Yesterday, a British journalist asked me how the supporting technology was at Washington Post since Jeff Bezos bought it. I replied “Quite good” and his expression told me I had been misunderstood. So I said “I meant American quite good not British quite good”.
This reminded me of a common problem of the heterosexual couples I counselled back in the day. The wildly popular 1970 film Love Story taught Americans that “Love means never having to say you are sorry.” No wonder the divorce rate was so high in what Garry Trudeau called a kidney stone of a decade. Of course you sometimes have to say you are sorry to keep an intimate relationship going. But what do you mean when you say it?
For most of the men I saw in counseling, saying sorry meant that you had done something wrong and were apologizing. For most of the women, sorry more often meant “I feel you”. A common resulting scenario for misunderstanding would be that the husband would complain about, say, his awful boss and his wife would say “I’m sorry about that”, leading the man to reject this expression of sympathy with “Why? It’s not your fault.” Even more painfully, when the wife would describe her own troubles she might feel hurt that her husband didn’t express any sorrow. Meanwhile, he would be thinking “I feel bad for it, but it’s not my fault, so I’m not going to say I’m sorry”.
A way past this that seemed to help was to teach the couples the difference and help them become comfortable in emotional exchanges to refer to “woman sorry” and “man sorry”, e.g., “I’m not saying it’s your fault, I’m asking you to be woman sorry for me” and “I’m man sorry that I didn’t understand until this moment what you needed from me”.