I know all the signs by now. She’s apologizing every few sentences. Even when she’s not saying the word “sorry,” she’s still apologizing. In tone. In the way that she qualifies everything.
“I’m sorry for wasting your time,” she says, without saying it. “I know that I’m not worth listening to, so I’m going to say this as quickly as possible. Because it’s eating me up inside. But don’t hate me. Please, I can’t bear it if you hate me.”
She reminds me of myself, once upon a time. I had a hard time back then getting through most social interactions without crying. I learned to hold it in, flee, let it out later. It wasn’t easy. At times I felt like I had emotional incontinence. And when I did cry in front of people, it was just as humiliating as if I’d wet myself. I couldn’t stomach their horrified reactions. It was too much.
And that’s what I feel listening to her. Everything is too much for her right now.
Back when I was that way, people were always interrupting me. “Stop apologizing so much,” they’d say. And often tack on something like, “It’s annoying.” This just made the problem worse. Because the apologies were becoming something I needed to apologize for.
I can remember holding those apologies in, terrified that I’d alienate the last few people in my life by saying “sorry” too much. This was before I tried the hack where you thank people instead of apologizing. “Thank you for taking the time to listen to me” instead of “sorry for yakking so much.” Those kinds of one-for-one substitions.
No, back then, I stayed silent. I choked.
And now as I listen to her, I say the things I would have loved to hear back then, when I was in her shoes. “It’s fine. I like talking to you. What you’re saying makes sense.”
Because it’s all true. And I want her to see it with me — if only for a moment, before the clouds of her insecurity sweep back in.