Forward Living: Apologize, but be sure you mean it

In the hit movie “Love Story,” Ali MacGraw’s character, Jenny, utters this now-famous line to her husband, Oliver, played by Ryan O’Neal: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” The film is a tearjerker and is considered one of the most romantic of all time by the American Film Institute — and I get it. However, that sappy line is the dumbest declaration I’ve ever heard. Saying I’m sorry is always appropriate and, occasionally, saying I’m sorry is simply not enough.

We live in a world where some folks feel they can get away with stuff that no sane person would tolerate, as long as they apologize. I’m not referring to a heartfelt apology, but rather to those folks I’ve dubbed “habituals” — a term I’ve coined for want of a better word.

Not all politicians are philanderers, but for those who have strayed, technology hasn’t proven user-friendly. An embarrassing photo is posted on the Internet, a child pops out of the woodwork, the ever-vigilant paparazzi catch an intimate moment, etc. Then — oops! Caught. Denial is the first order of business, followed by a variety of tall tales. (Remember the politician who said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail via Argentina?) Finally, they stand tearfully before the cameras and apologize to the wives, kids, constituents, country and pet dogs — after the fact. Would they have come clean if they hadn’t been caught?

Most of us have encountered the disloyalty of the now ex-friend. You know, the one who blew us off because something better came down the pike, or the one whose loose lips disclosed a confidential conversation. Then there is the ex-friend who talks about everybody, so we gotta assume she’s yakking about us, too. The friend may be contrite or, more often, said friend is clueless regarding her behavior. However, here’s what the friend failed to remember: This is not the first occurrence and, sadly, we wise up and realize it won’t be the last.

Many gals (guys, too) suffer from domestic violence. The abuser tries to maintain control by isolating the victim through physical, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse. After the abuse, an apology usually ensues. Unfortunately, until the victim sees through the apology, or suffers severe harm, these abuses can escalate. And here’s the kicker: Sometimes, when the police respond to a domestic violence call, they are turned away by the victim, who says the abuser “is sorry,” and the abuser promises, “It won’t happen again.” Only it does.

Of course, there are things that aren’t deal-breakers, but can annoy us to the max. I purchased an engagement gift online and somewhere between Ohio and Jamesport, the package went missing. My credit card was charged and repeated inquiries proved futile. The upshot? The package never showed up, the engagement party came and went (I bought another gift), it took months to straighten out my credit card and everyone was sorry. Really, folks, sorry just didn’t cut it.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Humankind is beset with frailties: We make mistakes, we misspeak, we’re judgmental, we get angry and say and do regrettable things. We may inadvertently or perhaps by design cause another to become enraged at us, and although we’ve apologized, the tensions may remain and even grow.

Ah, me. Perhaps the relationship remains frozen because our apology consists of empty words. I’ll bet if one puts feet on an apology and does something to make amends, then it becomes more about forgiveness and redemption, and none of us is without the need of forgiveness.

I suppose most of us can be labeled as “habituals” at one time or another. As Martin Luther King Jr. aptly put it, “There is some good in the worst of us and evil in the best of us.” Saying I’m sorry may or may not be enough, but, hey, it’s a start.

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.