I'm not big on apologies, until, of course, I am.
Growing up as a committee of one, I rarely had to "say sorry" to anyone but the stuffed animals who worshipped me, and therefore didn't require my regular humbling regardless of the ears I'd cut off.
"My bad, homie" was the sorry shorthand of the day in high school but it never sounded quite as sincere -- more like a back-handed confession. It wasn't until college that I remember actually making a conscious effort to apologize to someone and I'm pretty sure it was a boy who didn't deserve it.
And yet it seems as if my adult life is overly peppered with politeness. Ignoring the "recent" debates about whether women are more contrite than men, I probably apologize or hear apologies 10, maybe more, times a day. Sure there are plenty of moments when a simple "I'm sorry" is necessary, like when my dog Miles licked a stranger's exposed calf in the line at Dunkin Donuts. But when I offered it up the woman waved the apology hanging in the air between us away like it was a bad smell.
"Oh, don't worry about it," she said, which seems to be the polite way to respond to someone else's politeness.
The next day I was at a different coffee shop where the service is consistently iffy. I waited at the counter for a full minute before the cashier acknowledged my presence with a half-hearted smile . Then instead of taking my order, she proceeded to tinker with the register, which I guessed after another five minutes wasn't working right. I say "guessed" because the cashier still hadn't said anything.
It wasn't until she finally took my order and tried to punch it in that she announced -- sans apology -- that "something is wrong with the system. So you'll have to wait a few minutes." I stood there staring, expecting her next sentence to be "I'm really sorry about that." But she just stared back, probably expecting my next sentence to be, "OK. I literally have nothing better to do right now."
I left instead, vowing to never return despite knowing full well that I would. The coffee's good.
At another local establishment not two blocks and two days later, I had the nerve to be annoyed by how much another cashier wouldn't stop apologizing. I'd just purchased an insanely expensive bag of organic dog food and the receipt machine was on the fritz.
"I'm so sorry! This thing is acting crazy, It'll just take one extra second," she squealed.
"Oh, don't worry about it," I said, taking that bonus time to breathe.
"So sorry about this. It's been acting up all day."
"Seriously, it's fine. I literally have nothing better to do right now."
When maybe a minute later my receipt came at long last, she slid it over and handed me a pen, "Gosh, I'm really sorry that took so long."
What was this girl's problem! I ran out of there before she could apologize for something else.
Looking back I'm still not sure which bothered me more, the woman who didn't apologize when I expected her to or the one of who did -- profusely. Was I annoyed because in both situations assumptions were made about me -- whether I was worthy of a mea clupa or one of those mean bitches who can't wait two extra seconds for something?
Was it ever really about the apology or the idea that I deserved one? It seemed like one of those situations were it's not the words themselves that provide the salve but the intention behind them. Instead of an "I'm sorry," a knowing look might have done the trick.
On the flip side, words have plenty of power. Tell me you're sorry and at least I'll know we saw the same thing, that we're in this social interaction together and it's not just me fuming out there alone.
So maybe that's what separates the sorries and the sorry not sorries. It's about community and the validation. Knowing that someone else will look up from their smart phone or simply get out of their own head and say "I see you."