For all the time we spend making mistakes, as humans, we must spend at least 10 times that amount pondering how and when we should apologize, agonizing over the details and carefully rehearsing the perfect apology speech.
But how long, after the mistake has been made, is too long to wait? When does it become, as Justin Bieber so eloquently put it, too late now to say sorry?
In my personal experience, I have been pretty lenient with apologies. That’s not to say that I don’t expect them, but I’ll probably be fine with an apology that comes years after the fact because the timing is often the most difficult part to navigate.
If you have really hurt someone, the safe assumption is that they hate you with the fire of a thousand suns, and never want to speak to you again. The easy option out of this scenario is to convince yourself that they are better off without any form of communication from you, including an apology, and to just back off or completely vanish from their life until further notice.
This is the coward’s apology, and is one that I have been both subjected to and been guilty of. Only recently did I apologize to a friend after almost two years of no contact on both our parts.
It was almost unbearably awkward, uncomfortable, and resulted in predictable bouts of verbal diarrhea BUT it was totally worth it, even if it was too little too late.
If someone is off your radar, living in a different country, continent or actively cutting you out of their life, the only issue with timing is figuring out when you and that person may have to cross paths again. Often it will be only then that you’ll realize just how well you’ve compartmentalized the entire situation in a special box marked: DEAL WITH THIS LATER. You’ll feel like a piece of garbage when you realize that box is dated 2014, and then you’ll DEAL with it accordingly.
I got lucky with the timing on this one. Enough time had passed that the aftermath of pain and general life damage had settled, and not too much time had passed that the apology was totally worthless.
Earlier this summer, I received an apology from a DEAL box dated 2009-2011 -- a repeat offender -- and the speed with which I granted forgiveness was pretty frightening.
Was it because so much time had passed that I genuinely didn’t care anymore? Or because so much time had passed, that I was safe in the knowledge that we were both different people who had grown, moved on, and left all of that mess in the past?
The dilemma that occurs to me know, is that of the value of an apology, and when does that totally diminish?
In the immediate aftermath of a mistake, apologies tend to be pretty worthless. Your brain is panicking, you’re not 100 percent certain of what you’ve done wrong, you’re 100 percent certain you’ve made someone really mad, and you’re frantically slapping band-aids onto the situation to try keep it under control. You know you’re sorry, you’re just not sure why.
Once the dust has settled, the real apology can start to form. With a little distance from the event, raised voices lowered, you can start to understand another’s point of view and put together the narrative to see where you went wrong. It’s mature, it’s adult, it’s constructive.
It’s the morning after an alcohol induced brawl, it’s the week after you stormed out and slammed the door, it’s the month after you left and decide you want to come back.
There’s an unwritten formula that outlines particular grace periods that permit radio silence while you lick your wounds, figure out the how, the why, and the when to apologize. During that time, someone is holding their breath just hoping and praying you will come back down to earth and say that you are sorry. There is someone waiting for that closure, that relief, that next step in the vital process of “moving on.”
But what if it never comes? I’ve delivered my fair share of unforgivably late apologies, and by some miracle have been granted forgiveness. My timing has been lousy, my reasoning entirely lacking and my tact offensively graceless.
That being said, from what I can see and have seen, it’s not the mistakes we make that define us, but the way in which we handle the aftermath -- the way in which we apologize, compensate, or reassure the person we hurt that we didn’t mean to.
Read more: What’s with you quarter-life crisis men?
The last time I really caused a great idiotic explosion in life, I groveled so hard I basically became a parody of myself. I found myself apologizing for inconsequential and irrelevant things on an almost daily basis.
“I’m sorry” became my mantra, flowing freely out of my mouth even when it wasn’t necessary -- at all. I was practically apologizing to inanimate objects when I bumped into them or dropped them. I may as well have gotten it tattooed across my face.
And then that person that I hurt, and that I spent so long apologizing to, hurt me back. And then they disappeared. The grace period of radio silence has yet to end.
The time during which an apology can retain its value has long passed. I have officially stopped holding my breath, refreshing my inbox, double checking my voicemail. It’s not coming.
Last week, a friend sent me a screenshot of her Spotify account and in the right hand column you could see my name listening to Justin Bieber’s “Is it Too Late Now to Say Sorry.” She then commented that she had seen me listening to that song upwards of 55,000 times this summer.
While I swear that it is purely because I am a recent Bieber devotee and it’s in my Top 5 favorite songs to march around the city to, the song-title has become a new mantra for me too.
I constantly wonder if it is too late. If I ever do get that apology, will it still matter? Could I possibly forgive?
How long are we supposed to wait for something that still seems so important to us, but to the other person, seems entirely forgotten? Perhaps it is too late, and with each passing day, it just keeps getting later.