Why men don’t need to apologise
THE woman was incandescent.
Her husband had booked a golf trip that overlapped their 20th wedding anniversary.
"I'd reminded him it was our anniversary and asked him to note it in his calendar so he'd see it when he was booking flights back from his trip," she railed in what would kindly be deemed her 'outside' voice.
Sitting at a neighbouring table in the local cafe, I pretended to read the newspaper but kept listening.
"Anyway, he writes the anniversary down for the Saturday night instead of the Friday night - because clearly it's too hard to remember what day we married - and promptly books a flight home for Saturday afternoon."
But it gets worse. Golf guy apparently couldn't apologise.
"Three days! Three days later he comes out with a manpology," she steams.
A manpology? What's a manpology?
Fortunately cafe lady let us all know: "He said he was sorry I was so upset but I was overreacting over one day."
Since this has never happened to me in a relationship ever *ahem* I dashed back to my desk to research this strange phenomenon. A manpology, also known as a fauxpology, is apparently an apology that isn't. In fact researchers have even discovered there's a gender apology gap caused by a general reluctance from men to take responsibility for their wrongdoing and the habit of women to over-apologise due to a misguided belief that it's somehow courteous or a way to cement goodwill. One acclaimed clinical psychologist has given a TED talk called Why Won't He Apologise? which has garnered 31,000 views - presumably all by women.
Now before all you readers in possession of an XY chromosome turn the page or click to the sports results or hit the comments section, my research has turned up a staggering finding: it may not actually be necessary for men to say: "I'm sorry".
But first, the gender apology gap.
Remember Fonzie from Happy Days? Remember how every time he tried to say he was sorry or he was wrong, he would mumble or trip over his words?
According to clinical psychologist Josh Gressel men don't like admitting they're wrong because it feels as if they've had something taken from them, that somehow they're now lesser - less competent, less intelligent, less together.
Gressel jokes that men are born with only a certain number of apologies to last them a lifetime so will only apologise for something really serious and then only under great duress.
Saying sorry also makes men vulnerable which can make them feel threatened, he argues. That's why they're guilty of "yes butting" or offering what cafe lady called a manpology. "Yes, I'm sorry I did __________ but only because you did _________ to me." Finally, men have different emotional expectations. If they're not bothered by something they can't understand why you might be.
While I value Gressel's expertise I prefer the bald honesty of writer Rob Cribb who basically says men don't apologise because they never saw Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino or James Bond doing it. "And they killed people," he argues. Cribb also reveals that men loathe the "ritualistic formality" of the apology process, having learned to apologise to each other wordlessly with a handshake, pat on the back or offer of beer, all delivered briefly and with the understanding that the issue need never be spoken of again. Women, conversely, treat an apology like a torture ritual. Writing in The Star, he reveals: "The kind of demonstrative protracted apologies shared among Sex and the City characters play out like modern crucifixion scenes to the male eye, eliciting a kind of violent nausea and an unrelenting need to take a baseball bat to the television to ensure it can never again convey such insufferable wordiness."
Calm down mate. Didn't you consider you could avoid all that if you'd got in first with: "I'm sorry"?
So can you improve at apologising and does saying "sorry" actually matter?
Being able to make a sincere apology where you admit you screwed up and that you're taking the issue seriously is at the heart of successful leadership, parenting, friendships and relationships, says Harriet Lerner, author of Why Won't You Apologise.
She says those seeking the apology can help matters by explaining their grievance succinctly. "Humans are hardwired for defensiveness," she says. "It takes a great deal of maturity to put a relationship or another person before our need to be right."
Her tips: focus on what you've done wrong, not the other person's reaction to it - "I'm sorry you feel that way" is not an apology; don't tag "but" on to an apology; and don't make a request for forgiveness. And one for women - don't expect a man to apologise if you're constantly criticising him.
One Sydney psychotherapist told me, however, that for some men, sorry is just too hard to say. Having helped hundreds of couples she focuses on teaching men to use the words "fair call" to acknowledge when something their partner is saying is justified.
Fair call? Isn't that something they'd use on the footy field or an appropriate response to being told it's your turn to buy a round?
"It doesn't matter," she tells me. "It can break a stalemate, it kickstarts communication and shows a willingness to accept another's point of view."