My sophomore year of college I had a boyfriend who cared for me more than I cared for him. Devin* was a nice guy who treated me well, but after maybe five months of dating, I broke up with him in the kindest way I could have. It was a clean break for me, but Devin needed — insisted, in fact — to know the details of why I was breaking up with him. If I remember correctly, he said he needed to know why I didn’t love him so he could get over me. But the honest truth is he hadn’t done or said anything wrong. I wasn’t angry at him. There wasn’t another guy. It was painfully simple: I just didn’t like Devin’s personality anymore. Somehow, at his insistence, I must have explained this to him, because eventually he stopped calling.
A year later, Devin published his first novel and gave an interview with a major media outlet and said he wrote the gang rape scene in his book after I had broken up with him. I remember sending him an email about that at the time, but I don’t remember what I said in it. I just know I was freaked out and disgusted.At some point, we must have talked things over and buried the hatchet, but I don’t remember that part, either. I even helped him try to get a job once! Since we have mutual friends and acquaintances, sometimes we’ve run into each other at the parties and that’s never presented a problem before. We’ve politely chitchatted with each other and he’s introduced me to his new girlfriend.
This week, I ran into Devin at a party and he was uncharacteristically cold. I assumed it was because he was standing with his girlfriend. Then later I passed by him in a hallway, tried to be polite by introducing him to a friend I was with, and he was uncharacteristically cold yet again. Because Devin and I aren’t friends, I thought little of it; maybe he was just having a bad day or something. But the next day I received an email from him in which he apologized for being rude. He said it was hard to be in the same room as me. He alluded to some “ultra-personal insults” that I apparently made and the “lingering negativity” that washed over him when he saw me at the party. He said after the breakup we said “really, really horrible things to each other and never took any of it back, which I’d like to do sometime.”
And I thought, Whaaat? You suddenly want me to apologize for things I said six years ago?
Now, generally, I don’t think it’s helpful to tell people whose feelings are hurt to “just get over it” — a position of wisdom that comes from a decade of usually being the one with the hurt feelings. But even I think there’s a statute of limitations on what you owe the other person after a certain period of time. I’m not opposed to re-hashing old relationship stuff after a breakup, or even giving late apologies; I just don’t think you’re required to do them. It actually meant a lot to me to get an apology from a significant ex-boyfriend when, years after we’d dated, I informed him of how his criticisms and put-downs had really eaten away at my self-esteem. His apology was sincere and appreciated because after four years apart, it was not owed to me. For this reason, this ex and I play nice in the sandbox and that makes me feel good.
But the thing is, I don’t think an apology to Devin would even be sincere. Even if he reminds me of whatever “ultra-personal insults” I said, reading that our breakup inspired the gang rape scene in his novel didn’t make me sorry about breaking up with him, or how I broke up with him. What’s the point of re-hashing old relationship stuff — especially vintage relationship stuff — if it’s not going to be sincere?
I, apparently, was a significant girlfriend to Devin, even though he wasn’t a significant boyfriend to me. Do I still owe him the courtesy of a talk or an apology? If I were the ex — even an insignificant one — I may want that courtesy extended to me. But I also think I’d be able to accept that it’s been six years — six years of a buried hatchet, mind you — and everyone has moved way, way, way on with their lives.
And that’s what it may come down to: there may or may not be a statute of limitations on apologies, but there absolutely is one on giving a s**t.
*Names have been changed.