Stop Apologizing! Why Are Women So 'Sorry' All the Time?S

Men and women will supposedly both apologize for their wrongdoings, but because we ladies are more prone to "commit personal offenses" (as in, we think we're making everyone mad when we speak up), we're more apt to apologize when we sense we've been the wrongdoer, even if the other person is totally oblivious to our perceived faults. I call bullshit.

A few weeks ago I had plans to meet a friend for coffee when she sent me a last-minute text saying that she couldn't make it. Actually, let me rewind: I received a string of five or six texts pleading for my mercy and salvation if I could just let her off the hook so she could take care of her sick kid. I was already sitting in the café we'd agreed to meet at, flipping through a magazine to pass the time, when the first message chimed from the table: "Ugggggggh."

I was about to ask if she was stuck behind a slow walker when the next text appeared: "You're going to kill me." And a third: "But please don't hate me." My finger moved to hit ‘Reply' when her confession appeared: "I can't make it, and I'm sooooo sorry." The fifth and sixth texts went into tacit detail about puke on the living room rug and a miserable baby — and could we please reschedule, please?!?!

Immediately, I morphed into my alter ego, Sympathetic Single Girlfriend — every mommy needs at least one—and let her know that all was fine, and that she especially didn't have to apologize. She seemed relieved ("Thank you sooooo much!"), yet remorseful ("I owe you big time. I'm really sorry"). I sent back a smiley emoticon to acknowledge receipt, slightly annoyed at the change in agenda but otherwise okay, and hit the road.

Lest you think I'm some high-and-mighty bitch who dallies around her friends' grievances while they're left to clean up shitty diapers, ask yourself: How many times have you been that texter, in some way, shape or form? And how many times have you received the alphanumeric equivalent of an apology bouquet for a minor hiccup?

According to this (old-ish, for the Internet, but it was all I could find to back my point up) Scientific American report, probably more than a few times. In fact, probably a lot. ‘Cause, see—it's a she thing. Men and women will supposedly both apologize for their wrongdoings, but because we ladies are more prone to "commit personal offenses" (as in, we think we're making everyone mad when we speak up), we're more apt to apologize when we sense we've been the wrongdoer, even if the other person is totally oblivious to our perceived faults. Men? They just have a "higher threshold" for offensive behavior, so it's cool, yo.

Yeah, I don't think so. While it's easy to chart the number of times someone apologized during a scientifically-controlled study, I don't think women are genetically programmed to act like this, or that men have a "higher threshold" for offensive behavior. I think it's that women are expected to be exceptionally grateful for the crumbs tossed our way—and so we show our gratitude by cushioning our wants with a series of, "I know this is asking a lot, but...", "I hate to ask, but could you..." and "I might sound like an idiot for wondering, but..."-isms. In the case of my friend, she felt bad—that was obvious—but she wasn't committing a serious sin. Nor was it evil of me to ask the guy who stood directly in front of me at a concert to move out of my way so I could see the stage, or to send back an underwhelming meal at an overpriced restaurant, or ask a cab driver if I could use a credit card to pay my fare (Boston, can you hear me?)—and yet I've prefaced these proverbial shoulder taps with, "I'm so sorry to ask this, but..."

Or, take the case of our careers. You don't need to look far to see that women are seriously kicking ass—glass ceiling be damned—but our pay lags, and as a writer, it pains me to see that there's a huge disparity between the amount of work published by men and the amount of work published by women. Do we feel greedy for wanting to stick our hands in the proverbial cookie jar, or are we afraid it'll shatter once we're in? (Speaking of cookies and gender stereotypes: toss me that apron, would you? You're busy? Oh my GOD, I am so sorry for interrupting! Here, take one of my kidneys as recourse. I won't bother you again. Ever.)

Call me old fashioned—there I go with the gender stereotypes again!—but I think it's time we ditch our guilt complexes and inner Pollyannas, and while we're at it, retire stale phrases like "Tooting my own horn" and "Sorry I'm not sorry!" (because, like, what does that even mean?). We don't need balls of steel to keep us steady when the answer is ‘No' or if we sense disappointment. We just need a bit of courage—my mentor calls it "ruthlessness"—and patience. (Another anecdote: I was interviewed by the Huffington Post about the concept of "dating yourself," and I prefaced my answer to one of their questions with, "I know this probably seems narcissistic..." Uh, duh! It's my opinion. Which they asked for. Moving on.) Feeling overwhelmed by your to do list? Figure out your priorities, and cancel the remainder accordingly. Have a banner year at work and want a raise? Gather your evidence, and request an annual review. Think you've got the writing chops and want a byline somewhere? Then pitch, girl, pitch.

If that doesn't move you, you can always take heed to the advice proffered by the very unapologetic Madonna in her 1992 book, Sex: "A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That's why they don't get what they want."


Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, xoJane, More.com and Boston's Weekly Dig, among others, and she's slated to pen Boston.com's "Let's Go Out" column. Follow her on Twitter: @KarynPolewaczyk.