Hello, Community. Mr. Awkward is improving and we’re starting to talk about release either later this week or next week. Thanks so much for the kind words and the Uncle Julio’s.
Shall we tackle a question?
I’ve got a sort of weird question for you. How in the world do you accept an apology without letting the other person off the hook? All I really know how to do is either say it’s fine (indicating it wasn’t a big deal/they didn’t do anything wrong), or continue to act mad about it even though all I am is deeply hurt.
Here’s the situation. I have a friend that often works conventions for a vendor she knows/likes a lot. They needed people last minute to join them for a con this past weekend. I happened to know another friend who enjoys conventions of this sort, so I asked her to come with me to fill the numbers for the booth. Literally all we would have to pay for is food and our transport. We were both totally stoked to be going, since people we really admire were going to be there, and it was kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity. I also thought it might be a good opportunity for her, since she has been unable to find a job for several years now, and if they like you at this booth it could evolve into other opportunities. So I took off work, she got a ride to my apartment, and we took the train to the con.
The trip up was kind of stressful, mostly because it was stupidly early and friend stresses about things a lot more than I do, and then stressed more when I did not also feel/exhibit signs of stress (because I honestly didn’t see what there was to stress about). Then, when walking to the hotel, she was constantly walking waaay ahead of me and not keeping to my slower pace (I’m not in the best of shape, and I’d torn my feet up in new boots previously so it hurt to walk. And there was no reason to hurry-it was 6am and we weren’t needed anywhere until after 9) then excused it with “that’s just how I am”. Which, fine, not a big deal.
But then she met a friend at the con she hadn’t known would be there. (Not someone I had known before). So she wanted to hang out with him instead. Ok, cool, makes sense. I’ll just do my own thing. But when I was hanging out with her when he wasn’t around/ available she was just… not kind. Like, I was helping her find an autograph session and we had to climb under a metal barrier at one point, as we had gotten in the wrong line. Said barrier fell and hit me on the head, hard, stunning me. She tried to put it back and snapped at me when I didn’t jump to help her (because I was seeing stars). I still have a bruise at the base of my skull where it whacked me.
After the signing, we agreed to meet up to go for food before we needed to be back at the booth. But when she showed up, her other friend was there too. And they wanted to go about a mile away for food, which I pointed out that my battered feet couldn’t take, especially not if we were going to go, eat, and get back to the booth to help at closing time (we had worked the morning, so had the afternoon off). I was also developing a killer headache and just wanted to stay in the general vicinity of the booth. Friend and her friend ditched me without a second thought.
I ended up going back to the hotel alone for some down time before we were to meet the rest of the crew for dinner. She came in and I told her about my head hurting. She apologized for snapping at me and ditching me, which I said was ok.
Fast forward to the trip home. She’s stressing again, and snaps at me several times while getting to the train. Then she orders me to a certain seat (several seats away from hers, but it’s a fairly packed train and these were the only two where we wouldn’t have to have someone in the seat next to us). After the train starts moving, she texts me apologizing for bossing me around.
I texted back that I understood, but not to do it again because I don’t appreciate it. Now, I feel weird. Should I have just said it’s ok? Because it’s not, not really. I feel vaguely abused and hurt. I didn’t asked her to come to be bossed around, ditched, and yelled at. She’s apologized for part of her behavior, but not all of it. My head still hurts, and I feel like a lot of the joy I had at coming to this con has been taken away by this and other instances of her inconsiderate behavior. I’m sad and hurt she felt ok treating me this way. On the other hand, she did apologize for some of it. So I should just let it go and swallow my hurt with a smile.
My question is, in the future, how can I accept an apology like hers, which isn’t for everything that upset me, while not making it sound like it wasn’t a big deal and everything is ok now? I’m also worried I upset her with my response asking her not to boss me around again. She said she was just trying to help me find a seat, after all. Was I ok in setting that boundary? Or should I have just said I understood and it wasn’t a problem?
Thanks for your time, and I hope despite all the bad in the world right now you’re having a wonderful day
-overly emotional and exhausted (she/her)
Hi there Emotional and Exhausted!
I like this bit of dialogue about apologies from The Fated Sky:
“My mother once told me that an apology wasn’t about being right or wrong, but showing that the relationship was more important than the problem. And you aren’t actually the problem.”
“I contributed, though. And I was wrong. And you’re important to me.”
I like the whole series but that particular piece has stayed with me for weeks now. It’s a very compassionate way of looking at what an apology is, right? For example, sometimes we say “I’m sorry” even when we’re not in the wrong and when it’s not necessarily owed to the other person, because we want to show the person that we care about healing the relationship. There are heartfelt apologies and owed/justified apologies and strategic apologies and “I’m sorry you feel that way” and “I’m sorry but I’m not comfortable with that” and “I’m sorry but I can’t agree to what you’re asking” non-apologies (which have their place). They’re all attempts – even the imperfect ones – to repair or soothe something that was broken.
For me, an apology has a few different parts before it’s real: 1) The words “I’m sorry” 2) Making amends, where possible 3) Self awareness & the implied promise that you’ve learned from your mistake and you won’t do the harmful thing again 4) Actually following through with amends and with not doing the harmful thing again 5) Leaving the decision about where to go from here in the wronged party’s hands, for example, not pressuring them for a certain outcome or making it all about yourself and your feelings. This is why I love the expression “mend fences” when it comes to apologies and reconciling. You’re fixing what was broken, and sometimes what was broken was a boundary marker.
Letter Writer, your friend lost me when she wouldn’t modulate her pace to yours when you were walking up to the hotel. “That’s just how I am!” Oh, okay. Also the thing about ditching you after you bumped your head. Not even a “Hey, I know you don’t want to walk right now, howabout you stay here and we’ll bring you back something to eat” offer? Really? It’s like the second y’all got off the train you became an inconvenient piece of baggage she didn’t want to drag behind her. Not cool.
Whether or not you accept her apology, you’ve learned beyond a doubt that this friend is not a great travel partner for you. So even if you do repair and continue the friendship in some form, it’s okay to give future travel with this person a hard pass. You don’t have to inform her that’s the case in advance (delivering some kind of real or metaphorical engraved document that says “Notice: Joint Travel Privileges have been Revoked!”), you can just quietly decide “Nope! This isn’t a good idea!” and make good decisions for yourself.
It’s the same thing with debt & money stuff – You could decide to forgive someone’s debt to you and make it a gift instead, which is a very kind thing to do when you can afford it and the other person is struggling to pay it back – but you also don’t have to ever lend them or give them money again. You’re allowed to learn lessons like “this person and travel and me don’t mix” and to leave a little chalk dust on the “clean slate” to remind yourself to maintain healthy boundaries with someone who pissed you off or hurt you in the future.
Does it become easier to accept the apology if you know that it doesn’t mean that you have to open yourself up to the possibility of a repeat of the same behavior again?
In closing, Letter Writer, absolutely you can say “I appreciate the apology” without also saying “It’s okay!” or “Don’t worry about it!” or otherwise soothing the feelings of the person who hurt you. You can say “I appreciate the apology, we’ll talk more when I’m feeling less upset” or “I appreciate the apology, I really need you to promise me you won’t do that again” or some other version of “Thanks for the apology, I’m not quite ready to forgive and forget.” It’s okay if things still feel messy after an experience like you had, and it’s okay to leave things a little messy & uncomfortable after an apology. It’s okay if the wronged person is still bruised and wary and needs some time to evaluate whether the apologizer will follow through. You can acknowledge the apology without saying everything is fine. You can acknowledge the apology and then bring up the issue and talk through it when a little time has passed.
In the end, you’ll have to decide, is the relationship important to you? What would you need from her to feel comfortable moving forward? And if you don’t get that, what do you want to do about it? A relationship where one person is always apologizing and the other person always feels entitled to an apology is good for no one.
True Story: Long ago a good friend and I did & said some stuff that hurt each other really bad. I was more the wronged party in the situation (though NO ONE was a hero in this story), she’d apologized as best she could, and yet I kept venting at her and picking at it for a long while afterward because I still felt angry and sad and unresolved. I got pretty mean about it. She took her verbal lumps for a while but eventually said “Do you want to be my friend or not? I love you and I want to be your friend, but I can’t talk about this or apologize anymore. We’ve got to declare ‘bygones’ and either say goodbye to each other or figure out another way forward.” I’m so glad she did – she was very wise, it needed to be over, and I did want to be her friend. We stopped talking about [The Bad Time of Poor Life Choices] and some time went by and it got better and then it got great. I love her way more than I wanted to chew on the bad things that happened. Very important to this decision: I trusted that nothing like that would ever happen again. People make mistakes but neither of us would make this one twice.
But there are other friendships in my life that definitely could not be fixed, and in the end it was kinder to let each other go than to keep talking it through or to try to resolve something that couldn’t be resolved. So Letter Writer, think about what you’d need in order to put this behind you. There is no “normal” or “should,” just what will work for you, and one possible outcome is that you and this lady aren’t friends anymore if you can’t trust her not to ditch you and minimize what you’re going through.
Readers, do you have (brief) stories of a time you weren’t quite ready to accept an apology? What happened? What made a difference?