Why “I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You” Is Not an Apology.

untitled-design-2.pngI never used to listen to commercial radio, but now I have it on in the car, and sometimes while I do the dishes. I’m not completely averse to pop music anymore, however it does disturb me how so many modern love songs normalise disrespect, objectification and the notion that stalking is somehow an acceptable form of romance.

What disturbs me the most is that the songs on the radio are only a reflection of real attitudes to romance and dating. Attitudes I am unfortunately familiar with.  Let me tell you what happened to me late last year.

I was going to be away from home for four days in October 2018, going to lectures, workshops and events at a biannual regional arts conference. It was two hours from home, and I was so excited to go. But after two days of checking-in messages, missed calls and weird interactions about where I was and who I was with, my boyfriend was on his way to me. He had a hotel room booked and a picnic dinner packed. He said he wanted to surprise me and spoil me. I was so angry I told him to go to the hotel room and then go home in the morning. He wanted to make it all about me. But I was away from my children at a conference for 4 days – it was already all about me!

His grand romantic gesture – grand manipulative gesture – was the end of our relationship. The inevitable apologies ran along the lines of “I never intended to make you feel threatened. I only wanted to do something romantic for you. I wanted to surprise you. I never meant to make you upset,” and then when I wouldn’t reconsider, “it was never my intention and you know it.”

The notion of impact versus intention was one we talked about a lot as part of Leadership Ballarat & Western Region Leaders Forum, in which I participated in 2017. In the world of organisational leadership, you are only as much as your impact. Your actions are what people judge you by. The effect you have on others is what counts. Because no one is a mind reader. No one sees your intention, no one understands your motivation. You can have the best strategic plan in history but if you’d don’t implement it, nothing changes and no-one cares. In fact, you fail.

So when we translate that into personal relationships, intention means very little. Your behaviour is what shows me what you think of me.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you” is NOT an apology.

Firstly, it’s redundant. It’s pretty rare for anyone to deliberately set out to hurt another person, especially one they supposedly love, so it’s not as if you’re going to say “I absolutely did mean to hurt you.” We’re already assuming you didn’t mean to, otherwise it brings up the possibility that we’re dating a psychopath.

Secondly, it’s a cop-out.  It doesn’t actually matter if you meant it or not. What you actually did scared me and hurt me, and that’s what matters. So if the sum of your analysis is that you didn’t mean it, then you just sound sorry for the fact that you stuffed up and were caught out, not remorseful for the hurt you actually caused. You’re not owning what you did. 

It’s time we acknowledged that romance – the traditional pop song kind – is completely selfish. It does not consider the impact on the other person. What have they got planned? What if you turn up unannounced? How will that make them feel? Put it this way – thinking you love someone and wanting to be with them is fine, but stalking them to a conference two hours away is not.

So potential new boyfriends – please – don’t turn up at my door in the rain with a hand-made sign that says you love me. Don’t sing from the bottom of my balcony in the middle of the night. Analyse your intention and consider the impact before you take action. Just communicate your intention, wait for my response, and then act in a way that positively impacts on me. Have some empathy. It’s not that hard.

Oh, and for god’s sake stop listening to “love songs”. They might be catchy, but they’re full of crap.

Leave a Reply