Sorry really is the hardest word: But you have to mean it

For me, an apology is sometimes enough

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A sort of friend messaged me last night. I was initially icy, with due cause. Four years ago, this man- or then, boy- had groped me.

I hadn’t said anything. For a long time, I didn’t even acknowledge it had been wrong. It must have been me, giving off the wrong signals. I must have smiled too much, laughed too hard at his jokes. He had just broken up with a long term sixth-form girlfriend. As I had brushed off his hand, I had brushed away my shame, my humiliation, my sadness.

What happened? Well, like one of countless times, a ‘friend' had forced himself on top of me in his flat. He didn’t hit me, hold me down or get violent. He just grabbed at my waist, forced me onto the sofa, and pulled up my skirt, despite my whole body becoming rigid with fear. I had pushed him off, mumbled something about not wanting to and left. It has happened before or since with numerous men.

Despite almost continuous declarations of disinterest, how much I liked them as a friend, and how I don’t want to have sex with them, the unwanted kissing, touching and forcing of my body against a wall or bed repeats itself. No, from my lips, seems to mean try harder.

Clumsy pass or assault? You make up your own terminology. I’m just fed up with it.

But anyway. This man apologised. And he meant it. Totally out of the blue, no pressure, no notification of a police inquiry. He had freely messaged me to apologise. No excuses. He had put his own pleasure above my repeated requests for a platonic relationship. He didn’t want to get into my life, or bed. He just couldn’t live with the guilt of having behaved like that.

And with that, he was gone. No demands for forgiveness, no sly requests for me to admit I had some responsibility in case of a lawsuit. I felt a wave of relief. I needed to hear it wasn’t my fault, that I should and could trust men to know that was wrong. I cried for a while, with tears that I didn’t know where there.

I’m not saying women have to forgive their attackers and abusers. God knows there are some men I will never forgive. But genuine remorse and empathy can go someway to healing and changing what has passed: for me anyway.

If you can say sorry, and mean it, then you should. Don’t expect forgiveness or even a response. But the fact you acknowledge what happened and that you must change might give your victim some light in what is often a dark, troubling part of our histories.

Anthropologist with an awful lot to say about everything. Opinions entirely my own. Usually.

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