What’s the Deal with Apology Dinners?
I knew nothing about the viral apology dinner convo that was flying around the cybersphere until contacted by Huffington Post to weigh in. I also had a chance to discuss the topic with channel Q and will add that link soon.
Below are my full thoughts on the topic that were edited for the story:
I can’t say I have heard of an “apology dinner” but (like most therapists) I believe in the value of apologizing. I am so pro-apology that I think it is worthwhile to apologize for some portion of any conflict, even if the other person is technically more at fault. Apologizing, as long as it is authentic and descriptive, is a gateway to intimacy as it invites the other party to also own their part of the problem and to communicate in an emotionally mature way. Authentic apologies go deeper than one sentence and tend to invite a rich conversation. So why not throw in a meal to perhaps lessen some of the awkwardness and intensity?
Let’s say the conflict began because you were late for an important occasion in your friend’s life. But let’s also say that this friend is always late for everything. Let’s also say that their chronic lateness is annoying or hurtful, and so you have not felt motivated to be punctual. Dinner or no dinner, it will not be helpful to say: “I’m sorry if you were upset that I was late.” That’s obviously insincere because it implies that the problem has more to do with your friend’s disappointment than it does with the act of lateness. While it is technically accurate, it also will not be useful to say “I’m sorry I was late but you are always late so where do you get off freaking out about timing?” However, as long as the person you are communicating with is emotionally stable, it should always be productive to say something like: “I am truly sorry I was late for your graduation dinner. I should have built in more time and been more organized. It was disrespectful to you and your guests. When I reflect back on our friendship, I realize that there are times I should have spoken up when I wished that you were more punctual for some of my occasions and that’s on me. I think a part of me was trying to pay you back for my sore feelings but I wish we had talked about it instead and I truly apologize.”
This sort of apology should invite a robust conversation and deepen the friendship. And while I would not recommend calling it an “apology dinner” because I think the term is odd and will stress your guest out, I don’t think it ever hurts to have an honest conversation while dining.
We are socialized to view apologizing as an act of weakness, but an authentic apology is an act of strength. Psychologically, a willingness to apologize reflects the possession of an emotionally mature sense of self and self-identity. It reflects an ability to balance separateness and togetherness by owning one’s part in a relational equation. People who refuse to apologize tend to be quick to blame and well versed in the details of how they were wronged by others. People with a strong impulse to blame tend to be terrible apologizers. They also tend to have less stable, more volatile relationships and they do not have a clear but rather a more fragmented sense of self. So maybe if someone fits that profile and they invite you to one of these “apology dinners” don’t take the bait!