How to apologize when you don't believe you're wrong
November 16, 2018 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Silly drama inside

Last year around my birthday, I (30) had asked my brother (3 years younger than me) to get me some of a consumable substance that he has easier access to than me.

He did get it for me, and asked me to e transfer him $20 for it.
It wasn't in the format I was expecting to get it in (let's say it was pre wrapped) and so it didn't look like the amount I would normally spend $20 on (my more savvy friends confirmed this with me). So I simply inquired with him how much he paid for it.

This was a big mistake as it caused him to ghost me for months. I sent him the $20 a few weeks late and thought that would be fine. But apparently he is still upset because my mother keeps bugging me and asking me to apologize for "accusing him of profiting off of me", and that I have to do this before Christmas so that he's not upset with me over the holidays.

I'm guessing this is one of those situations where even though I don't feel I did anything wrong, I should still apologize since I hurt his feelings. It would have been ideal if he didn't have to get my mom involved (why he would want her to know about this, I have no idea) but I probably just need to suck it up and apologize right?

So I'm looking for help on what to say.. "I'm sorry for hurting your feelings when I asked you if XYZ?" I know there must be some magical way to say this.
posted by winterportage to Human Relations (43 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is really only one way to do this without any potential of increasing the drama. Say to him (via phone or in person preferably) some version of, "I am so sorry I asked you how much you paid for the X. It was really shitty of me (pick your own word) to suggest you were trying to make money off me. I really appreciate that you did me the favor of getting X for me. Thank you." No qualifiers, no, "I'm sorry you thought...", no "I didn't mean to..." Just bite the bullet, make a gracious apology and move on.
posted by agatha_magatha at 1:29 PM on November 16, 2018 [47 favorites]

"Sorry for paying you back late, I got behind in things".
posted by Dashy at 1:29 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would just say what you wrote here. "I'm sorry for hurting your feelings. Can we be okay again? I don't want to be in a fight with you."

It sounds like he's being a big baby and I really don't think reasonable for you to have to apologize at all, but I would certainly not bend over backward to make it any more elaborate than that.
posted by something something at 1:29 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't think you need to apologize and I think you would be well within your rights to tell your mom to stop triangulating with him about your (perfectly fine) behavior. He's making her do his emotional labor (or she's proactively choosing to do it), and she doesn't need to do it. You hurt his feelings? Fine, then he can tell you that, and ask for an apology, and you can then choose to apologize or not.

I know that's not really what you asked. If you feel like you do need to say something to appease your mom for the sake of the holidays, I think you could say "I know there were some hard feelings the last time we exchanged gifts and I wanted to clear the air before Christmas. Are we cool?" and then you can go from there.
posted by stellaluna at 1:30 PM on November 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

I'm so sorry for having said X, and I understand completely how it could seem like an accusation. I will do my very best to take more care with my communication going forward.

Like that. You don't have to believe it.
posted by Mistress at 1:30 PM on November 16, 2018 [20 favorites]

Tell your Mom to stop communicating on behalf of your brother.

Apologize for your brother for questioning his integrity.

The fact that you think you don't owe him an apology but want to think of a way to be patronizing to him and insult his intelligence points to a family dynamic that has existed for a long time.

I don't think you're wrong, but both of you need to think about how you communicate with one another. The best thing you can do is to sincerely apologize, and tell your mother to stop acting as an intermediary.

At some point you also have to be open and honest about your feelings: "I was confused and hurt when you stopped talking to me."
posted by JamesBay at 1:33 PM on November 16, 2018 [33 favorites]

I can totally see how this would have hurt his feelings; it might have hurt mine. Ghosting you for months seems extreme, though. Is there other stuff at play?

If this really is an isolated incident, I would say this: "I realize now that asking about the price came across as an accusation. I'm so sorry for how I articulated my question, and for making you feel like I didn't trust you. You mean a lot to me, and I wanted to clear the air. Love you, brother."
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:36 PM on November 16, 2018 [21 favorites]

There's this big idea now that you're never supposed to say "I'm sorry you got your feelings hurt," that that's never a real apology.

But in honest miscommunications like this, screw that, it's actually exactly what you need to say. "Hey. I'm sorry what I said hurt your feelings. I meant A, but I can see how it sounded like B, and that must have been really upsetting. I promise I don't think B and I'm sorry I gave you the idea that I did."
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:36 PM on November 16, 2018 [27 favorites]

The less elaborate the better, I think. There's such a combination of things going on that if you say "I'm sorry I did xyz" it may not be what he thinks happened, and that will lead to further complications. I'd just say "I'm sorry there's been a rift and I'd like to fix it." See if he has anything to say, and then listen.
posted by BibiRose at 1:43 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

So I simply inquired with him how much he paid for it.

You simply made it clear that you either thought he was ripping you off, or that he didn't know enough to avoid being ripped off himself. Those are really the only two reasons to ask that question. You even checked with your friends to make sure you were right that your assessment of the value was better than his!

Apologize already.
posted by solotoro at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2018 [46 favorites]

I don't think you need to apologize

Apologizing doesn't mean you think you were wrong, it means you value the relationship over the issue at hand.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:56 PM on November 16, 2018 [20 favorites]

He did you a favor and you criticized how he did it.

You didn't give him explicit instructions up front but you surveyed your friends afterwards about how he could have done it differently.

You paid him back several weeks late.

Even now you categorize your brother's legitimate response as "silly drama."

Of course you should apologize, for multiple reasons. But don't apologize at all if you don't mean it.

And don't ask your brother for any more favors.
posted by headnsouth at 1:58 PM on November 16, 2018 [68 favorites]

There's this big idea now that you're never supposed to say "I'm sorry you got your feelings hurt," that that's never a real apology. But in honest miscommunications like this, screw that, it's actually exactly what you need to say. "Hey. I'm sorry what I said hurt your feelings..."

But those are saying two completely different things.

The first is implying that the person was offended and shouldn't have been (i.e., that you didn't do anything to cause the offense). The second is saying that you did something that caused offense.

Only one of those things is an apology.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:59 PM on November 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

Skimping is a big no-no. It a pretty low thing to do in a trade that is often on-your-honor. He felt you were accusing him of being a lowlife and skimping--or complaining about his hook-up after he just did you a pretty decent favor by procuring it.

Maybe he ghosted you not because of this incident but perhaps there is more behind this?

I am not saying you are WRONG but I wouldn't hang my hand on feeling you are "right".
posted by beccaj at 2:01 PM on November 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

How about "I was thinking about that consumables thing. I'm going to make an effort to be more honest and straight dealing with you and be more honest with myself." You don't even have to say "Sorry." win win
posted by bdc34 at 2:05 PM on November 16, 2018

Not sure why you wouldn’t apologize, you were rude. He was a drama bomb about it, and your mom getting involved is A Lot, but you were initially pretty rude. Unless he has a legit history of stealing from you / others, you really should apologize because you’re actually sorry for calling him a thief after he did you a favor.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:11 PM on November 16, 2018 [11 favorites]

But apparently he is still upset because my mother keeps bugging me and asking me to apologize for "accusing him of profiting off of me", and that I have to do this before Christmas so that he's not upset with me over the holidays.

"Hey bro, I heard from mom that you're upset with me over how I reacted when you got that stuff for me. I didn't mean to accuse you of profiting off me, I was just concerned that you yourself were being overcharged for that stuff. Regardless, I can see how what I said was rude, and I really don't want this to bleed over into the holidays. Sorry for the way I handled things, and thank you so much for helping me out."
posted by 23skidoo at 2:14 PM on November 16, 2018 [16 favorites]

You are in the wrong here and you should both apologise and mean it. Your brother was doing you a favour and asked to be paid back, and you asked him how much he paid for it. The clear expectation communicated by that question is that he paid less than $20 and is screwing you over.

You then took, I'm sorry, a few weeks to pay back someone who carried the upfront cost of helping you?

No. You say "Hey, I acted like a complete douche and genuinely, I'm really sorry. Please forgive me."
posted by DarlingBri at 2:15 PM on November 16, 2018 [27 favorites]

I was in the situation you brother is in once (more than once). Someone accused me of shorting them when I was just doing a favor and never even inspected the package myself, beyond a quick visual inspection.

When the package came up short, I was accused of being responsible. At this stage in the game, yeah I could have ghosted her and said "this is the thanks i get" all self-righteously. Instead, what I did was drive to her house and paid her the difference in cash, whilst admitting no wrongdoing. I ate the cost to make thing right with a person I didn't even really have that close of a friendship with. But that's just me. I don't have a persecution complex.
posted by some loser at 2:16 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

In your late twenties and involving your mom in your, er, consumables disputes? Yes, your brother overreacted, but neither of you are exactly covering yourself in glory here. Here is your chance to make the break for maturity.

(a) Tell him you're sorry, you weren't thinking of how it would sound, and you can completely understand that he was offended, and you will be more careful with your words in the future. You hope that you can still enjoy the holiday together.

(b) Tell your mom that you don't want to hear any more about your brother's grievances from her. It's just not appropriate or helpful.
posted by praemunire at 2:30 PM on November 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

Was this consumable something that wasn't legal at the time? If so, asking him to take on some risk to get it for you (however small) and then fussing about the dollar amount can make it seem especially bad.

But in general, your actions seem kind of antagonistic and you should just apologize. Especially over something that cost $20. Unless it was super convenient for him anyway, you were asking him to go out of his way to get it for you. If someone asks me to do a favor for them like that, I'm going to get something that's easy for me, not comparison shop for the best possible deal. My time is valuable to me and I don't appreciate people that treat it as if it's free.
posted by Candleman at 3:33 PM on November 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm having a hard time understanding both your brother's interpretation of what you said and the majority of responses here, OP, so I get your confusion.
If I were asked by someone close to me, "how much did you pay for this?" before repaying me, I would assume that they are either confirming the purchase price for repayment purposes, Or, to reach for a hidden meaning from which to take personal offense, perhaps expressing concern that I may have been pinched by the seller on my purchase? Never would I jump to the conclusion that my own sibling was actually somehow acusing me of "stealing" a portion of their repayment.... before repayment took place...
"I'm sorry that you took offense," would then be my apology.
And tell mom to stay out of it unless you are still of dependant age.
posted by OnefortheLast at 3:44 PM on November 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm having a hard time understanding both your brother's interpretation of what you said and the majority of responses here

From the chronology as told, OP's brother made the purchase and asked for a transfer of $20. OP subsequently asked how much he paid for it. That comes across as questioning whether he paid that much for it.
posted by Candleman at 3:53 PM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

From the chronology as told, OP's brother made the purchase and asked for a transfer of $20. OP subsequently asked how much he paid for it. That comes across as questioning whether he paid that much for it.

Right. But the question doesn't contain the word 'whether,' it's simply a direct and literal request for information. There's no apology that is required or will suffice when someone has inserted their own hidden meaning or implication into an inquiry. He's assuming WHY you were asking and then running to end game for months! with it before even gathering his own confirmations. This isn't healthy behavior on his part.

How the OP is being acused of rudeness, ungratefulness and abusiveness, over a simple, clear, direct and literal question... or feels he owes a genuine aplogy because mom was dragged into it by his brother even further behaving unhealthily, is beyond me.

The question is the question. Why is there a need to assume there was a questioning in the question that wasn't the actual question?
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:02 PM on November 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

I agree with others that you should apologise because you are in the wrong. Your brother was doing something nice for you and you lowkey criticised him for it and insinuated that he ripped you off... by a few dollars! (I mean, it was 20 bucks and you got some product, so what was the difference? $5? I don't understand why you would even mention that. You should have just thought of it as a finder's fee.)
posted by thereader at 4:15 PM on November 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Why is there a need to assume there was a questioning in the question that wasn't the actual question?

Because there's no other conventional way to interpret "I bought the thing you asked me to, please give me $20" followed by "Did you spend $20 on the thing?" other than as insinuating that the purchaser is trying to gain money they're not entitled to (other than having misheard the statement, which does not seem to be the case here), either by overcharging or soliciting a non-agreed to middleman fee. The first statement implies the value of the item so any question as to what the value is questions the veracity of that statement.
posted by Candleman at 4:27 PM on November 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yeah, if you have expectations about both the outcome and the process, you need to be clear about it up front. You weren't - you were clear about the outcome - 'get me some of X' and he got you some of X. So your words probably should have been 'thank you'.

Did he rip you off? Maybe. Did he take a 'purchasing fee'? Maybe. Was he honest and it was just more expensive at that time? Maybe. Does your brother not know enough about X to know a good deal from a ripoff? Maybe. You're probably not going to find out now.

But if you were that concerned about it you should have said - buy me 12 cans of coke - don't pay more than $X dollars for it. If you can't get a least 10 cans for $X dollars, don't bother. In short - when you have benchmark expectations you need to say them, particularly if it's the first time you're dealing with someone.

In this case I'd be flat out honest and say:

Hey Bro - I wanted to follow up about the coke situation - mom says you're pretty upset about it and that's not good. Here's the thing: I honestly expected 48 cans of coke for $20, because that is my understanding of the going rate. But it was on me to say that if I could only get 30 cans for $20, it wasn't worth it. Sorry I wasn't clearer this time - I'll be more clear in the future. Thanks for taking the time to buy me the coke. Also, I'm sorry I was late with the $20 - particularly as you were on time with the coke. Looking forward to seeing you at Xmas.

I'm a fan of email apologies because sometimes these things need to be crafted. I'm also a fan or people telling their moms that they know they have the best intentions, but you hope that next time she will spend her time encouraging your brother to reach out to you directly, even via email.
posted by anitanita at 4:28 PM on November 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Both of you are being a little bit dumb about this. This is a really minor incident (there's a cash value involved of what, between zero and five dollars?) and one of you needs to be the one to make things OK again. You can't make him do it, but you can make you do it. So just fucking do it, because your relationship with your brother isn't worth damaging over something so incredibly trivial. Don't get all proud and stubborn about this, it's not worth it.

"Hey bro, I'm sorry for asking what you paid for that stuff. I was just expecting there to be, like, more of it and I didn't consider how it would make you feel when I asked you about it. That was thoughtless of me, and I'm sorry for hurting your feelings. Also, I'm sorry I was late getting you back. Can we be cool again?"

The end. That's what you say.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:54 PM on November 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

Your brother sounds like a huge baby and being so sensitive about it frankly makes him look guilty, if anything. I’d probably be like “hey, what’s up? Mom says you’re upset?” because moping and enlisting your mommy is not an acceptable way to finagle an apology out of another adult.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:55 PM on November 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

oh my god tell your brother I PERSONALLY will pay him 20 bucks to stop whining to your mom, your mom for fuck's sake, about the weed he bought you. jesus christ.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:55 PM on November 16, 2018 [37 favorites]

Yes, you need to apologize, but honestly, +1 to praemunire and poffin boffin, why is your mom getting involved with you and your brother’s petty drug drama?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:02 PM on November 16, 2018

Think about what a relief it will be to get your relationship with your brother and your mother to a fully adult level. Are you still competing for mom’s affections? Get her out of the middle by showing maturity in your relationship with your brother. Re-direct her without putting your brother down, as she’s interested in family harmony. What else do you enjoy besides family drama? A *lot* I hope! Family recipes? Making memories & celebrating each other? Make lasting peace by losing the “dys” behaviors and enjoy “functional”.
posted by childofTethys at 5:14 PM on November 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Is opening your question with "Last year around my birthday," instead of last year or July of last year or whatever, significant?*

When you asked him for this favor, did you intend it as a subtle gift idea suggestion or something? Do you two normally exchange birthday presents, and did you do so last year?

I think you ought to at least tell your mom you'd rather manage your relationship with your brother yourself. You're both adults, and it gives your mom an easy out when he goes crying to her about nonsense; otherwise, she's got one kid looking for her to intervene and smooth things over, and there's entirely too much internal and external pressure on her to do so. Going forward, he starts whining, and her response can become "I've been told explicitly that you'll need to take matters up with winterportage directly -- it was one of her Christmas presents to me."

*He's been sulking since 2017 but that had no impact on last Christmas? Ghosting you for months -- that may be the best $20 you'll ever spend.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:16 PM on November 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

"Brother, thank you for doing me a solid last year. I'm sorry I'm weird about money. I'm trying to work on that. I love you and miss you. Let's catch up? You around this weekend?"
posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:32 PM on November 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

Omg are we related?! Is your mom a narcissist and your brother an adult baby momma’s boy? I may be projecting. But if my suspicions are correct, this is one instance in a long line of poor communication from a codependent family system. You owe nobody an apology. Ghosting you for really a small faux pas is manipulative. If he wants something, he needs to ask for it directly. He’s gonna be miserable and make your mom miserable if he doesn’t receive the meaningless apology he’s procured? Tough shits!
posted by shalom at 5:53 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's been touched on yet, but is there an implication in the OP that this was an illegal substance? In which case your brother broke the law for your sake and in response you dithered over pocket change?

Even if it wasn't illegal, or is a routine act, you should really consider twenty bucks and an elaborate method-acting apology an extremely small price to pay for fraternal goodwill and cohesion. Seriously—you should regard this kind of familial harmony and mutual bonhomie and trust like an investment, which will probably ring up as having had a substantial actual cash value come the end of your life.
posted by XMLicious at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

If it's what I think it is, we're talking about something that's now easy to legally obtain, right? It's entirely legal to send a legally-acquired form of this substance through the mail to another adult living where you do. So one way of handling this is to brave a lineup to obtain the maximum legal amount of this substance you can mail (which is most certainly more than the $20 worth he got you) and send it to him with a kindly-worded apology note. Hell, at this point, send some of said legal substance to your mom on behalf of you and your brother as a salve for having to deal with this nonsense. Everyone will handle this strife a lot better with said legal substance, trust me.

(It's probably completely legal for me to suggest this, because Canada.)
posted by blerghamot at 6:13 PM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

There is probably context here that we're missing. If I bought someone a Coke and billed them $3 and they said "wait, how much did you pay for the Coke??" a lot would ride on their tone of voice, but most likely I'd say "$3!" with my own tone of voice tilting toward "can you believe they charge that much here?" or "yeah that's what a can of Coke costs these days, don't you know?"

Why would he not talk to you for months??
Is he often oversensitive, or is this "the last straw" somehow? And why is your mom involved? Is there a history of the whole family tiptoeing around him? Or is he so furious he can't talk to you himself?

Bottom line, I agree your comment implies either he got ripped off or is ripping you off, so yeah, anyone might bristle. But his reaction seems out of proportion. A healthy relationship can get past a moment of "you paid how much??" disbelief without a lot of silent treatment. So this is the tip of some iceberg.
posted by salvia at 7:00 PM on November 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

I am having a hard time believing that this has risen to this level over $20 at most. If he overpaid, was it $5 too much? There has to be more to this. Is there a history between you and your brother? If my sibling asked me to do them a $20 favor, I would not expect payback at all. I would have said, "happy 30th. It is on me. Go and consume and have a great time." The who situation is odd.

"I am sorry it appeared as if I was accusing you of skimping a few bucks from me. It came out wrong.I am not questioning your integrity. In fact, I want to thank you again for doing me a favor. I also apologize for paying you late. I will use Venmo next time."
posted by AugustWest at 3:09 AM on November 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

You owe your brother an apology for questioning his ability to get what you asked, for paying him back weeks after the fact, and for letting him stew for months on end, until you felt personally inconvenienced from your mother nagging you. And even now, the only reason you’re even thinking of apologizing is so that you’re not further inconvenienced by his anger during the holidays.

This is all behavior more appropriate to a 12-year-old, not a 30-year-old. Offer your brother a sincere apology. Get him something nice for Christmas. And make a New Year’s resolution to thank people and pay them back immediately when they do something for you at your request, especially if they had to go out of their way to do it. Family members are not exempt from being treated with basic respect and common decency.
posted by Autumnheart at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

Your mom being a messenger is adding confusion here. There have been a few times in my life where my mom has told me a sibling is really upset with me and when I’ve talked to them they have been just as confused as I am.

If it would bother/upset you if your brother is upset, talk to him. Find out what’s going on. Ask him how he sees the conversation. Really listen. If he’s upset, consider that this isn’t about facts it’s about feelings. Mostly people want others to really sincerely hear their feelings. I have repaired many relationships through sincerely saying “oh my gosh that must have really hurt when you felt X. I’m so sorry I made you feel that way.” (Please not “I’m so sorry you felt that way.”)

If it doesn’t bother you to hear he might be upset, let it go and handle any fallout. If you apologize insincerely and he can tell you will make things worse. If you decide to apologize without meaning, make sure you can sell it.

Also I think you’re getting a wide variety of answers because of empathy. Some people have been in your shoes and some have been in your brother’s. One thing to try is rewrite this question from your brother’s perspective.
posted by CMcG at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

[A few comments deleted. This isn't a debate among commenters; keep answers constructive and addressed to OP, and if you've made your point once, let it be.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:52 PM on November 17, 2018

If he bought it "packaged," from a storefront (legal or otherwise), it likely cost quite a bit more than something that may have been acquired through the black market. Could this be where the confusion lies?
posted by wats at 4:17 PM on November 17, 2018

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