She was hurt and scared that night as we talked about our relationship. We had planned to get married, but our relationship was spinning out of control. I was losing interest and she didn’t understand why she was losing me. At that point, I didn’t even understand why I was pulling away.
As we sat in my car that night, she was crying and telling me how unhappy she was with how things were between us. I knew I needed to end the relationship, but I was afraid to let her go.
In her intense frustration and despair, she said something that offended me. Wait. Let me back up. It wasn’t what she said, but the specific way in which she said it that upset me. The specifics don’t matter. In the middle of her pouring out her heart about hurt and unhappiness, I chose to get upset about her choice of words.
I angrily stormed out of the car and slammed the door, walking off and leaving her there.
I was completely wrong that night, but I never did apologize. I don’t even remember how that night ended, but I do know that I blew the chance to do the right thing. In fact, I blew my chance twice.
When she was pouring out her hurts and frustrations, I blew the chance to listen and empathize. I was more concerned with protecting my ego. I was concerned with not being wrong about anything. I was concerned with winning an argument, not with listening to someone who was being vulnerable enough to share her worst fears and hurts with me.
I blew it.
Then after I blew up and stormed away, I continued to be more concerned with being right than I was with her underlying feelings. I remained defensive and overly critical about something so tiny that I should have been willing to set it aside. Instead of realizing how callous and uncaring I was, I doubled down on my mistake by playing the victim and acting as though I was on superior ground.
By not apologizing, I blew it again.
Even though that happened years ago, that mistake frequently comes to my mind. I learned a lot from that relationship — and from that night — but it still humiliates me that I handled the situation so poorly.
That woman and I went our separate ways. She’s apparently had a very happy life since then and we’ve had no contact. I would be shocked if she even still remembered the incident.
But I regret that I didn’t apologize while I still had the chance.
It’s too late to apologize by now. Our lives went in very different directions. It would be out of place for me to say — at this point — the things I wish I’d said that night. If I were to apologize now, I would be apologizing because I want to feel better about myself — not because she has any interest in hearing anything from me.
The biggest thing I learned that night — even though it took me too long to learn it — is that an apology needs to come quickly if it’s going to come at all. By this point in my life, I’m mature enough — just barely — to set aside my pride and my shame when I need to. I can say, “I’m so sorry I did that. I was completely wrong. I apologize. Will you forgive me?”
I wish I could go back in time to that night and say those words to her. I would even settle for going back to the day after. Even that would have been acceptable. But by now, I’m the only one who lives with it — and I can’t get the redemption that I should have gotten then.
The apology would matter to me, but it wouldn’t matter to her — because nothing about me matters to her anymore.
If you’ve wronged someone, set aside your pride and say so. The other person already knows it. He’s already hurt by what you said or did. Your remaining silent to protect your ego doesn’t change what you did.
But if you fail to say, “I apologize,” when you need to, you’re hurting yourself. After that other person has hardened his heart or shut you out of his life or simply moved on without you, you’re the one who’s going to periodically remember what you did.
You’re the one who’s going to have to live with knowing you were too petty — too prideful, too full of your own ego — to offer the apology that might offer comfort to your soul when you think about your hurtful action years later.