I Received My First "Me Too" Apology. It Was Disappointing.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that this may be triggering to anyone who has suffered harassment and/or abuse so please read at your own discretion.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I guess it’s because I’m a writer and I process things through writing. I guess I also feel compelled to share things that might help others, even when it’s uncomfortable to talk about. So, here goes.

I got my first “Me Too” apology last week. After receiving it, I have since learned that straight men have been coming out of the woodwork, apologizing to women they may have harassed or abused in the past as a result of the Me Too and Time's Up movements.

Hence, out of nowhere, I received my first apology via Facebook Messenger. As soon as I saw the name pop up, I thought to myself, “Is he about to apologize for that time?”

And the thing is, “that time,” at the time was something I brushed off as an annoyance because I had been subjected to worse and would be subjected to worse later. It was a case of non-consensual spooning that could have been quickly forgiven, if it had not been for his reaction to my reaction. 

I woke from my sleep, to feel this guy I really only knew as an acquaintance, pressed up against me. We hadn’t even “hooked up” or anything like that. We just happened to be sleeping on the same floor after having worked on a project together. So when I felt his body against mine, I spoke up, I asked, “Hey, what are you doing? Can you move?” and I proceeded to push him away from me. Instead of apologizing, he got mad and asked me, “Then why are you here?”  

Excuse me?  I thought we had been working on a project as peers. It's not like we were even alone.  There was at least one more person sleeping near us. Because that person said nothing, and we still had to get on with our work the next day, I got up, grabbed my things, went outside, and proceeded with my day as if nothing had happened.

I have dealt with many of these seemingly small aggressions throughout my life, as most women do, so I chalked it up to "typical male behavior" and essentially shrugged it off.  I hadn’t really thought about him in years (this was back in the 90s). Even when the Me Too and Time’s Up movements started, he wasn’t the first person I thought of by a long shot. He hadn’t really crossed my mind.

But then I saw his name in my inbox and the very first thing I thought of was that incident on the floor.  And the thing is that this man and I continued to run and work in the same circles after that. This one event always colored my perception of him every time I saw him, even if we were focused on something else entirely. 

In our interactions with each other, he often displayed his misogyny by saying sexist things about my capability in our line of work. He didn’t have any direct power over me, so I cannot say if he influenced anyone else’s perception of me, but he definitely made it clear what he thought of me, which was that I didn’t deserve to be there, working alongside him. So between that and the spooning incident, I had my impression of him and I chose to keep my distance as much as possible.

So now it’s over two decades later and sure enough he’s writing to me to apologize. His apology is why I am writing this piece. I want to be able to give advice to both women and men based on my experience of this apology. He told me that he had thought of me throughout the years and wanted to apologize because he had said things to offend me and other women when he was younger and he wanted to say he was sorry for offending me. 

I was so surprised by the fact that I was receiving any apology, that I replied sooner than I should have. I have done a lot of spiritual work; I am an ordained Interfaith minister and I have practiced meditation for years. So my immediate reaction, because he wasn’t the worst offender, was to accept the apology, thank him for it, and forgive right away.

And then I tried to move on with my day. I couldn’t. Suddenly, I was rehashing that incident, over and over again. I thought about the insults. Then this triggered me to start thinking about the other ways I had been harassed or abused by other people. I couldn’t get anything done that I had set out to do that day. 

I decided I needed some advice. I consulted with my sister-in-law who works as an advocate for survivors of abuse and violence. She asked me a question I hadn’t even thought of. “Did you even want the apology?” I told her I didn’t know because I hadn’t even expected that was a thing that was going to happen. I told her since he wasn’t the worst offender, I kind of appreciated it, but still wasn’t sure why I was feeling unsettled.

I thought about it for a day, wanting to kick myself for writing back too soon. I came to the realization that the reason I felt unsettled was that the apology mentioned things he “said” and not things he “did.”  Not only that, he didn’t specify what he had said and he mentioned that he said a lot of things to a lot of women, which gave me the sense that maybe he didn’t necessarily know what he had said, but was going around giving blanket apologies so that he could feel better for having apologized.

I decided I would write him back after talking it through with a different sister-in-law and a couple of our girlfriends. So the next morning, I told him that I needed to let him know that although I appreciated the apology, it wasn’t enough because he only vaguely mentioned things he had said to me and not what he had done. Then I proceeded to detail the morning I woke up to find him pressed against me.

Well, his immediate response came only a couple of minutes later and was an immediate lesson in what you should not do if you are a man apologizing for any type of sexist action, abuse, or violence against a woman. 

He immediately denied the interaction, even denied any memory of sleeping on the same floor near each other. He said he didn’t want to question my memory except to say that it was not him.  It must’ve been someone else. To his credit, he did then specify the things he had said to offend me, but the damage had been done by his denial of my experience. Then, to make matters worse, he proceeded to give me his cell phone number and asked me to call him.

I breathed. I calmed my rage before responding. Then I answered,

“It was you.  It’s my main memory of you…Look, maybe this doesn’t match with how you see yourself or remember yourself,” (on paper, he was and still is a progressive person, who aligns himself with feminist ideas), “but stuff like this happens a lot to women and we do remember who did what. If it didn’t even register for you that that happened, then that is just an example of the problem. I don’t need to talk about it. Like I said, I’ve experienced far worse. I just want you to really dig deep and think about all of your past interactions. There might be more there than you realize.”

I breathed again after hitting the Send button. This time, he took a bit longer to respond.  Unsurprisingly, he continued with a bit more of a defense, this time questioning if maybe he was asleep and that’s why he didn't remember doing it. However, it seemed he quickly realized that wasn’t much of an excuse because suddenly, it just came—“I’m sorry. If that’s what you remember, then that’s all that matters…I’m sorry I ever did anything to you.” 

Now, grant it, I’m still not completely sure he was acknowledging the truth of what I had said. I’m not in his mind either. It is fully possible that because the incident was that seemingly “small”, he never thought about it again and that’s why he doesn’t remember it. It still doesn’t excuse it. Like I said, the fact that these small aggressions are seen as normal, “boys will be boys" behavior, is a big part of the problem.

However, for me, he did turn it around when he just dropped all defense and said, “I’m sorry.” I wish he had just done that the first time I challenged his vague apology.

And so here’s my advice to the men doing the apologizing: don’t reach out to apologize unless you are fully willing to acknowledge specifically what you have done and take responsibility for it. Also, if the woman you are apologizing to wants to engage with you (she has every right to ignore you or tell you to fuck off), be prepared that she might have more grievances against you than you thought. 

She also does not owe you her forgiveness even after engaging with you. She most certainly does not owe you a phone call. In fact, don’t even text.  If you're going to reach out, an email or letter is probably the best way to make contact so that she feels she has time to get back to you, if she wants to get back to you.

And to the women out there who are receiving these apologies: please know that you don’t have to respond right away. You don’t even have to respond at all. The whole process can be very triggering. It has triggered me. This guy was one of the minor offences in my life, but I have now spent a whole week pretty much derailed, processing not only this incident, but all the other ones I have been through. 

I guess the men need to know this too. Unless you’re fully prepared to do a proper apology and accept all consequences and responsibility, please know that you are likely causing more harm in pursuit of your forgiveness.

In the end, I forgave this guy because I felt right about it. He also told me that he plans to use this conversation as a starting point to talk to his teenage son about how to respect women (yes, gentlemen, you also need to think about what you are going to do beyond your apologies to change this situation). 

Hopefully having written this out and revealing my truth about this situation will help me process and get through this current round of triggered thoughts and behaviors. Even more importantly, I hope publishing this out in the inter-webs will help others find some healing. 

I am also going to say right here and now that I give myself full permission to not be so willing to engage, or be so forthcoming with an expression of forgiveness, if and when I receive another one of these apologies. I have every right to set this boundary for myself.


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