I recently experienced a developmental leap.
A lot of people think they only happen to babies when they gain new cognitive skills – but I’m now convinced adults can have them too.
It started when I found myself apologising to my Uber driver who was going the wrong way.
I was heading to work at peak hour when our car began crawling onto the freeway (my office was straight ahead and most certainly not via the freeway).
I’d known we were in the wrong lane for a while but I chose not to say anything, as if heading in the wrong direction was a better alternative than being the Annoying Backseat Driver.
I have a shocking habit of waiting for someone else to be the bad guy – to leave my fingerprints off any potentially awkward social interactions.
On this occasion, that ‘someone else’ was meant to be the Google Maps lady but she was on mute, replaced by a breakfast radio quiz naming things starting with ‘K’ (hint: the answer is always ‘Kardashian’).
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I would have to do the dirty work myself.
“Sorry, I think you actually need to pop into the left lane,” I said, apologetically. Almost like a question.
Like many women, I’ve been a prolific Sorrier for years. When I was 16, my singing teacher stopped a lesson halfway through to berate me for my incessant apologies whenever I mucked up a note (which, when you’re trying to fit a Norah Jones vocal range into an early-2000s Christina Aguilera power ballad, is exactly every two minutes).
Since then I’ve had a heightened sensitivity to the ‘s’ word but too often one slips out before I can catch it.
But on this particular morning, my default response – to immediately apologise – wasn’t what jarred me the most. It was all the other, seemingly insignificant buffer words I’d peppered through this one little sentence, and upon further reflection, so many other sentences, every single day, for as long as I can remember.
Words like ‘just’ and ‘think’ and ‘actually’, that soften the hard edges. Flowery words. Words I use to navigate tricky situations when I don’t want to be unlikeable, which is all the time.
‘I think?’ Why did I say that? I knew with more certainty than my dad’s middle name that we needed to be in the left lane. And yet, I framed it as if I too was taking a wild stab that maybe, based on some whimsical gut feeling, we needed to follow the correct route to arrive at my place of work, where I travel to frequently.
And why did I double-down with an ‘actually’? As if popular folklore would have you believe turning your phone upside down and following Google Maps that way would lead you to your destination, but in actual fact, it doesn’t.
Then I thought about all the other non-verbal buffers I use – the ‘sorry to bother yous’ and the ‘sorry to be a pests’ that begin so many of my emails.
The ‘justs’ that are thrown in to minimise the inconvenience of even the smallest request.