Hax: The pros and cons of an ex’s apology

The Washington PostOctober 10, 2013 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: I’m hoping you can help. A friend and I were discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of apologizing to someone for long-ago wrongs — namely significant others.

I argue it’s a bad idea. If I got an apology from a certain jerky ex, I’d think it was pretty arrogant of him to think I’m still thinking about him and he only wants his conscience absolved — both of which aren’t about me. You shouldn’t do that to someone else and your guilt IS your punishment to carry.

My friend argues that some might be happy or feel more closure, and that it’s good to hear it and it might not always be a wound that reopens.

I don’t know. It depends on the person, but if my ex did that, I’d probably respond with, “Yeah … you just miss the cooking, sex and a date to parties. If you appreciated ME you wouldn’t have left.” My friend says she’d be thrilled if her crappy ex did that. Thoughts?

FORGIVE VS. NOT FORGIVE

“It depends,” meaning, how bitter you still feel?

I can see thinking (without actually saying), “Yeah … you just miss the cooking, sex and a date to parties,” etc. — if he tried to reconcile or proposed being “friends,” wink-wink. But just apologizing?

Sure, apologies can be selfish — all about conscience-clearing — but they don’t have to be. They can also be about attempting to right a wrong, or to assure you that you weren’t undesirable or at fault or a rube for caring.

Sometimes the passage of time brings maturity to an ex, and even an unwelcome apology can be made and received graciously.

The assurance-type apology can be extraordinarily liberating for people.

For those considering making such an apology, all I can advise is to weigh the potential costs and benefits. Many people do urgently want to be left alone, just as some want to hear they weren’t wrong or unworthy of love, so there’s no sure way to get it right. You can take your best guess at which, in the eyes of the other person, would be seen as the kindest thing.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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