"I'm sorry you're not feeling well," I said as I tucked him back into bed.
Then the second one chimed in, his eyes gleaming with envy. "My stomach hurts, too!"
"I'm sorry to hear that," I murmured, shooing him along to breakfast.
He ate and got ready for school, all the while angling for a day off like his brother was getting. "I'm serious, my stomach hurts," he insisted. "I ate too much last night."
"I'm sorry," said I. "You'll feel better soon."
My son rounded on me. "Why do you keep saying that?" he snapped.
"You keep saying you're sorry! Every time we're sick or we get hurt, you say you're sorry."
"Oh," I said, a little taken aback. "I'm... sorry."
He threw his hands up in frustration and stomped off to the bus, his annoyance at me driving away his phantom stomach ache.
* * *
I apologize a lot--or rather, I use the words of apology, when I don't really mean them, at all.
I'm sorry for your loss.
I'm sorry you're sick.
I'm sorry you fought with your husband.
I'm sorry things are hard for you right now.
I'm sorry the restaurant was terrible.
I'm sorry you had a bad day at work.
I'm sorry for saying I'm sorry so much.
I don't mean it. What I mean is, "I feel sorrow on your behalf." "I empathize." "My heart is heavy for you." "I wish you weren't sick." "I acknowledge the injustice of your situation." "This should not have happened to you."
Those are the kinds of things I mean, but I use "I'm sorry" as a lazy shorthand.
Some people are really bothered by this misuse of "I'm sorry," though not as much as the use of a word I won't mention. More than once the reply to my "I'm sorry," has been something along the lines of, "Why? You didn't do it."
I know I didn't do it. That's not what I mean. I think everyone knows that's not what we "I'm sorry"ers mean. We're honestly trying to express sympathy, but some people don't respond well to it when it comes wrapped up as an apology.
So, why don't I just say what I mean? It's a linguistic rut, a thoughtless habit. But I'm going to try to be more conscientious about the words I use next time I feel "I'm sorry" trying to fall off my tongue.
Do you say "I'm sorry" as an expression of sympathy / empathy? Do you find it problematic? Let's discuss it in the comments!