Sunday, 29 November 2009

Bloody apologising

I was recently involved in a disagreement in which I was obviously inalienably right and the other person was completely wrong. After two days of self-indulgent posing – “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” etc – I was extended an olive branch, only to find they’d pencilled all over it “I don’t really mean this”. Ugh.

I’ve never understood why people are so reluctant to apologise for things. My mum, for example, infuriatingly never admits to being wrong, not even about actual empirical facts, and this churlish tendency of hers generally leads me into outrageously childish behaviour to try to make her admit fault. But sadly, chasing a 54-year-old woman around the house, trying to make her look at an internet printout which proves beyond doubt that Paul Shane was in Hi-de-hi not Lovejoy, is not a situation in which anyone can truly say they’re the winner. Even if they are right.

It’s a tendency I don’t understand at all. Who wants the burden of being infallible? Furthermore, I always thought of saying sorry as a ‘Get out of jail free’ card; once you’ve said it the other person automatically has to stop harping on about how you’ve stained whatever and why can’t you be more careful blah blah because, if they don’t, they are not accepting your apology in good grace. Once you’ve apologised, any further berating by the other person means you can be annoyed with them and settle comfortably into the driving seat of the injured party, which they’ve helpfully warmed up for you by droning inexorably on about stains.

The comedian Daniel Kitson astutely summarises that much conversation is essentially a big game of ‘let’s see who’s best’ and I suppose that, for some, admitting to being wrong and apologising is seen as losing the game. These people are wrong and I know that because I am definitely right.

All relationships basically involve some form of sacrifice; time, money, effort, picking someone up from the station when you really can’t be arsed, not putting mushrooms in shared meals even though they are lovely, looking mental by scaring pigeons off the pavement for someone you love who is scared of them ... the list is pretty endless. But these are teeny weeny in comparison to other sacrifices; sacrificing pride for example, as in just bloody apologising.

And it is because of this that apologies are slippery little bastards. Getting an insincere apology can be more infuriating than not getting an apology at all – but then, a vast number of apologies are insincere. I doubt I’ve ever really been sorry for being late, I’m certainly not sorry when someone else has walked into me, I’m rarely sorry when I can’t hear what someone has said because they can’t be arsed to enunciate and I’m sure I’ve never sincerely meant apology to an employer, unless it was “I'm sorry you don't feel the need to pay me more”.

The worst culprits are people who use it as a preface – “I’m sorry but ...”; “I’m sorry to have to say this but ...” – which has never in the history of the world been an admission of regret and is universally said by someone with such tangible delicious self satisfaction that they are moments away from masturbating, so unsorry are they.

However, it’s equally annoying to be confronted with someone who is so loving the duvet of smug self righteousness that they actively make it difficult to apologise at all. I have, in the past, said the phrase, probably in some second-rate Tennessee Williams’ heroine manner: “You’re not apologising because you think you’ve done anything wrong but because you don’t want me to be cross with you anymore.” That might be thunderingly accurate but it’s not exactly helpful, serving only to infuriate the person who obviously had to swallow some pride to do an apology they didn’t believe in in the first place.

Since uttering those words, I have realised it’s precious and makes you a bit of a dick, basically the equivalent of saying to a boss: “The only reason you’re paying me is not because you think I’ve done a good job but because you’re legally obligated to.” Who cares? I should have taken it in good grace and to that person I am sorry. There you go, I just typed that – it's easy.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the second someone utters the first words of an apology, whether I believe it’s heartfelt or not, I’ll just give them a cuddle and run off with my fingers in my ears, treasuring the delusion that, had I let them continue, the rest of the apology would have gone as follows: “I am very massively sorry, I have learnt from this that I was totally wrong and you are right as well as being generally brilliant and having excellent hair.”

I don’t need to hear that; that would be embarrassing. No one likes a sycophant.