There’s been a lot of talk in my world about apologies as of late.
The actor-turned-aspiring-cartoonist who plagiarized the indie comics superstar. When he got caught, it didn’t take long for him to start in with the public apologies, which ranged from remorseful tweets on Twitter to over-the-top skywriting.
This scandal felt personal in that, months before the story broke, the actor had reached out to a bunch of indie comics creators, myself included, inviting many of us to collaborate with him. The general reaction in the industry seemed to be wariness, but I wanted to believe that a person is not inherently bad just because they’re a cog in the Hollywood machine. We’ve all got to make a living, right? So when a colleague suggested that the actor was just out to swipe our ideas, I dismissed her as cynical. I publicly defended the actor and other celebrities like him, saying why not? Why can’t an actor have interests beyond their profession of parroting lines other people had written? Maybe he’s got something of his own to say. So when the parroting revealed itself to be more nefarious, I felt pretty stupid. And duped.
During a panel of comics creators, I was sexually harassed by a fellow panelist, “DB.” Frozen like a deer in the headlights, I ignored the problem (rather than addressing it at the time), then kicked myself for days about not doing or saying anything in the moment. To blow off some steam, I wrote an essay about it (being careful not to reveal his identity). The essay appeared on a feminist website, which proceeded to go viral within my community. Shortly afterward, my harasser issued a public apology, which many readers picked apart and accused of being a non-apology.
What makes an apology genuine? Does it even matter in the bigger picture? Neither of these guys discontinued their shitty behavior after their apologies were issued. Which, to me, means not only are they not sorry, but they also don’t really get what they did wrong.
The actor went on to justify his plagiarism by calling it “art.” And then he plagiarized some more. Maybe he thought he was being cute and/or deep, but I’m positive the indie comics superstar was not amused.
In tandem to DB’s public apology, I was told that DB possessed photos of me from the panel, “appearing as if I were enjoying myself” (he argued). Very shortly, those same photos began appearing in the comments section of the feminist website, posted anonymously, insinuating that I’d been a willing participant in my own public humiliation. I suspect that DB didn’t know I knew he possessed the photos. And when I called him out on it, the comments and photos stopped appearing.
The thing is, I’m not sure how important either of these people are in the grand scheme of things. After my essay was published, I received countless requests (and demands) to out my perpetrator. Ultimately he did so himself with the public apology, which made my reluctance a moot point. It also did exactly what I didn’t want. It turned an important topic into gossip and scapegoating. People were so mad at him—it was as if he alone was responsible for misogyny! I’ll admit that I don’t particularly like the guy, but my anger at him as a person dissipated about twenty-four hours after the harassment (to briefly resurface when “someone” posted those photos of his on the feminist website). Ultimately, I was angry at myself, at rape culture, and at the generations of humans who had made it acceptable for people to treat each other so poorly. Basically, by the time DB’s apology came, I was over it. Or more accurately, I was over him. His apology served to cover his ass (against those who were attempting to uncover his identity themselves). It also served to derail an important discussion about sexism in a professional setting.
Regardless of how we might feel about a person’s apology, we’ve all been told that what truly matters is forgiveness and moving on. I’ve been struggling for some time with one particular instance of this.
In my twenties, my best friend suddenly dropped me from her life. Her reasoning was that I was “emotionally unavailable”—she’d had an epiphany that she just couldn’t have people like me in her life anymore. This came at me from out of nowhere. We’d been friends for more than a dozen years, and this was the first time she’d ever mentioned the issue. Or any issue, for that matter. For the past twelve years, we’d been each other’s saviors, with nary a fight or disagreement between us. She was my first girl kiss. She was my sweet friend who put her faith in all the wrong people. I was the only friend of hers who treated her well, something she told me every day. Until this epiphany of hers, that is.
I felt terrible, of course, but I wasn’t as devastated as perhaps I should have been. If she was leaving me because I was emotionally unavailable, I would learn how to be available. I made an effort to make new friends and reconnect with old ones, trying my hardest to open myself up as much as I could. Someday, she and I would cross paths again, I told myself. She would see how hard I’d worked to become the friend she wanted, and then we’d start our friendship anew.
But time passed, and this didn’t happen. In my weaker moments, I berated myself for being such a bad friend, and defended her to others each time the subject came up. And I waited.
After even more time passed, I began to see that she wasn’t coming back. All the friends she’d kept had been argumentative and deceptive, whereas our friendship had always been placid and supportive; I was steadfastly forthright, allergic to liars. Maybe that’s what she needed in a friendship, I reasoned: drama. Maybe that’s what she hadn’t been getting out of our relationship. My hurt was still there—I never stopped missing her—but the sadness of losing her was padded with all the rich friendships I’d developed, and the better person I’d become. These were the things I consoled myself with.
Almost a decade after she dropped me from her life, I discovered that there was more to the story than she let on. Little bits of information were being revealed to me through mutual friends and old acquaintances. The girl I’d supported and protected, who I thought supported and protected me, had had less than kind words to say about me behind my back. Apparently she’d harbored a bitterness toward me, something she’d never let me see. I’m not sure what she was jealous of exactly, but I’d seen that side of her unleashed upon others and it wasn’t pretty. Like the time I ran into her at a party after we stopped being friends. The young hostess of the party had recently bought a condo, the down payment coming from an inheritance after she tragically lost both her parents. But my ex-friend wouldn’t stop snarkily criticizing the hostess—and the other partygoers—under her breath, toxic from the privilege she was certain they had over her. At the time I chalked her venom up to the discomfort of running into me. Now I realized it was likely a side of her that was always there, but hidden from me.
But the real clincher came when I realized that she’d been having an affair with my then-fiancé just prior to our breakup. Directly under my nose, at times when I was just in the next room. People talk about people who are being cheated on as if they know about it on some level, but I truly had no idea. I knew I’d had problems with my ex, but I thought they were less drastic. His libido, for example, was far below mine. He had issues with depression. I had, he repeatedly told me, issues with trust. These were the reasons I’d thought we’d broken up. How much of my life had been a lie?
The pieces of this unfortunate puzzle came together ten years after the fact, and only days after I got engaged to my now-husband, Gary. During what should have been an exciting, romantic time, a lost decade’s worth of anger came rushing at me. I felt not only betrayed for my confidence in my old friend, but also duped into defending her (not unlike I would feel much later towards the plagiarizing actor, although to a much lesser degree). I lost faith in everything—faith in my relationships, faith in my own judgment, faith in love and humanity and all that was dear to me. I was lost in darkness and confusion. How could she do this to me? I thought she was a good person. I thought she loved me.
After weeks or months, I’m not sure, I pulled it together long enough to write a very angry email to both my ex-friend and my ex-fiancé. I wanted to make them feel bad for what they’d done, of course, but I was also ready to forgive them and move on. Surprisingly, my ex immediately replied with an apology (admitting to fault had never been his strong suit). Even more surprisingly, my ex-friend went the other direction. No “I’m sorry,” just a terse “Get over it; that’s old news.”
It was easier to get past my loathing of my ex, once he apologized. Whether or not his apology was heartfelt, at the very least it acknowledged that there was something to be sorry for. Whereas I was able to write him off as someone who’d been young and stricken with emotional problems, the level of betrayal felt much deeper from my old friend who wouldn’t even own up to her guilt. I was stunned and disappointed by this. It said so much about her character, how wrong I’d been about her for so long. When I first learned about the betrayal, I’d assumed that her guilt had been what had made her drop me as a friend. But she couldn’t even manage an apology all these years later, after I told her how much her lies had hurt me. Did she ever care about me at all, or was she just using me? It seems too elaborate a ploy, to pretend to be someone’s friend for so many years, and for what purpose? I suspect I’ll never understand her motives.
It has been several years since all this went down, and from an outsider’s perspective I’ve mostly gotten over it. For a while it put a halt on everything good in my life, but eventually I stopped crying about it. I stopped seeing red on a daily basis, I stopped cursing everyone who knew about the affair but didn’t tell me. I stopped letting her obsessively cloud my thoughts. I managed to convince myself that she was never the person I’d thought she was, and she certainly wasn’t that person now. Yet even though I’ve stopped dwelling, the fact is, I absolutely do not forgive her.
But don’t I need to forgive her to move on? This is what I’ve been taught to believe.
Does the indie comics superstar need to forgive the actor in order to get on with his career?
Why is forgiveness so important anyway?
If we can’t achieve forgiveness, does that mean we’re not really over it?
For all intents and purposes, I consider myself to have moved on. I no longer fantasize about running into this woman and telling her off. I made peace with the concept of trust again, once I convinced myself that trusting the wrong people, in that case, was an accident and not a personality flaw on my behalf. I love and trust my friends and my husband (not the same dude as my ex-fiancé), and went back to my old self, giving people the benefit of the doubt. Because that’s who I’ve always been, deep down inside. And it will take more than a couple of jerks to change the fact that ultimately, I really do love people.
Maybe it’s okay that every time my ex-friend’s name comes up, I grimace a little. For the most part, I’m a happy, healthy individual with a good life, surrounded by supportive, warm people. Shouldn’t that be enough? Must I also put on a languid smile and, like a Zen master, wish her well in her path down the road of life? Is it really so bad that I kind of hope she suffers a life of heartbreak and gas pains because of how she treated me? What’s the harm in wishing someone ill? I mean, just because I wish it, it doesn’t make it true.
Maybe you only need to forgive the people you intend to keep in your life. As for my ex-friend and the thieving actor and the sexual harasser, I am perfectly fine with never seeing them again. Good riddance.