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Dear Women, Enough With The "I'm Sorry"

Melanie Bates's picture

I'm Sorry

I went to the grocery store a few weeks ago. I needed a package of Almond Joy pieces and some celery. (Don’t judge.)

I had taken one of those little mini carts, just in case I got a hankering in the chocolate aisle, and upon returning it, goods in hand, I was met by a lovely woman unloading her groceries from her own itty bitty cart so she could carry them to her car.  As I approached her, she looked down and muttered, “I’m sorry.”

I uttered my cheerfully automated, “No worries,” and pushed my cart to the side of hers and pulled my bag of bliss from the cart.

And then I stopped.

Why was she sorry? She wasn’t in my way. She wasn’t even near to being in my way. And… even if she had been in my way, I would need to wait. She was there first. I’m not one of those creepy apes on 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was in that moment when I realized that she was apologizing for her very existence.

Maybe you think I’m exaggerating.

I don’t think so. It seems to me that women are constantly apologizing for just BEing. My rote “No Worries” made me realize that I’m so completely oversaturated by these occurrences that it doesn’t even phase me and I’m constantly responding with, “No worries” (a.k.a. = “It’s okay that you exist.”) To a dozen. women. a. day.

Holy shitballs!

Since I’ve had this epiphany, I’ve been hearing “I’m sorry” for weeks. It’s been like a symphony – from the woman at Target browsing for a new book as I stood next to her, from the gal at 7-11 searching for a sugar fix as I searched for more Almond Joy pieces, from another woman just trying to get out of the bakery that I was about to walk in to.

And I just don’t commonly hear this phrase from men. Not that it NEVER happens, but in my experience it only happens about 1% of the time. In fact, just yesterday as I walked into the grocery store, a burly dude in Crossfit paraphernalia with three carts full of what I can only imagine were protein powder and bananas took his ever-lovin’ sweet time blocking six of us from being able to grab a cart and not a peep came out of him. Ten minutes later a line of twelve rushed for the carts as he strode past with forty plus bags on each arm. Typically, I only hear men tell me they’re sorry when they actually have something to be sorry about.

So what is this? Aside from an apology for our very existence? Are we all hanging on to the adages of our childhood, “Be nice,” “Apologize,” “Say you’re sorry, Melanie, that’s not how little girls act.”  I don’t have a definitive answer, but I’ve caught myself apologizing all over town these past few weeks, despite myself. How many apologies have I uttered in my lifetime? I bet I can’t count that high.

And… don’t get me wrong, I’m all for good manners. Saying “thank you” and “please” and not being that creepy ape I mentioned earlier, but apologizing for book browsing or sugar fixes should just never happen. Ever.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, why do you think women are so quick to say “I’m sorry” when it’s clearly not necessary? Any theories? Any experience of this yourselves?

Aside from helping me to figure this one out, I challenge each and every one of you to stop saying you’re sorry. Unless you accidentally punch someone wearing Crossfit gear in the groin, then an “I’m Sorry” might be in order.



Ellen's picture

I'm sorry's

My son once gently said 'Don't say you are sorry Mom. It stresses everyone out'. At that point I was sorry for always saying I am sorry. When I say it I am not asking for forgiveness but feeling empathy for others that are being inconvenienced or stressed. Sometimes weather ruins party plans, sick kids make things more stressful or life just doesn't go the way someone you love had planned. In these cases what I feel like I am saying is...I noticed and I empathize. I wish I could help somehow. Your article reflects my son's request in that it points out a responsibility on the hearers part to forgive or to be concerned about the person saying it. In the future I will more accurately state what I am thinking and keep in check the possibility that the 'I'm sorry' is representative of feeling of lack. For instance I really want to say I am sorry this is so long :) but instead I will say thank you for the article.

Melanie Bates's picture

Wow, Ellen

What your son said is really telling, Ellen. I had a moment on the phone with my sister yesterday and she was telling me a horrible story about the builders of her house and I apologized twice. It's so funny, even after writing this article and thinking so much about it. I realized that I was saying "I'm sorry" that she had to experience that situation. Every time I said it she literally replied, "It's not your fault." WOW... yeah, considering I'm not a house builder and I live 500+ miles away it really isn't. I have to find a better way to commiserate.


Patty's picture

Do I need to be "Sorry"

I'm guilty of saying I'm sorry for what I think is an intrusion in someones space, but really isn't. As women, we are saying this as an automatic response, as if we are responsible for anything that may go wrong. As a response to keeping peace. By taking blame when none is given. A man once told me to stop apologizing because it was a sign of weakness. I am not so sure I completely agree with him but since he said that to me I have paid closer attention to when I say it and when I hear it from other women and next time I am going to come up with an appropriate response to bring their attention to the fact they are saying sorry for no reason. I believe most of us do it without even realizing how much we say sorry through out our day. I have even seen it online when women are giving their opinion on something. If it is a long response they apologize at the end for babbling. As if what they have to say doesn't count. That bothers me more than hearing it when I am out shopping. Being sorry for something isn't suppose to excuse your worthiness to take up space or in having a brain. And I am going to do my part in bring it to someones attention.

Melanie Bates's picture

Love that, Patty

I do think it's automatic and it's something that we've been doing for a really, really long time as women. In some ways I think I agree with "it's a sign of weakness." In other ways I think it's just the softer side of our nature as women. It's hard to figure out for sure. I like the fact that women are aware and empathetic toward those around them, I just think we've gone past the point of thinking when we apologize.

Thank you!


Lisa M's picture

The "I'm sorry" is something

The "I'm sorry" is something I do ALL THE TIME. And I, too hear it from women ALL THE TIME. Sometimes we BOTH apologize! Most times it's accompanied by a smile,too. My typical response is to say "No problem" or "It's ok".
I think we women (well, most or us)are just conditioned to be polite and it's an automatic response, but to answer with an "it's ok" just means we are agreeing that they have a reason to apologize.
So, I am going to start taking your advice. If I pass someone in the store and they say "I'm sorry" , I'm going to ask them "why are you sorry? you did NOTHING to apologize for" and I am going to try to strop apologizing myself. When I do something apologize-worthy, I will, but until then I'll make none for just being around.
Thank you for giving me something to think about today.

Melanie Bates's picture


I'm so glad that you got something out of this, it's been a huge lightbulb for me and I'm much more aware now of when I'm truly sorry for something I've done and when I'm just going with my pre-conditioned for lifetimes, rote response.


Ashley @ Closed the Cover's picture

I Say I'm Sorry

I say I'm sorry to people all the time and I'm certainly not apologizing for my existence. I'm apologizing because it's kind and it indicates, "I know you're there. I recognize your presence and the value of your presence and time. I hope that I have not been inconsiderate in any way that I'm not aware of and I hope you have a good day." It's not an apology as much as it is an acknowledgement of the other person. Now, it's true that sometimes I'll smile or nod to someone and say, "Have a nice day" or "Thanks for waiting" but other times I'll say, "I'm sorry" and go on about my day. Sure, maybe that lady with the shopping cart wasn't in you way and maybe she didn't owe you an apology but to me it's less about asking for forgiveness for a wrong toward another person and more about an odd of way of acknowledging the value of another person's time, space, money, etc.

Melanie Bates's picture

I hear you, Ashley,

But I think we women could acknowledge each other with more smiles and thank you's than I'm sorry's. Of course, this is just my opinion, but it's something I'm trying to be mindful of because when I say I'm sorry for no real reason it feels like an apology for my existence.

So appreciate your weighing in.


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