Guilt

Women Apologize for Everything and I'm Sorry About That

I feel guilty about not having written about guilt before.

Posted Nov 29, 2010

I got a call from a women's magazine the other day asking me for advice on how women could be more efficient in their lives. "What do you do to save time?" they asked me.

I asked her what other interviewees had said. "Well," she replied, "there was the physicist who thought it was a good idea to make lunches in advance for her children to take to school." I imagined a subatomic refrigerator filled with seven years' worth of fluffer nutter sandwiches. My husband and I forage for food every night. We are unlikely to be able to pack a brown bag for the next day. What if the next day never comes? Then making lunch would have been a waste of time, and I can't bear that.

"What else did they say?" I asked. "The CFO of a large company suggested that no one should allow a piece of paper to pass over her desk twice." To me, this sounded like some kind of weird ritual, one my Sicilian grandmother might have used to ward off evil spirits. "No, no. Get that piece of paper away. It was already over the desk. Now you'll bring bad luck on the house." No doubt, the CFO meant that it's better to deal with issues as soon as they arise rather than to have them haunt you or flicker at the edge of your peripheral vision but that once over the desk policy is just as likely to happen in my house as the fluffer nutter regime.

I thought about how I actually spend most of my time during the day. I realized that, like a lot of other middle-aged women, I spend most of my day in apologizing, justifying, explaining, and asking for forgiveness. This from a card-carrying feminist, a woman whose adult life has been spent taking risks and rising to challenges. I mean, nobody's ever accused me of being kittenish or sensitive to others; I'm more Calamity Jane than Jane Austen (although I bet that if you gave Jane Austen a gun, she would have had a deadly aim).

What do I apologize for? Everything. I apologize for how my hair looks, especially if I am late with a dye job ("color consultation"). I apologize for the fact that the Democratic party did not spend enough money or spent too much. I apologize for not going to church, even though it's been about 40 years since I attended regularly and nobody's come looking for me yet.

I apologize for not taking better care of (choose any combination of the following): my husband, my step-sons, my students, my nieces and nephew, my friends, my cats, my nails, my yard, or my oil filter. I feel guilty about not rotating my tires.

I feel guilty about gaining weight. I feel guilty, I feel really guilty, for worrying about gaining weight because body image should not be used to judge people, especially if they're on that fine line dividing L from XL. If I lose weight, then I feel really bad--how dare I get all pleased with myself for something so trivial? I feel guilty for remembering some birthdays but not others; I have approximately 178 cards in preparedness for unanticipated birthdays and a separate drawer for the "Sorry I missed your birthday!!" ones.

I feel guilty for not wearing certain clothes hanging in the back of my closet even though I really liked them when I first bought them. This feels to me like some kind of betrayal. I mean, I once really loved that blouse, but now other fancier blouses have replaced it in my affections. I nevertheless feel possessive enough not to want to give it away. In other words, I feel about my shirts the way sultans used to feel about their harems, only more so. I mean, it's not as if a suit from Ann Taylor really expects me to be monogamous.

I feel guilty about not having written about guilt before.

Women could save time by cutting out the caveats that we offer at the beginning of every sentence. "I'm sorry, it's only me. I just wanted to check on...." "I really hate to bother you. I know how busy you are...." I'd say the average woman could save 3 or 4 months a year by skipping those introductory phrases.

And if we ever started sleeping through the night instead of waking up, with a clutch of the heart, worrying about what we forgot to do or what we might forget to do or what someone else might think we might forget to do, then we would be able to make even better use of our time during waking hours.

Men's magazines, in contrast, seem to be all about how men could stop being so damn efficient and learn to spend even more time tying elaborate fishing lures, rebuilding classic cars, finding out the true value of their baseball card collection, and achieving new heights in maintaining the perfect lawn.

Very few articles are needed to encourage men to keep their lives simple.

Basically, women could save a lot of time in our lives if we stop double-thinking everything we say and everything we do. At least I think that that's the case. But I'm really not sure. And I shouldn't have bothered you with this in the first place. Sorry.