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“What’s the statute of limitations on apologies?”

Do you ever randomly find yourself wanting to apologize to people for things you did like 20 years ago?


There’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally, where Harry asks the question, “what’s the statute of limitations on apologies?” He and Sally had met many years ago and had gotten off to a rocky start. Sally replies, “Ten years,” (the exact amount of time that had passed since they met). “I can just get it in under the wire,” says Harry, partly joking, but also partly serious.

Sometimes I’ll think back to elementary school or high school, and I’ll think about people I used to be friends with, but maybe I did something mean or stupid and we never talked again after that.

And now, looking back I’ll think, “why did I do that?” Sometimes it’s even more of an, “I can’t believe I did that!” kind of feeling.

I’ll admit, I’m occasionally tempted to find these people on social media and send them a message – but it just never seems right…

I recently rewatched The Office on Netflix for like the third time, and there’s an episode where Jim runs into a guy he hasn’t seen since the third grade. All during the episode Jim’s trying to avoid a conversation with this guy, and we eventually find out that Jim’s mom had told Jim he wasn’t allowed to be friends with this kid because he was in the “not-so-smart” kids’ reading group. Pam reassures Jim that he’s being ridiculous and that they are both grown-ups now so it doesn’t matter, and the scene eventually plays out where Jim is forced to confront his childhood friend.

Obviously, it doesn’t go well. Jim’s third grade friend is still mad that Jim considered him “too dumb” to be friends with. It’s overdone for dramatic effect, but I could totally see this happening in real life. There are certain people, who if I happened to run into them, their last memory of me might be from third grade. In their mind, I might still be that same person, instead of the person I am today – a person who has grown and matured to be more compassionate, empathetic, and socially aware – as probably almost all of us have since we were in third grade.

I tried to think of a person who, if I ran into them today, all I would remember when I saw them was something mean they did to me a long time ago. It wasn’t too hard to think of someone… there was this kid I knew when I was in 4th grade (he was in 5th), and we had an elective class together. His name was Patrick.


Now I need to preface this story by saying that as a kid, I had my own unique “style” – or lack thereof really. I was a free spirit. I wore what made me happy, and that was usually eccentric things with cat heads all over them, or hearts or rainbow colors! And I never worried if any of it matched or made sense. (Please see the picture above for an example – I’m the one in the yellow cat sweater!) Honestly, I wish I still had that same level of confidence!

So one day at school, I wore one of my favorite outfits: a 101 Dalmatians t-shirt with matching dalmatian-patterned pants that my mom had literally sewed and made for me. I loved it! (And hey, I DID actually match that day!) Patrick walked up to me, and in a voice overloaded with sarcasm, said just two words: “Nice pants.” He smiled and then he and a few of his buddies laughed and walked away.

I wish I could say that it meant nothing to me. I wish I could say I proudly wore my Dalmatian outfit again the next week. But I remember deciding right then and there that I wouldn’t wear it anymore.

If I ran into Patrick today, it would be hard not to think about that moment and still assume he was a jerk. Is he still a jerk? Maybe. But maybe he’s not. I’d like to be able to offer him the benefit of the doubt, so Patrick (I forget your last name), if you’re out there, please know that if we ever meet again, I will try not to hold this against you!

People can change.

I generally think of myself as a pretty decent person. But there are still a handful of people I can think of right now off the top of my head who I really owe apologies to. People I now realize that I mistreated either accidentally, due to my lack of maturity and social skills, or on purpose, due to my overall general selfishness. And I’m not really on speaking terms with any of them anymore (go figure). I wish there was a way for them to know that I’m sorry for what I did. To know that they deserved better.

Have you ever written up an apology letter to someone 10 or 15 years after the last time you have spoken to them? Did you actually send it? I wrote up one such letter last year, and really debated trying to get it to the person I wrote it to. In the end, I decided it was more of an emotional healing exercise for myself. I used it as a way to process through what had happened with a relationship that had ended badly. So after thinking it over, I decided not to send it.

I wonder if anyone out there wishes they were still on speaking terms with me? I wonder if anyone has ever drafted up an apology letter to me but didn’t send it? I wonder if Patrick really regrets making fun of my outfit… (haha, I don’t really spend time wondering about that last one!)

How would you react if you got a message from someone you hadn’t spoken to in 10, 15, or 20 years? Would you consider it a nice gesture, or a really weird reminder of the past?

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