I once dated someone who didn’t know how to say ‘I’m sorry.’
He knew how to say a lot of things surrounding the word ‘sorry.’ He could say ‘This was a misunderstanding.’ He could say, ‘Let’s put this behind us.’ He could even say, ‘I hate that you’re upset, let’s talk things out.’
On the surface, he appeared to be a perfectly reasonable person. He was tuned into my feelings and his own. He was never afraid to raise or respond to an issue. For a while, it felt like the most adult relationship I’d ever been in.
But after a couple of months, I felt a strange, gnawing sense of resentment festering. I sat down to think it out and realized something peculiar – this man had never, once, told me he was sorry.
Not for the big things – the arguments that left us both tossing and turning, nor for the little things – the errands he’d forget about or the dates he’d show up late to.
These problems were always resolved – usually after a couple days of stony silence, one of us would reach out to reconcile, and things would go back to normal. If I felt an apology was in order, I’d give it. But I’d never receive one back. Ever.
Because as reasonable and levelheaded as he seemed to be on the surface, this man entirely lacked the ability to believe he was wrong.
About anything. Ever.
He was always quick to take what looked like the higher road. He’d be the first to reach out after an argument. He’d send funny pictures and invitations for exciting dates. He made a strong effort, and in this day and age, that’s a rare and admirable thing.
But the grandiose efforts were always in place of what was actually needed – a conversation. A reconciliation. An apology. A simple acknowledgment that a line had been crossed or a feeling had been hurt – even if it was done unintentionally.
I had been astounded, originally, at how in touch with his emotional side this man was. But upon further reflection, I came to another glaring realization:
This man was not in touch with his feelings. He was in touch with his feelings about his ego.
He was in touch with his opinion of himself as a morally flawless human being. As the most reasonable, the most levelheaded, the most understanding person he knew.
And because he believed this about himself, he could always forgive others for their silly, less evolved emotional behavior. But he could never admit he’d been the one in the wrong.
He could never stare down his own out-of-line actions and recognize that they were stemming from a place of insecurity. He could never make amends by admitting that his actions weren’t justified. He was a good person, who helped others (on his own terms) in many undeniable ways.
But every good action was serving an end – the end being ego justification. The second that ego was threatened and the potential for others to look at him as the ‘bad guy,’ emerged, he was quick to spin the situation around. To place the blame on someone else. To remove himself from the line of fire.
He was never sorry. Because his ego wouldn’t allow him to believe he was in the wrong.
Now, I’m not going to check myself out of the ego game. None of us really can.
I have ego conflicts that would give Dr. Phil a run for his money. I refuse to admit any weaknesses. I’m terrified to show or ask for love. I want to only be seen as impressive, and I’ve ruined many a relationship in my day over my own refusal to admit fault.
In fact, the very reason I believe I was attracted to this unapologetic man in the first place is because our egos were almost comically aligned. We were both people who liked to think of ourselves as moral and ‘good’ – whenever it was easy to do so.
The truth is, we’re all governed by those inner voices that tell us how to act, how to behave and what parts of ourselves to hide from others, in order to be worthy of love.
I’m not exempt from them. Very far from it.
And you probably aren’t either.
But the thing is, real love cannot and will not ever be born out of the ego.
If you think about your best friend, or your parent, or whomever you’re closest with in the world, what do you most deeply connect on?
Is it your strengths? Is it your accomplishments? Your paralleled commitment to proving yourself to other people?
Or is it your fears? Your weaknesses? The thoughts you have at three in the morning, which you cannot voice to anyone but them?
Because that’s the stuff that true intimacy is born from.
That ability to strip yourself bare, show who you really, truly are to another person, and allow them to love you for that. To love them back for doing the same.
Intimacy is born the moment you share your weakest, least impressive thought to someone else and have them reach over a hand and say, ‘Me too.’ It’s born from the mutual conquering of fears. It’s born from being each other’s soft place to fall.
True, unadulterated intimacy will always be the produce of two people communicating heart-to-heart – not ego-to-ego.
But to have that kind of intimacy, both people have to be willing to access their feelings – the real ones. The painful ones. The unimpressive ones.
The ones that are strong enough to break you, but also genuine enough to bridge a connection between your heart and somebody else’s.
Because putting your ego before your feelings is, and always will be, a fast path to finding people who are doing the same. And your relationship will only ever be as strong as the extent to which you validate one another’s ego.
Because true emotions rarely feel threatened. True emotions ache for connection. True emotions know when it’s time to sit down and listen and they know when it’s time to say ‘I’m sorry.’
True emotion will always be the stuff that love is born from.
Whereas the weak, flimsy, fallible imitations of love will always be a product of the ego.