Trying to Apologize for Stuff Back in the Day - worth it?

The OP Title hopefully says it all.

Let’s say you’re a grown-up now, and, upon reflection, you see what a twit you were in the distant past - we’ve all been there, right? (please say yes! ;))

Let’s say you had a friend - you’ve been out of touch for 20 years. Life has moved on - you probably think of this person once a year or two. Well, you just stumbled across them and their contact information at random. You are not looking to “pick up where you left off” or be best buddies or anything.

But you are curious how the person ended up. And let’s face it, you have a hidden agenda: if you connect with this person, and if they want to catch up, you would like the opportunity to tell them that you realize what a twit you were back in the day - you didn’t, I dunno, sucker them into being Prom Queen so you could douse them in pig’s blood (I assume the reference to Carrie is understood ;)), but this person was a basically nice person and you were generally a twit while you were friends.

So - would you reach out to them in the hopes that you could briefly connect and you could try to improve your karma? Or is trying to re-connect a silly, self-indulgent attempt to re-write the past and likely to lead to more trouble than it is worth?


I did - twice. Once with my ex-boyfriend and once with my best friend, whom I had a falling-out with. I had things to say to both of them, and I wanted to apologize for my immaturity no matter whether they forgave me or not.

Turns out they both felt they needed to apologize to me, too, and we patched up our relationships.

Actually there are quite a few people in my past I’d love to apologize to for similar reasons, although for the majority of those people, I’d also like to see an apology from them for the same things. I just don’t expect to get one.

It’s never wrong to try to make things right. :wink:

I would just come right out with the apology. I’d try contacting them with something like, “I’ve always felt bad about how things ended between us and I’d like to apologize”.
If person doesn’t want to hear it, well, it still might make you feel better to know you tried. If they accept the apology, then you might have the chance to segue into a discussion of what you’ve been up to for the last 20 years.

I think “closure” is over-rated (it is often just used as an excuse to draw out the drama in romantic breakups and such), but there are times when, after all the emotions have cooled off, getting one last chance to clear the air does help everyone feel better.

I’m all for apologies but I think that sometimes you need to balance your desire to make amends with the possibility that reminding them that you exist might not be the kindest thing that you can do for them if you did something really awful. In that case contacting them long after the fact to assuage some guilt is pretty self-indulgent.

I completely get that, hence the OP. Again, there’s no big falling out or anything in this case, just generally twittiness on my part and drifting apart after school.

I’ve done the retroactive apology thing before when it’s about smaller things and I know that I didn’t devastate them or anything. Sometimes I just get the urge to admit that I acted like a twit over something relatively minor.

Every once in a while, I see a guy who was a friend in high school but was something of an asshole, and he still apologizes for that & I keep telling him it’s OK, he’s forgiven. When "My Name Is Earl’ started up, he took it to heart, especially when a little girl in the church sports team he was coaching mentioned that her Mommy didn’t care for him because of how he teased the Mommy when they were in Grade School. He apologized to the Mom & now things are fine.

I think in the case of an apology for already known stuff, it’s probably okay. (Although I agree it would need to be weighed with the possible burden of knowing you again…I have one ex who could be sorrier than sorry and shout mea culpas from the rooftops of St. James and the satisfaction of that would still be outweighed by the pain of hearing his voice and seeing his face again.)

What I think is almost always a spectacularly terrible idea is apologizing for stuff they didn’t know about just to get the weight of guilt off your chest.

“I’m sorry I was such a basket case while we were dating. Looking back on it, I’m totally embarrassed by my passive-aggressive attempts to manipulate you. I’ve been working on it, and I’m much better now, and I want to thank you for being a turning point in my learning how to effectively communicate with people.” <—probably okay.

“I want to apologize for sleeping with your brother and never telling you about it.” <—don’t do it.

I actually did sort of apologize to an old friend I saw for the first time in about 10 years this past weekend. Long story, but I said something about 12 years ago to her and I’ve always wondered if what I said made her pack up and leave our hometown for LA. Where she was miserable for 10 years. As it turns out, it was only kinda sorta what I said, but she had never held it against me, and felt it was valuable support and advice. I’ve been carrying a guilt burden that isn’t mine, and it was great to get rid of it without putting it on her shoulders. It was the kind of thing that didn’t involve a transfer of angst, but a removal of it.

Adam Sandler did, and wound up getting himself off Steve Buscemi’s hit list. :smiley:

Just remember that the apology is for you, not the other person. Meaning, don’t expect the other person to react to your apology the way you might wish them to. Good luck.

This is important.

In your case this may not apply, but I wouldn’t go to great lengths to look them up and make contact for this either. If you didn’t do anything too terrible it may seem a bit weird and stalker-like to them. Bearing in mind that the apology really is for you, and they may not even remember the original events, it may be a bit rude to drag them back into it.

I hear you, but in my case, I don’t think it applies, given the specifics of this situation. But you and Soul Brother Number Two raise an important point - I would be looking to apologize so I feel better - the question is how likely will it turn out that an apology from me will make him feel better (or, at least, not make him feel worse)? I need to ponder that - this is why I started a thread about this, to get stuff to ponder before I decide whether to act…

It’s really hard to predict this, unless you have friends in common. This may be something they’ve forgotten, didn’t even notice or care about at the time, or it could have weighed on them for years. i think a casual 'Hey, what’s up? Sorry if this sounds lame, but I know I wasn’t always the nicest person to you etc. etc. I am not looking for forgiveness or for you to thank me or anything like that, but I just needed to get that off my chest."

I know, having watched plenty of crappy talk shows, that it’s often the other way around – someone who was mercilessly teased in school is damaged for life and confronts their old bully, only to have the tormentor barely remember them.

ETA: I actually had someone do this while we were still in school. She’d been a real jerk to me one year, and apologized at the beginning of the next. We didn’t become best friends or anything, but it meant a lot to me that she’d matured and reflected and put aside her ego long enough to apologize. I respected her for it.

Business threw me back in contact with my first girlfriend a few years back. We both work in different agencies (in fact, different branches) of state government, and had run into each other now and again in the past. But, we found ourselves serving on a committee that met a few times over the course of a few weeks.

At the first meeting, we greeted each other politely, and caught up on a few mutual friends, that sort of thing.

After the last meeting, we walked out together, and I took advantage of the opportunity to apologize for my behavior twenty years earlier. She accepted my apology, noting that I had been, at the time, a seventeen year old boy, and that my behavior “sort of came with the territory”. As this was more or less what I had been thinking, I was pleased that she agreed.

We have seen each other a few times since, and it does feel much less strained than before.

I was having this discussion with a friend recently, as we both have fathers we feel should ask forgiveness for some of the crap they’ve pulled. I realized while talking that I am someone who uses my current behavior as a passive way of apologizing–IOW I hope that my acting nice now will somehow replace what I did before in people’s minds, and make up for what I’ve done without my broaching the (potentially painful) subject again. And my father does the same thing. It was hard to realize that but important to know it about myself.

So yes, in theory I think it is honorable to ask forgiveness even after a long time but I am too deficient to do it.

I’m leaning towards no - but this is coloured by the fact that I haven’t hit 30 yet and being a twit is pretty much what your 20s is all about. I do know what you mean about wanting to say sorry having realised over time you were in the wrong, or that your behaviour then wasn’t what you would consider good now. But on the other hand, how important is it to do that? Realising you were a twit in the first place is the biggest part of not being a twit in the future, and we should look forwards, not backwards.

Personal anecdote - I met up with an ex of mine a couple of years back. I was his first love and I broke up with him, it was really unpleasant for him even though he accepted my reasons. We tried to stay friends after but this deteriorated over time to the point where I emailed him and said “Don’t contact me any more - I don’t like who you’ve become”. Harsh yes, but it was true, and at the time we were 20 and 17 so this kind of drama is to be expected. Anyway when we met up again we both wanted to apologise to each other, and he certainly came out of the breakup well as he met someone not that long after and they now jointly own and run a business worth about £3m. I, on the other hand, had at the time just been released from a mental hospital. :frowning:

Uncomfortable and unnecessary, I would never do this. Besides, I’ve never wronged somebody so horribly that this would really be warranted.

…and there you have it. It is not that big of a deal - I sleep just fine, thanks, and have let 20+ years go by, so it is not a crushing weight. But, as you point out in your anecdote, there can be something said for following through with an apology if you cross paths again…

I appreciate the different points of view - I have made it a point to not do anything for a few days and let it simmer for a bit…if I choose to act and anything noteworthy comes out of it, I will provide an update. For now, assume I let the opportunity pass…

Awhile back I started a thread about sending/receiving an olive branch. I’d been a schmuck to my bestest friend in the whole wide world and a good decade later sent him a letter saying “Dude, I’m sorry I was a bastard.” At the time of the thread, I’d never heard back, but he finally contacted me, three years after he got the letter, to say “dude, you had a lot of shit going on at the time, don’t worry about it.” And now we’re actually back in touch and it’s good karma all the way around.

It totally would have been fine if I’d never heard back from him, I just wanted to be sure that he know it was my schmuckitude and it had been unwarranted, and he was an all around good guy and I hope he didn’t think he’d been disrespected.

I also had a girl get in touch with me who had been kind of a bitch to me, like 10 years ago. I didn’t know her really well, but I guess it sort of nagged at her that I’d been a nice guy and she treated me like crap. Again, good karma all around. She thought maybe I didn’t even remember her, but just wanted to say “I was a bitch and you were a decent guy who was being nice.” She and her husband do some of the same type of adventure travel my fiancee and I do, so nowadays, we touch base once in awhile to compare notes and trade recommendations for holidays.