Thursday, May 13, 2010

Love Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

When I was a young girl there were two movies I would always watch when they came on TV—“The Way We Were”, starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, and “Love Story” starring Ryan O’Neil and Ali McGraw. "Love means never having to say you're sorry” is the most oft quoted line from "Love Story".

Ali McGraw played the smart, but underprivileged girl (Jenny) who married Ryan’s character—preppy rich boy, Oliver. Their idyllic and romantic love affair was not acceptable to Oliver’s snobby family and he was financially and emotionally cut off from them for dallying with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

Jenny was a master of one-liners and quips and she laughed at Oliver’s emotional and romantic nature. He’d fumble all over himself when he upset her and would blubber, “I love you. I love you. I’m sorry.” Jenny would kiss him on the forehead and simply say, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

The movie saga takes a tragic turn when Jenny is diagnosed with leukemia. As she lay dying in the hospital she looked at Oliver and said, “I’m sorry”. Oliver held her hand and said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.

When I was in high school I carried around a three-ring binder that was covered with clever sayings and bumper sticker truisms—the “sorry” quote among them. One day my mom saw the book and said, “I don’t agree with that”. She continued, “Love means saying ‘I’m sorry’ when you hurt someone.”

I never forgot that. I’ve had to apologize many times in my life. Let’s face it…I screw up! Don’t we all? Come on…wipe that incredulous look off your face. You know in your heart of hearts that you’re far from perfect. We imperfect ones have got to shake off the pride and say, “I’m sorry” now and again. I’ve said it to my husband, kids, family, and friends—and I meant it.

Ideally, saying those three words means changing the hurtful behavior as well. That’s the difficult part, of course, but relationships are worth it. There’s no guarantee the one we hurt will accept the apology. I once poured out my feelings of remorse to a dear friend. She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said, “whatever”. She then asked if I was done and if she could go home.

Despite my mom’s stated belief, she finds it difficult to say those three words. In fact, I don’t remember hearing an apology from any member of my family ever.

Whenever there has been a conflict among my siblings or with my parents, it goes something like this: They say something awful, I say something awful, a few weeks pass, we forget about it, and we go on like nothing happened.

Some time back I made the choice to stop the cycle. Enough is enough—for me anyway. I found myself being beat down with criticisms and sarcasms. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but the words were killing my spirit.

A much-loved family member did something that offended me greatly. I addressed it. The response? “I will no longer share my life with you”, and “I had the best day ever and you ruined it”.

So…I find myself at a familiar bend in the road. It’s the point at which I would normally forget that anything bad ever happened and let things go back to the way they’ve always been.

I want better.

Love is saying, “your pain matters to me”, and “I’m sorry I hurt you”. The perception from the other side is that I owe the apology because I was selfish when I expressed my heart.

I don’t know where this will end, but I know I want healthier relationships. I guess I need to know that my feelings and opinions are valued—not necessarily shared—but valued. In addition, I need my friends and family to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they matter to me too. Though our beliefs and opinions may differ, their pain is my pain, and I would never dismiss it with “you ruined my day”.

I want better.

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