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I am sorry

By Nickunj Malik - Jul 11,2018 - Last updated at Jul 11,2018

My father-in-law claims that for a long and happy marriage, every husband should say sorry the moment he wakes up. To his wife, that is. It takes care of all the real and perceived hurts that might be inflicted upon the spouse during the rest of the day.

I don’t know how many guys follow that sensible rule but new research states that, on a daily basis, women apologise more than men. It has something to do with our lower threshold of what we collectively consider as offensive behaviour. Apparently, being perceived as rude is so abhorrent to us that we need to make ourselves less conspicuous before we speak up. Therefore we are constantly apologising. 

“Men don’t actively resist saying sorry because they think it will make them appear weak or because they don’t want to take responsibility for their actions,” said study researcher Karina Schumann, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. “When they think that they have done something wrong, they do apologise as frequently and sincerely as women. The only problem is that most men think they do fewer things wrong.”

Right! How is it that my gender has ended up becoming the one that believes we are doing everything wrong? A whole lot of us even start our phone conversations and e-mail correspondence by apologising first. “Sorry, can you tell me which movies are playing this weekend?” or “Sorry for taking so long in replying to your mail” are as common in our everyday exchanges as “Sorry, will you take my order now?” or “Sorry, I’m feeling a little unwell today” or “Sorry, I don’t agree with your political ideology”. 

For women, apologising is a way of reconnecting with someone whose feelings they have hurt, however inadvertently. When a woman gets to know that something she has done has left another feeling offended or injured, she is usually quick to apologise. 

But in the case of men, it’s a different concept altogether. They tend to view apologies as humiliating and a loss of face. Scholars of gender communication have observed that for men, verbal communication is tied up with their concern for the way their status is perceived by others. Thus, for a male to acknowledge that he has done something wrong often means that he feels diminished in the eyes of those who hear the apology. The result of this difference is that in many cases, men are reluctant to apologise.

So, now we know why women are apologetic all the time but even if we — the female of the species — are compelled to say sorry because we want to maintain stable relationships, why can’t we switch to the subtler, “excuse me” instead? It is a similar term and can be used without putting us on the back foot, so to speak. Another option is to say “thank you” in its place. There is no reason why all of womankind cannot replace the earlier contrite-sounding word, with this happier phrase. 

“Excuse me, I forgot to set the wake-up alarm,” I told my husband this morning. 

“Sorry”, he mumbled. 

“The wakeup alarm. I forgot,” I repeated.

“Why are you sorry?” I asked curiously.

“A wise man told me to greet each day like this,” he answered. 

“For a happy married life,” he continued.

“Go on. I’m listening,” I silently thanked my father-in-law. 

“I’m, umm, sorry,” my spouse fumbled.

“No problem,” I replied immediately.

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The interpretation of "sorry" might be swerving towards a form of address than towards contrition. That is in the Venetian mind. In the Martian one it could be a signature.

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