a very real possibility of being shot down (which I basically was).
posted by Sassyfras at 1:01 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Would you be apologising to make them feel better, or to make yourself feel better? I get the impression that it's the latter.

At the least, you'll be dredging up the past for them. It's been fifteen years; let the sleeping dog lie.
posted by Solomon at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2010

I think you should go ahead and do it, as long as you're not expecting anything in return: no friendship, no going out for a drink, not even appreciation. You should be doing it solely to get it off your chest. There's a decent chance the people you were shitty to will remember and will appreciate your apology, and if not, no harm done. Just for chrissake don't go on and on about exactly how it made you feel and how you hope (blah blah blah)... just tell them you know you fucked up and you're sorry. If they want to get back to you, they will, but the main thing is you've said what you needed to say and will probably feel better. Good luck!
posted by languagehat at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

In the summer after my freshman year of college, one of my good friends had a party at her house while her parents were out of town. My then-boyfriend got drunk and had to go to the hospital. The cops busted the party and the hostess got in major trouble. The next night - after I stayed up all night with my boyfriend in the hospital, then worked for eight hours - my then-best friend (since roughly second grade - not the person who had the party) called me to see how my boyfriend was. She then told me that I was a terrible person and she never wanted to speak to me again.

Months later, she acted like everything was normal and started asking people why I wouldn't talk to her (while out of our group of mutual friends, maybe two were friendly towards me). She friended me on Facebook, I didn't accept. Then, after my mother died, she sent me this long, hand-written letter, detailing how she found out she was bipolar when she tried to kill herself in college, she was sorry for whatever she did to me, and she thought my mom was wonderful for dealing with her when she was a difficult teenager.

I threw it out.

So while it sounds like you didn't do anything like that, you should be prepared for that response.
posted by kat518 at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2010

Unless you are forced to interact with them directly or 1-time removed, I say leave this kind of thing alone.
posted by ish__ at 1:34 PM on June 6, 2010

I vote yes. Just make the letter short and to the point, explaining why you're writing and apologizing for what you did. Write it keeping in mind that they might not want to rekindle any relationships, open any new lines of communication or even acknowledge that they received the letter - just write it, send it and then let it go. You've done what you need to do.

It is true that your letter might upset them or disturb them or stir up bad memories that they would rather not revisit. On the other hand, it's just as likely that they will appreciate knowing that the person who made them miserable has actually grown up and taken some responsibility. You have no way of knowing, but if this is something you need to do to clear your conscience, then that's a risk you'll have to take.

As long as you make it very clear that any further communication is up to them (i.e. you will never attempt to make unsolicited contact again), I don't think the collateral damage should be too bad. As others have said, this sounds like it was standard-issue teenage behavior - it's not like you killed their mother or anything.
posted by MShades at 1:59 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I actually totally love Facebook for this [I know, some of you are doing a wind-up with rotten tomatoes right now] exactly because it allows a nominal reconnection without an overt expectation of in-person contact.

Friend them, see if they friend you back. Follow up with something like "I just wanted to let you know that it's always really bothered me that I was such a terrible jerky idiot. Anyway, no expectations here, just wishing you well. Cheers."

Upon reconnecting with friends from college shortly after joining Facebook, I got a heartfelt apology from a guy that I very briefly and not-seriously dated when I was a freshman (he was a senior.) I did vaguely remember that he'd pissed me off several times...with some sort of culminating incident of him being a jerk. Certainly, though, time mellowed my remembrance, and I bear no grudge, however angry I may have been at seventeen years old. I reassured him of this and we caught up briefly. It was really, really nice.
posted by desuetude at 2:11 PM on June 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Fifteen years? Wow. I assume these people are otherwise removed from your life.

Go ahead and apologize. Don't expect a response. Admit (silently, to yourself) that this is really about you. That's a good thing!

These people are removed from your life in any concrete sense, the sun will rise tomorrow the same way, your life will be the exact same, this has no effect on what will happen tomorrow except part of your mind will be freed up—so you can stop trying to worry this bit of sand into a pearl.

If they don't like it or appreciate it, who gives a shit? You're not doing this to manipulate their thoughts and emotions or start up an interaction. Don't do this because you're bored. One time, one shot, come clean and walk away.

If you can come to this realization without sending these apologies at all... even better.
posted by fleacircus at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

High school doesn't matter. These people have hopefully moved on, and changed considerably, fifteen years after the fact. I would just be irritated to be contacted by someone who is little more than a bad, dim, memory.
posted by spaltavian at 2:29 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had an unpleasant middle and high school experience. One of the best things that happened to me was when, late in college, I visited my hometown and ran into one of the girls who hadn't been very nice to me. She saw me on the street, ran up to me, said, "High school really sucked" and gave me a big hug.

Now I'm slowly getting in touch with more of the people I went to HS with (again, Facebook is insidious about this sort of thing) - including one guy who felt the need to apologize to me a few times - I was able to accept his apology and I think it made both of us feel better. That said, there is a list of people who I wouldn't feel comfortable interacting with.

I think the suggestions for using Facebook to apologize are spot on. Despite its evil inner core, it is a great forum for dealing with this sort of thing.

I think that apologizing is a courageous thing.

I hope it goes well.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:58 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I want to add something that hasn't been mentioned yet. There have been a handful of times in my life where I've wanted to make ammends with certain people from the not too distant past. And then, later, was incredibly relieved that I hadn't.

Not to suggest the power of apology/forgiveness isn't huge. It's healing - as much for you as the person on the other end. And, as many have suggested, that just might be the point. I mention this in the interest of looking at this from every angle. There have been a few times where I have been almost too forgiving (even ten, fifteen years later - all in the name of "finally" making things "okay"). This while temporarily overlooking that some of the things I did and said (in response to things they did and said) made good, healthy, self respecting sense at the time.

This is no way is to suggest that you go against a very healthy desire to straighten things out. Only that it isn't always warranted. As, well, forgiveness (of yourself and others) doesn't necessarily require the other person's knowldge.
posted by marimeko at 3:28 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

An apology is rarely the wrong thing to do, even if you ARE the only one who benefits. I disagree strongly with those who seem to think that your mental well-being is insufficient reason to make contact. It sounds like your conscience is demanding something of you, and generally, obeying the prods of conscience shows character.

As for those who say that dredging up the past can be painful for the recipient: For a person that damaged by the past, a sincere recognition of wrongs done may be just the tool they need to finally put some closure on the incident.

Nthing the 'don't push your own agenda' crowd. You're apologizing, not trying to rekindle something. If the apology is responded to, a conversation can start from there.
posted by Ys at 3:30 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I thought about doing this fairly recently, with a person I wasn't very nice to about twelve years ago.

No matter how many different ways I thought about it, though, I always come back to the same conclusion: odds are very, very good that this person has long since moved on, and so any action whatsoever from me is most likely going to cause them more stress. I've decided it's better to accept that there's someone out there who hates me -- and rightfully so -- in recognition that adding any additional stress to them in order to reduce any of my stress is, ultimately, a dick move.

Of course, if I found out (somehow) that this person always wanted me to apologize, you're darn right I'd do it, like crazy -- but only because I'd know they wanted it.
posted by davejay at 3:35 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

They might jump to the conclusion that you're doing a twelve-step program, no? Not that this really matters.

I'd leave it be. If you can find them on Facebook, they could've found you, had they wanted to.
posted by zadcat at 3:46 PM on June 6, 2010

Friend them, see if they friend you back.

A girl who wronged me in high school in a fairly minor way (that seemed totally traumatic at the time) just added me as a friend on Facebook. I declined partially because she's never seriously apologized. If you really mean the apology, you should make it without putting out a trial balloon first.
posted by grouse at 3:56 PM on June 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you do apologize, make it short and sweet. One or two sentences. I've had a couple of people, both male romantic interests, reconnect with me on Facebook and apologize at length for things that happened 15-20 years ago. I felt annoyed with both apologies. First, I felt like the apologizers gave themselves too much credit. I definitely have not been in a state of arrested development, sitting around moping over how shitty these people were to me. I'm a totally different person, but also the grown-up me doesn't really want to be reminded of how I allowed myself to be treated. I'm not at all interested in rekindling a friendship or hanging out or chatting. My first thought with each was, "wow, are you going through AA now and have to apologize to everyone you were a shithead to?" I seriously wondered what their motives were, you know?
posted by pluckysparrow at 4:00 PM on June 6, 2010

I would apologize. There could be some tiny part of them, deep down, that unknots because of this. And you will have done what you thought was right.

But, if you think this could rekindle some terrible pain (e.g., if your broken relationship had sent them into a deep depression), I would refrain.
posted by salvia at 4:01 PM on June 6, 2010

Also, yes, he points about being brief and keeping their needs above yours are good.
posted by salvia at 4:04 PM on June 6, 2010

I recently contacted a boy I really cruelly rejected during high school via facebook. My message wasn't much more than "I'm not sure you remember me, but I wanted to let you know that I remember you, and what a nice guy you were, and I'm really sorry for how I treated you. I don't know if an apology eight years down-the-line is worth a thing, but I figure, why not? So I'm really sorry."

He responded, said he did remember, and that he appreciated my apology. And that was pretty much it. I wasn't apologizing so we could be best friends and reminisce, or to clear my conscience, but because I knew that my behavior was beyond-the-pale and worth acknowledging. Were I in his position, I'd feel better to have that sort of thing acknowledged. Many people aren't brave enough to acknowledge their own bad behavior unless there's something in it for them--friendship or whatnot.

In contrast, I was once contacted via facebook by a friend I'd had a falling out with just after high school graduation. She'd pretty abruptly stopped being my friend, never offered explanations or apologies--and that didn't change once she got back in touch. When she did get back in touch, it was to ask me for writing/editing advice and to make mean jokes about the people we went to high school with (who are good friends of mine, still). I was Not Okay with this; it felt like I was being used, and dredged up entirely too many feelings about the end of our friendship. So I cut off contact completely after that.

If you want to apologize, do so simply and gracefully without any expectations of friendship. Anticipate no response or a negative response. Be okay with it if they don't want to be friends. Don't push. If they want more, they'll ask for it. But remember that you're doing this for them--not for you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:05 PM on June 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you really want to get it off your chest but can't rationalize possibly upsetting them -- what about an alternative venue like Post Secret?

I sympathize with you on this. I owe a couple apologies as well.
posted by sldownard at 4:07 PM on June 6, 2010

I think the apology would probably mean more to you than it would to them, unless what you did was so horrendous that they're still harbouring resentment about it fifteen years down the track.

So, write to them. Say what you need to say, get it off your chest, and feel better about it. Just don't expect them to care or offer any kind of absolution. They've likely moved on a long time ago.
posted by twirlypen at 4:11 PM on June 6, 2010

I would love to get an apology from someone of the people who had done something stupid, ignorant, terrible or mean to me. Years later, whatever, it would still mean something.

I would hate it if someone was making an apology which was clearly based on some crises in their own life, and that I was simply a stepping stone to them feeling good or whatever.

If I thought I had done something, bad, I would apologise for it. It's the best thing my dad ever taught me: never be afraid to admit that you were wrong and you're sorry about it.
posted by smoke at 4:49 PM on June 6, 2010

It really depends on how bad it was.

Persistent bullying--yeah, don't contact them. Broke up with them and spread a horrible rumor to the entire school, or sexed their best friend right in front of them--don't contact them.

Broke up with them, were dramatic and angsty as teenagers are wont to be--sure, contact them.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:57 PM on June 6, 2010

I think the world is short on people who take responsibility for their actions. Even if you are a little late to the apology party, I think you are still welcome at it. Send your message- and as long as you know that balloons aren't going to fall from the sky, and you may never get a reply, at least you know you tried.
posted by haplesschild at 6:13 PM on June 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

Keep it short and sweet. This is to make them feel better, not for you to agonize over what-ifs, etc.
Dear N, My conscience often reminds me that I behaved badly to you when we were friends in high school. I'm very sorry. I hope you can accept my apology. I also hope life is treating you as close to as well as you deserve, which is very well, indeed. With my regrets and best wishes, Anon.
Dear D, etc.
posted by theora55 at 7:17 PM on June 6, 2010

Friend them, see if they friend you back.

A girl who wronged me in high school in a fairly minor way (that seemed totally traumatic at the time) just added me as a friend on Facebook. I declined partially because she's never seriously apologized. If you really mean the apology, you should make it without putting out a trial balloon first.

Oh, fair enough, I was imagining the apology in the note that comes with the friending, and didn't articulate it clearly enough.

I like theora55's script, too.
posted by desuetude at 10:17 PM on June 6, 2010

It doesn't matter if it was two minutes or twenty years ago, after fucking up, an apology is the graceful thing to do.
posted by deborah at 11:00 PM on June 6, 2010

This seems like it is for your benefit. You've already stated it -you feel bad, so anything that comes from this is probably to soothe your own ego. They've more than likely moved on.

I received a friend request from someone who, in high school, was a friend but pressured my then boyfriend (our mutual friend) into breaking up with me, stole things from me, sealed my lock with glue, wrote my phone number on payphones and harassed me by phone/got his friend to do so. Repeatedly. This kid later dropped out and wound up in the juvenile justice system.

He's married and a father now, and he sent me that request, but I just ignored it. I have plenty of capacity to forgive people, and I'm tolerant and plenty nice, but I moved on and have no desire to rehash any of that stuff, nor do I feel any need to have this person in my life.

And so it goes.

Be prepared, if you venture to contact them, to be ignored or disappointed. Though maybe it will go better. God luck.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:32 PM on June 6, 2010

I have been the recipient of apologies like this -- via Facebook, no less -- and was happy for it. Even when I still did not like the person in question very much it gave me some respect for them and closure. As long as you don't expect forgiveness or even a response, I say go for it.

By the way, you can send people messages on Facebook without friending them, or least people have sent me messages without friending me. It's possibly a privacy option they can change, I can't recall. If you can send them a message without friending them, do so; getting a friend request from someone you ended on bad terms with, without any explanation, can be rather jarring and might cause them to initially take it the wrong way and simply ignore the request: "Oh, this asshole things he can just friend me like nothing ever happened, without even apologizing?"
posted by Nattie at 12:32 AM on June 7, 2010

You know, YOU'VE been hanging onto this for 15 years, but that doesn't mean they have. Keep that in mind when you apologize; it might be huge for you to do it but matter little to them.

PS: I'm guessing you're in your early 30's. High school was 4 years of your life -- and that percentage of relative time to your whole experience decreases with every minute passing. Try to let go and move on soon, 'kay?
posted by kidelo at 3:38 AM on June 7, 2010

Fifteen years ago, in high school,

Stop right there.

The right time to bring this up, if at all, would've been after your nth cocktail at the 10 year reunion when you could've slurred out a lengthy tearful confession followed by "I luv you guysh!" People would still have thought you were nutty for hanging on to what sounds like totally routine high school relationship drama for so long, but at least your scene would have made a good story for them to take home from the reunion.

The statute of limitations on Dating While Under The Influence Of Puberty And Immaturity is, at most, five years. Let it go already.
posted by ook at 6:37 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's a good idea. People do stupid shit they regret in high school all the time. Everyone moves on. You've moved on with your life. They've moved on with theirs. I'm sure they don't think you're a giant ass hole anymore. They probably don't need you to let them know you aren't. If you do see them again in real life, then definitely be all, "shit I'm sorry I was such an asshole," but otherwise I'd just leave this all be.
posted by chunking express at 7:22 AM on June 7, 2010

The statute of limitations on immature shit you did when you were immature expired a long time ago. They should have figured out by now that everyone is, at best, half-stupid for a 7-10 year period of their formative years. Contact them. If they're still holding a grudge about it then apologize, but I seriously doubt they are.
posted by IanMorr at 7:51 AM on June 7, 2010

I can't speak for the other side of the equation, but I will add my vote for just sending an apology in the way that PhoBWanKenobi suggests. I've been in something approaching this situation, and a short note with no real expectations of response served me well. Stop carrying the guilt, acknowledge that you fucked up, and move on. They may throw it away, or refuse to read it, but at least you made the effort.
posted by ashirys at 10:23 AM on June 7, 2010

I received such apologies from once-close friends years after I had already processed my feelings and moved on. And yet, the acknowledgement of how much they had hurt me and what they lost when our relationships ended were still quite meaningful to me. With one, we caught up and parted on good terms; the other I count amongst my dearest of friends once more.

They were nervous, and neither expected anything (not even a response). Their messages to reach out to me were short and sincere. And they serve as examples of how I can best approach and apologize to an old friend I had wronged myself.

I sincerely believe that if you can make amends, do try. As others have said, don't expect anything, speak plainly and truthfully, and wish them well.
posted by vespertine at 9:30 PM on June 7, 2010

I once had someone I dated reconnect with me on a social networking site and professed an apology over something I didn't even recall! I had a vague notion that something like that happened, but it meant nothing to me in the way it did to them (in fact, i was more pissed off about how i was treated in general by this person, but not in any powerful way ... i was really bored by the juvenile nature of it all - but after all, we were young and not so mature at the time).

I've also attempted to apologize to someone I dated via e-mail long after the fact for a bad thing that ended our relationship that was entirely my fault. At first the person sent me a very terse "what do you want?" reply to being reconnected (i had to go through a mutual friend to find their current e-mail) and my subsequent e-mail containing the apology went unanswered and unacknowledged. It really was a waste of time. I felt no different, and I doubt I even made a dent in this person's experience. Perhaps they hate me even more for simply reminding them I was a fucking jerk in the first place!

Spend the time in the here and now being kind and considerate of those who are all around you in life. Consider it a way to repay the universe for past misdeeds of all sorts, not just to D and N.
posted by kuppajava at 10:44 AM on June 8, 2010

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