It was a late night at the office. I was heading home when I got a text from my partner that read "You might need to take over everything when you get home. I've had a migraine since five." I stopped in the parking lot on the way to my car to immediately text back "I'm so sorry I had no idea I'm on my way now. Just get him in the bath tub and I'll be there in ten. So so sorry!"
I got home to a child happily sinking a toy flotilla in the bath while my spouse lay face down in agony on the sofa. "I'm so sorry, hon, really I had no idea. Just go to bed now and don't worry I got this."
"It's okay," he said. "I'm glad you're home."
"I know but I feel so bad," I said. "I'm just so sorry I'll take it from here."
Around nine o'clock, our son was in bed and I was settling down with some knitting and trash tv. My partner ambled into the living room and said he felt better.
My response wasn't "great!" or "thank goodness!" It was an immediate, "I'm so sorry I wasn't home sooner." He stared at me before saying, "Why do you keep apologizing for this? I don't get it."
All told, I'd apologized five times. Five times I said "I'm sorry" for an imagined wrong I hadn't even committed. I hadn't known my partner was in pain. Until I did, at which time I hustled to bring him help in the form of me getting myself home ASAP to take over the bedtime sideshow.
Why did I feel guilty? Why was I apologizing so much?
There are a lot of reasons. As women this is something we tend to do. We are trained to do it. It feels like common courtesy to constantly apologize for ourselves, whether we've actually done something apology-worthy or not. When strangers bump into me in public spaces, I find myself muttering "sorry, " even when I was standing stock still and they slammed into me. What am I saying sorry for? Taking up space in the world?
I began to wonder what this "I'm sorry" habit does to me day to day. I take it for granted as part of my landscape. Like a river, it's cut grooves and shores in my being that I haven't noticed. I keep asking myself, 'If I stop apologizing, will I finally feel like I'm enough? If I stop asking for forgiveness will I stop feeling like I need it?'
So I've started this new thing. Now instead of saying "I'm sorry," I'm saying "Thank you."
"I've had a migraine since five, you might need to take over when you get home."
"That sounds awful! Thanks for letting me know. On my way."
This morning I caught myself typing "So sorry but I won't be able to make it this Friday." Again, what am I apologizing for exactly? Having previously made plans that I didn't divine would conflict with a future invitation? So I backspaced my way out of that and typed "Sounds fun but I won't be able to make it this Friday. Thanks for the invite!"
So this is my challenge to myself for the rest of September, to replace "sorry" with "thanks" or even a "no problem" (that one's for earlier this week when a stranger stepped on my foot in a Walgreens line). Let's see if a small shift in language can change the course of that river after all.