I'm sorry - but I'm not really "sorry"......
July 14, 2015 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I need to apologize to my friend again, but I don’t feel sorry for what was said – only for having hurt her. How can I do that successfully?

Whilst on a recent vacation in Vegas, my friend acted in a very appropriate way (at least in my eyes). I called her out on it later in the evening; we had a calm but fairly heated discussion. We were on different pages regarding her behavior; she thought it was fine whilst I certainly did not. We agreed to disagree, I apologized for saying things that hurt her feelings, said it wasn’t worth fighting over, we hugged it out and I thought that was the end of it.

Yesterday (After a full 3 days of further vacation in which everything was fine) she wants to talk to me again for the hurtful things I said since she doesn’t feel it was resolved at the time. Obviously I need to eat humble pie and apologize again for making her feel sad – but how can I do this properly when I don’t actually feel sorry for bringing things to her attention that I felt needed to be said?

I’m looking for some sort of “apology script” which conveys just how sad I am that I’ve hurt her but I’m trying to avoid saying something like “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings but I stand by what I said” because that sounds hollow to me.

Any advice?
posted by JenThePro to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe something like, "I'm sorry I brought it up-- it's not my business, and I'm not in your shoes, so I'm sorry that I said something hurtful out of turn"?
posted by easter queen at 9:17 AM on July 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

This is hard to comment on without the context of what she did and what you said.
posted by namesarehard at 9:19 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Why do you have to be right? If her feelings are hurt, can you give her the apology she wants without harm? Don't stand on principles at the cost of her friendship. But, of course, I don't know what the incident was--perhaps you should stand on principles. Was she abusing a waiter? Or just being obnoxious?
posted by feste at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I assume you mean inappropriate, above? And I assume you are sorry for the fact that her feelings were hurt maybe as the result of things you said, but you're not sorry for calling out whatever she did? So maybe the thing to do is focus on your callout which seems like what she is talking about? Like, even if she was wrong, there are still better and worse ways of getting that across (picking better words, picking a better time and place) and you could own that and just skip the "You are wrong" part which is not the part she's taking issue with? It's not totally clear from what you said if she's upset about what you said or upset about the difference of opinion you had.

So I made up a sort of "What could this be about" thing in my head. Say your friend was flirting with a married man or something and you called her out in a snappish way and gave her a hard time about it. She's upset about the hard time, she may not think the flirting was a problem and probably still doesn't.

I don't think you need to apologize again I think you can just restate your apology. "I'm sorry you felt bad that I called you out. I could have handled that differently and we could have talked about it later. I didn't mean to embarrass you. If you'd like to talk about the incident, I'm happy to be here and listen but my opinion on it hasn't changed"

It may be that you guys "agreeing to disagree" just doesn't sit okay with her in which case you don't have anything to apologize for but it may affect your friendship going forward. Your being "right" about the conflict you had doesn't make her hurt feelings any less okay (unless they do to you which is a different issue entirely)
posted by jessamyn at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2015 [24 favorites]

How about "agreeing to disagree"?

Because how I really read this is a difference of opinion with respect to appropriateness of behavior....something that is more often subjective than not.
posted by PsuDab93 at 9:31 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's the thing: you don't get to tell her how to be, not without accepting that you are risking the friendship.

Now, if her behavior was encroaching on your boundaries - if she was compromising your safety, for example, or if what she did cost you money or damaged your property - you don't have to be sorry you stood up for yourself, though you may have said things that should be reconsidered. And certainly the sort of things that fall into "bad behavior on vacation" can cross those lines. But that sort of behavior can also fall into "I don't approve of how you are acting even though you aren't technically hurting me but I believe I have the right to shame/scold/lecture/judge/say hurtful things to you about it and you still have to have the same relationship with me afterward because I'm right."

You should probably figure out what you want as an outcome. Possibly your relationship can't continue as before, because you and she don't agree on what is appropriate to the extent that you want her behavior to change and she isn't interested in taking direction from you on it.

If there were things you said that you think were inappropriate, apologize for that. If you think she deserved to be hurt, say so. Let the chips fall where they may, at least they'll be honest.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:34 AM on July 14, 2015 [17 favorites]

As Anne Lamott wrote, and feste touched on, "It's better to be kind than right." If you genuinely want to smooth over bad feelings, go ahead and say “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings" but leave out "but I stand by what I said.” You can believe that but you don't need to express it—This conversation is about making up, not continuing the argument.

If whatever happened was so inappropriate that you still feel the need to impress upon her how you felt, perhaps it's too early yet for an apology?
posted by ejs at 9:52 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is she upset that you called her out, or is she upset about things you said during the heated discussion that ensued? For example:
You: I think it was really bad for you to flirt with that married guy. His wife was right there!
Her: Oh, it wasn't a big deal.
You: If you act like that someone's going to think you're a hooker, and then what'll they think about me?
So, totally appropriate for you to call her out for flirting with the married guy. Don't apologize for that. On the other hand, maybe there are some other things you said during the discussion that you could sincerely apologize for. Start by listening to what she has to has to say. You don't know yet what she's upset about.
posted by alms at 9:53 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I once hurt a very good friend very badly, by taking actions that I firmly believed -- and believe -- were the best thing to do under the circumstances. I did what I did knowing at the time that it would hurt her, and I made my decision to act after desperately trying to find another way that was still ethical but wouldn't hurt her. When she found out and confronted me about it, shaking with anger, I told her "I'm not going to insult you by apologizing for doing it; I am not sorry, I knew it would hurt you, and I would do it again if I had to. I did not want to hurt you. This was the hardest choice I've ever had to make in my life. I did it for reasons X, Y, and Z, and because I couldn't see what else I could possibly do. I *am* sorry I hurt you; the knowledge that you would be hurt is what made this such a hard decision. But I can't apologize in good faith, because while I feel terrible about how badly you are hurt, I'm not sorry for what I did."

She pointed out to me a couple of aspects of what I did that had hurt her the most, and which I hadn't anticipated having the consequences that they did. I told her "OK, yes. That was a genuine fuckup on my part; I didn't think that through. For that, I can unreservedly apologize, and if you can think of a way for me to make it right, I will." I don't know if she ever forgave me per se; she did say "I understand why you did it, and I know that your reasons were good ones," but that's not the same as forgiveness. Our relationship has been a little cooler ever since.

What I'm getting at is -- if you aren't sorry, don't apologize. It's insulting and insincere. If you believed or believe that calling her out was necessary even if it cost you the friendship, then you need to stick by that belief even as it costs you. If, on the other hand, you wish you hadn't said anything now that you see how seriously it affected her, then you ARE sorry, and you MUST apologize -- but not for making her feel bad, but for saying what you said in the first place. When you apologize only for someone's hurt feelings but not for your words or actions, you're essentially saying "I would be happier if you were a different person with different feelings," and that's not kind. If you truly believe that her behavior was inappropriate and had to be called out, then you need to be willing to absorb some of the discomfort from that action, and that may include her being mad at you or the friendship deteriorating.
posted by KathrynT at 9:54 AM on July 14, 2015 [24 favorites]

Here's the thing about apologies. Saying "I'm sorry" does not always mean that you are taking responsibility for something fully, or admitting fault. It's worth investigating if you are at fault for something, but even if you are convinced you are not, saying "I'm sorry" serves more than one purpose.

"I'm sorry your family member passed away," for example, is not an apology. It can also be used to express regret, without having to qualify it to the nth degree. In your particular case, as I think you already discern, saying "I'm sorry you felt that way," is pretty transparently belittling, like someone had inappropriate feelings. That's the tempting thing to say though when you don't feel responsible.

I think a good narrative when you don't feel like you are at fault is to use an apology that doesn't transfer ownership but expresses regret. For example, "I really regret/am sorry that we/I didn't find a better way to communicate without causing you to feel hurt, or to feel damage was done to our relationship. If you can tell me what felt hurtful to you while still addressing the concern, I will be happy to keep these things in mind for future conversations." Now, the conversation can move towards better communication in the future. Even if you are in the right, it's okay to apologize/express regret for hurt that is accidentally caused, as well. I apologize for stepping on someone's foot accidentally. It's also okay to apologize/express regret for stepping on someone's feelings, too, even if you think that under normal circumstances, others might not respond the same way.

Expressing regret means that you wish there were fewer barriers to intimacy, but you are willing to keep working on those things. Sometimes just hearing that from someone can feel healing. Keep in mind though that sometimes when hurt feelings smart for awhile, you can't just make them go away through an act of the will. Perhaps this is why she wants to talk it out some more.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:07 AM on July 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

Hmm, it's hard when someone you're close to and care about does something that really challenges your personal (particularly ethical) standards. If it's something like that - e.g. Jessamyn's example of getting involved with a married guy (sounds like it's something along those lines, not some tipping etiquette fiasco?) - I think both of you will have to think about the implications of that for your friendship.

(I personally feel it's a good thing to have and be an honest, trusted friend, who's willing to call out actions they feel are self-destructive or harmful, especially if the other person is momentarily a bit lost, or having a rough time generally. Not that it's your job or anything, but I feel like with really close friends, it's part of looking out for each other. And of course it all involves subjective judgements, sure, and you'll have to figure out what you each feel comfortable with. I mean, is she maybe a bit lost, or having to work through stuff? If so, are you able to be understanding of that, at the same time that you disagree with her actions in this case? Not that you have to be, you don't, it's just a decision to make.)

I think you could apologize for delivering that kind of honesty insensitively. (I think when it comes down to it, though, if what she did was against what she knows are or were your shared values, she'll want to explain herself again, maybe gain your approval or understanding.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:09 AM on July 14, 2015

I'm going to imagine that the inappropriate thing your friend did was something I myself would consider beyond the pale, and something I would feel compelled to intervene over. So let's say you were at the beach and your friend was stomping on crabs.

Here's the thing: your friend was wrong to stomp on crabs, but you did something wrong too--you said some cruel things to her that she can't shake off. She deserves an apology for that. The apology goes, "Belinda, you know, I've been thinking over that fight a lot. And I was so upset when I saw you stomping those crabs that I lost my temper. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I hadn't stopped you then, but I also know I could've handled the situation a lot better. I really wish I hadn't said those awful things about your weight, for example. That was completely inappropriate and unnecessary. I didn't mean them, and I'm ashamed of the way I lashed out. I hope you can forgive me."
posted by milk white peacock at 10:18 AM on July 14, 2015 [20 favorites]

Yesterday (After a full 3 days of further vacation in which everything was fine) she wants to talk to me again for the hurtful things I said since she doesn’t feel it was resolved at the time. Obviously I need to eat humble pie and apologize again [...]

Do you know that that's true though? It may be that formal apologizing and eating of humble pie is not what's called for here. Maybe there should be a more open-ended discussion. Best case scenario, what would you hope to get out of this second talk? Do you want to restore the friendship to where it was, or has this incident made you feel differently about her?

If I was at least open to restoring the friendship in a situation like this, I would probably start by asking the person what she needed in order to move forward. Maybe an apology, maybe a promise to act differently, maybe better understanding of what she did and why she did it.

While people often do create or compound injury with clumsy apologies or non-apologies, I don't think that's all of it with you two. I think you don't understand each other and you need to see if you can.
posted by BibiRose at 10:31 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Some/most people take longer than a few minutes or hours to process their emotional and intellectual responses to arguments, judgments and injury. So EVEN if it's been apparently hugged out, and even if it's been three days of her keeping that process to herself and functioning as an able vacationer with you, she obviously feels the conflict has not been resolved to her satisfaction.

So far: You have 'agreed to disagree' - but that doesn't sit the same way for all people, especially if what you are apparently agreeing to disagree about is whether she's a shitty person, and you're apparently not. Sitting with that thought for three days is hard and maybe you should simply offer to listen. "It sounds like you've been thinking about our argument a lot more over the last few days. You're important to me, and I'm listening, and I care about what you have to say." Then listen to what she has to say.
posted by honey-barbara at 10:44 AM on July 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Saying you are sorry that her feelings are hurt isn't an apology unless you actually didn't mean to say the things which hurt her, and you did mean them. But is there anything you are genuinely sorry for? The tone in which you said it? A specific comment? Not letting her explain? Not being more sympathetic about something which caused her to act the way she did? If there is nothing you feel sorry for, I think you should leave the words "sorry" "apologise" etc out of the discussion. Say something like "you're a really good friend and I would love to put this behind us. What is it you'd like to say?" Then listen to whatever she has to say on the matter (maybe she wants to offer some mitigating circumstances or even apologise herself) and then say something to indicate you accept her views on the matter, or answer any questions she has and then try and put the whole thing into the past.
posted by intensitymultiply at 10:44 AM on July 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Sometimes you do have to choose between staying right and being kind.

I don't know what kind of situation this was, but I have generally as I've gotten older felt less like I was responsible for calling out my friends' behaviour (because I trust them to be generally ethical and good people, or we're not friends), and more like it's my responsibility to be honest in a kind way when asked.

So, she's asking. I definitely would ask her what she wants to get out of the conversation.

If she wants to hear that you value her and love her, then I would share some of the 999999 things you have observed about her that are great. I mean, I think it's human to focus on the One Time You Did This Thing but have you told her the things she does that you admire and find awesome, as spontaneously as you have been with your critical thoughts? Because if not, or even if so, maybe this is the moment to share.

If she wants to hear that her feelings are important to you, then I assume they are and you can share that you do care about her feelings. I

If she wants to rehash who was right, then I suggest you listen to her and then give her a hug, if you want to keep the friendship, but don't argue. You said it at the time, so you don't have to say it again.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:52 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd try to really understand what she heard. Maybe when you said "you seem pretttty drunk; maybe it's time to think about bed?" she heard "I view you as a child I have to parent" (because parents are the ones who send children to bed). In that case, the apology sounds like, "oh, I'm sorry, I never meant to come across like THAT. I don't view you as a child; I have complete respect for you as your own adult woman. As my friend, I did want to stop you from walking into traffic, and I know you'd have done the same for me, but I could have expressed that better so that it didn't sound like I was treating you like a child."
posted by salvia at 11:04 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

You didn't detail what actually happened. Given that and your description here, I am concerned that there is a deeper issue here. If she really did something inappropriate and you still feel it was inappropriate and you still feel calling her out on it was the right thing to do, then "eating humble pie" and apologizing may just be the start of bad things.

Sometimes you do have to choose between being right and being kind. And sometimes that sucks. But it isn't always the case that choosing to be kind is the better answer.

I am sorry you are dealing with this.
posted by Michele in California at 11:08 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

"That wasn't the right way for me to bring that up. I could've done it in a better way and I'm sorry it made you feel bad. You're my friend and I care about you and I always look out for you."

It's hard without knowing what her inappropriate behavior was. Maybe you call her out was absolutely the right thing to do and she needs to understand that? Maybe you were being a dick and you should apologize? It's hard to say.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:03 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone.
I didn't want to get into actual specifics of her behavior because I don't really think it adds anything to the conversation, but Jessamyn was on the right track. If it makes everyone feel better, I will say that I was with a group of other friends and they all agreed with my stance on the matter.

But I think so many of the answers above are very, very helpful indeed and I'm absolutely resolute that I definitely regret the WAY I handled things and I'll apologize profusely and genuinely to her again tonight with many of the wonderful words and phrases you all so generously helped me with!
posted by JenThePro at 1:42 PM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

"I'm sorry that you feel that way" or "I'm sorry that it hurt your feelings" is proper.

I am not one for apologizing for expressing how I feel about something.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 11:49 AM on July 15, 2015

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