I’m a 40-Year-Old Woman and This Is the Weird Way I Learned to Stop Apologizing For Everything

Go to the net

stop saying sorry universal
Dasha Burobina

For decades, my tendency to over-apologize has come as a reflexive response. I often say it automatically, reaching for the S word in situations that are far beyond my control. Bump into me on the subway? I’ll apologize first. Present a contrary—but constructive—opinion? Yep, I’ll preface it by saying sorry. I’ve even apologized for going silent on the group chat because I had the stomach flu. I know what you’re thinking: It’s not a good look.

After all, we all know research has shown that women, as a group, tend to over-apologize. Often, it’s a fight against our own perfectionism or we use it as a way to counter guilt. Or we’re simply working overtime to be liked.

In my case, it took a rather surprising experience for me to notice my bad habit: I started playing tennis.

Backstory: I’ve spent almost every Thursday night for the last six years on the court at a lovely tennis club in Brooklyn. In 2018, a friend sent an email to a group of women she knew in the neighborhood suggesting we give a weekly introductory class a try. My non-athletic self was feeling open to new experiences, so I said yes. No one’s more surprised than me that I stuck with it all this time. (I also kind of love it? For those who don’t play, tennis truly is a lifelong sport.)

But back to my over-apologizing. One night on the court, I missed a volley—the kind of shot where you go to the net. I missed a forehand, too. A few minutes later, I hit the ball straight into the rafters. Each and every time, you can guess what I yelled to the group of smart and successful women I was playing with. SORRY!

That’s when my friend Anna turned to me and half-joking said something that felt both simple and profound: There’s no saying sorry in tennis. Huh? Had I apologized out loud? I guess I had. I fought the urge to say sorry for saying sorry (lol) and tried again. Another missed shot. “Sor—” I cut myself off.

But that’s the thing. In tennis, missed shots happen. A ball in play eventually goes out of play. And in my effort to keep the game moving, I felt I needed to say something, even if I didn’t want to.

So, what did I do? For a while, I pursed my lips, I made an awkward face, even threw out a self-deprecating comment (also, not ideal) like “I can’t hit anything tonight,” or “oof butterfingers!” But over the next few weeks, I avoided the words “I’m sorry” like the plague and ultimately it worked. I stopped saying—and feeling—sorry, and I started approaching each shot as an opportunity for success. More than anything, the biggest challenge was learning to live with the discomfort of a momentary silence. A missed shot, a brief pause, a reset before the next serve. That became my routine.

Now, all six of the women in my tennis crew hold each other accountable. Each one occasionally reaches for those words (“I’m sorry!”), and the rest give her a subtle, loving reminder to zip it.

Does all this mean you have to pick up tennis? If you want! But practicing a pause and allowing yourself more discomfort with silence can achieve the same result.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...