Two Years Too Late Apology
August 15, 2012 9:39 PM   Subscribe

How to go about sending an apology after two years of no contact with a former friend? Snowflake!

A little over two years ago a friend and I had a falling out. We'd been friends for about 8 years before that, since middle school. I had moved to a new city at the time and was feeling very insecure and anxious, likely rightly so as I moved to the city without much of a plan, clear career path, or savings. Needless to say, I wasn't in the most emotionally clear period in my post-college 20s.

The details are complicated and slightly too specific to get into for anonymity's sake, but I was living with him when I first got to the city and a small misunderstanding on both of our parts eventually led to a head where I displayed a massive lack of perspective and had severe communication issues. I was also good friends with his girlfriend at the time, who is now his fiance, more or less. The situation blew up and never got resolved, and it wasn't until a year after the fact that I started to realize how at fault I was.

I had been wanting to apologize for quite some time, but never actually have because my assessment of the situation led me to believe that it was too late and they might be dismissive of an apology from me. Recently a mutual friend in from out of town told me in as many words that she had talked to the guy and at the very least he had implied that he would be receptive to and might actually actively want an apology from me. Another mutual friend was in town a while back and while at dinner with them asked them offhand if they had talked to me recently. They said no, and the girl referenced with scorn an event where I showed little tact, which I had immediately regretted at the time.

Due to the mutual friend's presence in town, I ran into them at a social event with other friends this week and had a very standard, yet only slightly awkward catching up conversation with the guy for a few minutes. I got a very cold reaction from the girl when I waved to her. A few minutes later they left and I didn't have the opportunity to apologize in person.

Now I'm attempting to draft an e-mail to send to him and I'm not exactly sure what I should put into it. I'm wondering if anybody has had an experience with a similar belated apology from either side, and what worked and what didn't. My goal at this point is is somewhat catharsis from guilt, but moreso I would like them to know that I genuinely don't blame them for anything that happened during that time and that I put it all on my shoulders. I would also like to do this without it sounding like an over-the-top confessional.

This seems like it could be ground that I should tread lightly and I'd appreciate further perspective.
posted by gregoryg to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Make it short. You really don't need more than:

"Dear X,

I want to apologize for ABC; I was in the wrong. If you're open to it, I would like to catch up. If not, I totally understand.

Best wishes,
posted by oinopaponton at 9:49 PM on August 15, 2012 [19 favorites]

Keep it short and simple. Something along the lines of: I sincerely apologize for my actions and wish you both well.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:51 PM on August 15, 2012

What are you trying to get out of this? Absolution? Friendship back? Both seem unlikely at this point. If on the other hand your goal is to not feel super-awkward to be in the same room as them, I think you can work with that.

You are pretty thin with the details on what went wrong, and how involved the girlfriend/fiancee was, but if I were you I'd go with a very simple email saying that you really messed up a couple of years ago. Own up to your part of it (that's your stuff), don't reference any part they played in it going poorly (that's their stuff), say that you've wanted to apologize for some time and you hope they can accept your apology. Keep it sincere but short. I might do a subject line of "Belated apology" or something similar to reduce the chances of an insta-delete. Depending on the involvement of the gf/fiancee, I would cc her (or not).

Don't expect a response of any sort.
posted by arnicae at 9:52 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

And, forgive yourself. You owned your part of this, and now hopefully you can move on even if they can't. Life is too short to spend it beating yourself up for events from years ago. You are growing and learning.
posted by arnicae at 9:52 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think that if you want to send a belated apology it should be short and sincere, while clearly emphasizing that they have no obligation to get back to you.
posted by lobbyist at 9:52 PM on August 15, 2012

You should send it to both him and his fiancee, not just to him. That's a major slight to her to do that.
posted by fshgrl at 9:57 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

We could give you much better advice if you were candid about exactly what happened. Otherwise it's going to be pretty generic. I also have the inkling that you have some apologizing to do specifically to the GF in order to see any real results.
posted by cairdeas at 10:00 PM on August 15, 2012

Consider a handwritten note.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:14 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

arnicae: Absolution is what I had wanted for the past year, but it felt like too purely selfish of an action until I heard my mutual friend mention that the guy might actively want an apology. At this point my goal is to accomplish that, any absolution that might happen would be absolutely secondary. Also I very much appreciate your second comment.

cairdeas: I'm hesitant to say too much just because I didn't post this anonymously and I wouldn't feel comfortable posting specifics that would feel inappropriate to mention in a public forum. I will say that the crux of the "mutual misunderstanding" is that I had two guy friends living together in the city, both doing well financially. One (whom I'm still friends with) moved out of that apartment to move in with his girlfriend, and generously said that I could stay in his room through the last two months of the lease and he would pay rent for me while I got on my feet. I moved in, but those two had a falling out around that time and broke off contact. I lived in the apartment for nearly two months and operated as if I were a roommate of the guy I'd like to apologize to. Apparently we weren't on the same level and he considered me his house guest. This was complicated further when the girl in question moved into his room from out of town and we didn't get along as roommates. In retrospect I absolutely should have taken his kindness more into account and acted as a house guest regardless of the technical details. But like I said, something minor that snowballed due to bad communication and misunderstandings, which seems like the more relevant thing to me.

Sorry to threadsit, but wanted to make sure I didn't have more posts in the morning saying that I was being too vague. As you can see I'm inherently too wordy, I will absolutely be taking that very good advice into account and making my e-mail as short as possible.
posted by gregoryg at 10:19 PM on August 15, 2012

Gotcha! Okay.

Here is what I would advise, based on what oinopaponton suggested:

Dear Guy Friend:

I want to apologize for how I acted while I lived with you; I was in the wrong. I should have taken your kindness more into account and acted as a house guest while I was there. I apologize that it took me longer than it should have to realize my massive lack of perspective and severe communication issues. But now that I have perspective, I am truly sorry. If you're open to it, I would like to catch up. If not, I totally understand.

Best wishes,

I think you ALSO need to apologize to the GF:

Dear GF:

I would like to extend my sincere apologies to you for how I acted while I lived with you. I was completely in the wrong and should not have put you in that situation in your living environment. I wish you the best in the future.

posted by cairdeas at 10:39 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, totally threadsitting, but if it's relevant it just occurred to me to mention: this is all purely based on my reflections on the situation. I'm not sure what exactly they consider the specific issues to be, and they may be different from my own take, so I'm not sure if a more vague reply would be more appropriate or not.
posted by gregoryg at 10:55 PM on August 15, 2012

hi! i apologized to a friend once 5 years after an incident that drove us apart. honestly it wasnt the best apology. i did it because i cared about the person, and wanted them to know that, and also because i was regretful. now we aren't really close like before, but we are on very gracious speaking terms.

when you deliver an apology, you do it for the apology itself, and because you care about the person. try not to worry about the result. i doubt the other person will have to go through years of therapy was the result of your apology, so there's no harm to be done in my view.
posted by saraindc at 12:53 AM on August 16, 2012

Honestly, I don't understand the issue here. I lived in the apartment for nearly two months and operated as if I were a roommate of the guy I'd like to apologize to. Apparently we weren't on the same level and he considered me his house guest.

Based on what you've written I don't think you owe anyone an apology. I dunno what kindness has to do with it, the room was paid for 2 months and you stayed there for ~2 months. Apologize if you want but I suggest keeping it very brief as the posters above have suggested. Everyone acts like a complete idiot post-college days. Hell, I was hanging out with a bunch of people who acted like they were straight out of Jersey Shore, we did horrible things to each other, and nobody is on bad terms to this date.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 1:00 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are two reasons why apologies are often considered "selfish":

- they are worded in ways which either are or seem self-serving (the "I'm sorry but it was your fault" is the most obvious, but there are subtler forms)

- people don't have the guts to apologize when they know they should, so they rationalize their delinquency as "it would only be for me" and then generalize that to the entire concept of apology.

Even after reading your description of the situation I can't quite figure out what went wrong here, but it seems you showed unappreciation towards one guy who paid your rent for two months, and the other guy in whose apartment you are staying, and also to the girlfriend of one of them who moved into one of the rooms while you were still living there.

If that's the case you need to write three apologies:

1. Dear Rent-Payer, I would like to express how greatly I regret the way I behaved in response to your generosity back when I was living at Apartment Dweller's. You did an extremely kind thing for me, really going above and beyond, and instead of showing how much I appreciated that, I expressed ingratitude and actually went so far as to stick out the eyes on your grandpa's portrait.

"I have no excuse for the way I behaved, and all I can say is that the fault was all mine, and I did it because of my immaturity and poor attitude which has become more and more obvious to me with the changes in my perspective on things as time passes.

"You were a very valuable friend to me and I apologize for the way I treated you. I just wanted you to know that.



Equivalent letters for the other two, but be careful not to repeat any wording - if they compare notes it'll look like a form letter.

If you know their street addresses, handwrite them. Otherwise email is the best you can do.
posted by tel3path at 2:34 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

In this case, a written apology would probably be best. If you email, you run the risk of having it deleted before it is read.

Dear Friend:
This is long overdue: I apologize for being such an idiot two years ago. My head was not in a good place but that is no excuse for my behavior nor is it a good reason for my actions.
I also apologize for taking so long to let you know that I am very thankful for your friendship and generosity during that time. I'm sorry that we're no longer friends but I can only blame myself.
I just wanted you to know that I am very sorry that I've hurt you.

I wish you and Julie the best for your future together.


The ball will then be in your friend's court. I do sense that you feel like the girlfriend/fiancee is the big bump in the road here so I wouldn't hold out much hope.
posted by jaimystery at 4:00 AM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure what exactly they consider the specific issues to be, and they may be different from my own take, so I'm not sure if a more vague reply would be more appropriate or not.

So if I were in your shoes, the vague letter that people suggest is step 1.

But there is a step 2, provided that your friend meets with you.I think that these components are also very important:

• Apologize for whatever it was that you think you did (let's just say transgression 1).

• Even if was a few years ago, ask if there was anything else that bothered you. You would like to know this so that you don't ever do it again. When they tell or share this with you, make it a safe place and let them share their feeling. As in, this would not be the time to ....tell them what you thought they did, or how this circumstance mitigated it/it is "not your fault",....just listen.

• Apologize for those actions, too (whatever it is they tell you).

• Let them know that you will never do it again (and this is why...).

• If this apology goes well, try to rebuild the friendship. But you may need to do the work for the initial friendship to restart if this is what you want.

I also think that the latter part of what tel3path said in a previous comment (summary of a book about forgiveness) is really helpful. Check it out.

It comes down to ...if someone feels generally wronged, part of the problem is that you think the other person may not even know what they did and you might not feel comfortable/safe relating to the person again, because it may continue in an infinite loop. If you know that the other person understands it and will make an effort to understand and not to do it again, it could help a person move past whatever this issue was.
posted by Wolfster at 6:22 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can relate. I was friends with someone since we were 12. When we went to college we rented an apartment together. I was an idiot, I bounced my rent check and then bugged out on the lease. I was a disaster and I dumped it on her.

I was mortified by how badly I behaved and didn't speak to her for years. Our friendship was more important than any series of ill-advised actions and luckily we were able to make up and be friends again. We live on opposite sides of the continent, but we love each other and have a great time when we get together.

You'd be amazed at how forgiving people can be. I know that I'm grateful every day that my friend overlooked a shitty period in my life and forgave me. Now I try to pass it on and be forgiving of others when they do shitty things to me.

I would simply say,

Dear Friend,

This apology is overdue. I am so sorry that I was such a douchebag when I lived with you. I have no explanation for my behavior, just know that I'm sorry and ashamed of how I acted.

I really enjoyed seeing you at the party last week and I miss the times we used to spend together. Perhaps we can meet over a beer and catch up. If not, that's cool too.

Take Care,
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:49 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

This may be a generational thing (I'm in my 40's), but I am seconding jaimystery's suggestion that this apology be hand-written (on paper). Email just doesn't cut it in these situations.
posted by seasparrow at 7:06 AM on August 16, 2012

Dear Friend,

I'm really glad to have seen you and Fiancee at the party. I'm sorry it was so awkward. The truth is, I've been feeling awful about how badly I behaved, and seeing you again reminded me (of what a good thing I screwed up, of how hurt you were, of how much I wish I'd handled things differently, how much I miss being friends).

I have no excuse, really. I'll admit it took me months for it to sink in how much I was in the wrong, but my regret/embarrassment has just been growing ever since. I'm not sure how much good an apology is at this point, but I wanted you to know that I was glad to see you last week, and will be glad to see you if our paths cross again.

Thanks for listening,

posted by aimedwander at 7:15 AM on August 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

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