• Keeping Friends

Apologizing after the wrong words slip out of your mouth

Published: August 31, 2014 | By | 21 Replies Continue Reading
A woman makes a flippant remark to a friend, realizes she’s made a mistake and apologizes. What more can she do? 


Hi Irene,

My best friend and I have known each other for 40 years. We’ve had a few ups and downs but nothing serious. I made a flippant remark to her and as I thought about it later, my conscience was telling me that my comment wasn’t so nice. I phoned her the next day and left a voice message telling her that I was rude and that I was sorry.

She texted me the next day thanking me for the message, indicating: “We can talk at a later date if you’d like.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

My text reply was: “Thank you, I hope you will forgive me, our friendship is very important to me.”

It has been a week and I have not heard from her. I think she has a hard time forgiving people based on some past experiences she has shared about others whom she was angry with. I’m not sure what I should do next.

Signed, Lilly


Hi Lilly,

Because we are all imperfect, we sometimes say or do the wrong things, or make flippant or hurtful remarks—even to our close friends. You’ve done the right thing by apologizing sooner rather than later. It’s always better to address a problem before it mushrooms into something bigger.

And it’s a good sign that your friend responded and said she is willing to discuss what happened—I think that’s what she meant when she said, “We can talk at a later date.” I  like the follow up text message you sent her, too, telling her that you value your friendship.

But I think you need to go one step further. If you blurted out a remark and immediately knew it was the wrong thing to say, you have to dig a little deeper and figure out why you did that. Is there something about your friend that irks or annoys you? Or were you having a bad day for reasons totally unrelated to your friend? In essence, why did this remark slip out in this way at the time it did?

Now that some time has passed since the incident and your friend (and you) can think about it more dispassionately, invite her for coffee to explain/discuss what happened and why.

Saying you’re sorry may be insufficient without an explanation that reassures your friend that it’s unlikely to happen again.

A forty-year friendship should offer a solid foundation to work out relatively minor problems like this one. It may even strengthen the friendship.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Communication, KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (21)

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  1. Lilly says:

    I spoke with my friend today via telephone! She texted me she was feeling better so I called her. She has been quite ill and a lot of other obligations going on as well.

    We agree we need to talk about my comment to her but she indicated she isn’t feeling up to it yet.

    There is still work to do but I am grateful that she is feeling better and is willing to work on our relationship.

    Thank you all for your thoughtful insight and advice.

  2. Andi says:

    Reading your update, I agree with another person here who suggested you talk on the phone or in person, if your friend is willing. I would call her, and leave a short message asking if you could meet to talk, adding that you’re truly concerned about making amends. If your friend doesn’t respond, you may need to pull back and give your friend some time and distance too. At least you will know you tried. To pester her won’t help, either.

    If she doesn’t call back, or doesn’t want to talk, I would have to suspect — as someone else suggested here too –that the cold-shoulder you’re getting isn’t just about the comment you made. It may be that the issue goes much deeper than a flippant remark, and that there were other problems in the friendship that hadn’t been addressed before. Perhaps this recent episode between you is the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” … which makes things more complicated. Or — and this is a big OR — it’s possible that your friend is going through a bigger personal crisis and isn’t in a place to tackle a problem between the two of you.

    Again, if the friendship has lasted 40 years, it’s worth the effort to repair it, if it can be repaired. Sometimes time away gives a new perspective.

  3. jacqueline says:

    Friendship does not come with any guarantees, whether it is a relationship of one year, 10 or 40.

    However, I would give your friend the benefit of the doubt that she was sick. I would text her one more time and tell her you hope she is feeling better, you miss her, and that you would love to see her, say Friday afternoon around 1:00 p.m. to talk.

    Her actions will tell you everything.

    Accept the fact that you have done everything to save this friendship, and then let the dust settle, so to speak, and see what happens.

  4. Lilly says:

    Thanks for all the insight. I am reviewing and processing it all. My remark was actually meant to be funny but in retrospect after I thought about it for awhile, I realized it could’ve sounded rude. I am not in the habit of making rude comments to my friends so it really did haunt me. It’s not something that I thought my friend would not forgive me for. To date, she has only responded to my texts to her but has made no attempt to contact me. I asked her to meet and she indicated she was ill. I’m not sure what I should do next. I feel like the ball is in her court because I have reached out via phone message to apologize and via text to try and get together. I really do not know where she is on this because we have not spoken in person/phone and we haven’t seen each other for a longer interval than is usual for us. I’m very discouraged that she is silent on the matter and it seems she is not willing to work this out and get it behind us. I feel like it’s a punishment so now my feelings are hurt as well. I’m actually feeling sick, not knowing what this is going to do to our relationship.

    I wish I could take it back but isn’t that what an apology is for? Being truly sorry and wanting to be forgiven?

    • etrnhrzn says:


      I hope you eventually find peace out of this current struggle of yours.

      I like to share this excerpt from an article I read about forgiveness:

      “What if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?

      The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you’ve done and how those wrongs have affected others. At the same time, avoid judging yourself too harshly. You’re human, and you’ll make mistakes. If you’re truly sorry for something you’ve said or done, consider admitting it to those you’ve harmed. Speak of your sincere sorrow or regret, and specifically ask for forgiveness — without making excuses. Remember, however, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.”

      Here’s the full link: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692?pg=1

    • Rain says:

      Lilly, I’m going to play devils advocate here ok. I’m afraid that is not what an apology does. Nothing can take something back once said or done.. The spoken or written word is powerful. An apology is an acknowledgement of a wrong and an assurance that a person will do everything in their power not to hurt that person again.
      You extend an apology with the full understanding that there is no obligation on the part of the person you hurt to accept it.
      You said “I feel like it’s a punishment so now my feelings are hurt as well”. I don’t understand that. Why are your feelings hurt? She has a right to be angry, she has a right to end her friendship with you as a result of this if she chooses. She was not the one at fault here so please don’t take the moral high ground.
      Look it is likely that she just wants time to get over it, but on the other hand maybe she wants to end it. Only she knows and I’m sorry but I wouldn’t accept an apology by phone text. Put some effort into it, write her a heartfelt letter, take it and deliver it personally to her and Yes along with something special, not expensive (you can’t buy her off), but some small but meaningful thing, like a special ornament or a friendship plaque, something like that. Hand it too her and ask her please to read it and then leave. Give her time to absorb it and think about it but then leave it up to her to make the next move. If she doesn’t than you bow out gracefully and leave her alone knowing you have done everything in your power to right the wrong. I suspect she will read it and come around. She is hurt and needs to learn to trust you again.

    • Amy F says:

      One rude comment over a 40 year friendship is no reason to end the relationship. If it was, no one would have long term friends because everyone says things they regret at one point or another, especially to those we are closest with. If she’s never lied or made excuses before, I’m not sure why you don’t believe her. You may disagree, but I’d send her a text saying, hope you’re feeling better. I wouldn’t ask for anything, or make it about me or us, I’d focus purely on her. What do you lose by showing you care? Even if she wasn’t sick and lied, what do you lose? Right now all your energy and focus is on what you said, the apology, how she’s taking it, is the friendship over etc. that you may be overlooking the need to continue to act like a friend. Communication between friends isn’t like a tennis match, my turn, your turn, my turn, your turn. She had the option not to answer your text, but she chose to. Straightforward, friendly communication is one of the most important keys to solving conflict and maintaining relationships. You can only be responsible for your part of the equation, so even if she is not communicating in a way that you wish she is, that doesn’t mean you should stop communicating in a healthy way.

      • Rain says:

        The problem is Amy F, we don’t know if it’s a one time remark or not because her friend is not talking. I would also find it difficult to believe that her reaction is over one off hand remark. I suspect more is going on but the only way to move on is to attempt to resolve the issue you do know about before anything else.

      • Sela says:

        Speculating here, but I imagine there is more involved than this one comment.

    • lottie says:

      Hi Lilly,
      The intrigue is killing me “what the heck did you say”?. We know it was supposed to be funny and your friend took offence. She has known you 40 years,surely she must be used to your sense of humour by now,and being a “friend” why take the huff. What is puzzling me is have you ever had to apologize to her before for anything? Is she really so touchy and sulky or and it is a big OR what is going on in her life that you do not know about? Has she used you as her “whipping boy” before? I smell a rat. Does she think herself more important than you? Or is she a Drama Queen? who wants loads of attention. You seem to be overly upset.I am just wondering and want you to be happy but now you are feeling sick… You know what she is truly like more than any of us. Go on Lilly tell us. If she was a half decent friend she will know that her silence is hurting you. Take care and keep us updated. Auntie Lottie

      • lottie says:

        PS Lilly,
        May I suggest you stop making any more contact with this friend. You have done your best. If she hasn’t the grace to accept the apology when it was supposed to be a funny remark she is not worth your thoughts. Lottie

  5. Rain says:

    As a person with Aspergers Syndrome, I often say and do the inappropriate. I simply don’t see it that way. I often apologise for stuff and rarely understand why. It’s a problem lol. I’ve been told I’m rude, insensitive, callous, you name the adjective and I’ve been called it. That’s because my thinking is not emotionally based, it is logic based. I can’t change it, all I can do is be upfront with people and tell them, and then as sincerely as I can, apologize even if I don’t understand why.I believe that taking the initiative and going to the person, hands laid bare is the approach. It works for me, kinda lol

    • Leeanne says:

      I had to respond to your post because I know someone similar who has been accused of being rude, insensitive etc because he always speaks his mind and is always apologizing. I love this trait and as annoying as it can be at times, I know when he’s telling the truth because his lips are moving! What a breath of fresh air people like you are lol

  6. blgrn8 says:

    “Saying you’re sorry may be insufficient without an explanation that reassures your friend that it’s unlikely to happen again.”

    This resonates with me. A friend said he was sorry if his behavior (which I commented on) made me feel ignored or pushed away (he’s been distant, guarded and uncommunicative). Although I appreciate that, and the fact that he said that he values my friendship, *insufficient* is exactly what I am feeling two months after that disclosure because I don’t feel any assurance that anything has changed. He still acts distant and guarded, more reactive than proactive, unlike you, Lilly, in terms of reaching out and trying to re-connect. I don’t know if it’s a male-thing where men are perhaps not as emotionally attuned in friendship bonds. But it is sad and frustrating for me, because the friendship feels uneven, where I seem to care about it more than he does.

    And it’s one of those things where no flippant remark was exchanged…it’s more like a quiet and unexplained drifting away. At least *I* feel that he has.

  7. lottie says:

    Hi Lilly,
    Is this the first time you have made a flippant remark to your friend?? Or have you been rude and sarcastic in the past?? Just a thought. Hmmm. Come on Lilly this is a “truth amnesty”!!! Or were you just feeling tired and couldn’t be bothered speaking properly then realised what you had said? Up to now you have done the right thing. Your friend is hurt. Now I would get a big bouquet of flowers and take them the next time you meet up.Yes go over the top. She will be pleased and probably say it wasn’t necessary, but it is.Tell her how awful you have made yourself feel for being horrible.She might even laugh. Why not,you have been friends 40yrs.Please tell us what you said.

    A similar thing happened to me just a week ago. Two old pensioners who live 5 miles away in the wrong direction have got into the habit of asking me favours…like driving them to places.At first it was OK but then it started to be the norm. I have turned myself into Dial A Ride or Taxi service but not paid!!LOL. My husband has laughed and laughed,he knows when I blow it is time take cover, and I have been simmering for weeks!! Last week I ran them somewhere in the car one of them made another flippant(oooch) remark after I asked a question(not the first time),I nearly stopped and turned the car round. They have taken me for granted too long and had got careless in how they spoke to me. I am not related and their close family members appear to do nothing for them.Recently they have been more careless and arrogant in their remarks,but I dismissed them with them being older. However they will always be older unless they die. So does that mean that you always have to be respectful. NO. When we reached the destination another flippant remark was made.So I retaliated, they got it with both barrels.Remember these are freebie rides and I also work. It will never happen again I am history,and it all started because I felt sorry for them being old. A taxi to and fro would be £50. He cried and apologized the other sat glum faced.Give them enough rope and they hang themselves. End of story.Lottie

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Lottie,

      Good for you. You were going out of your way, in your own busy life, and for this you were made the recipient of mean-spirited remarks! It gets really tiring to have ppl treat you callously and continue to make rude, or mean-spirited remarks, esp. when you are doing them a favor. Had you let this behavior continue, it would only have become worse and worse with time. You warned them, but they continued, so let the chips fall where they may… Now you can save your favors for ppl who appreciate them, and who may also even reciprocate sometimes.

    • Lauren says:

      PS Lottie, I forgot to add that you mentioned that there were two of them in your car with you…Adult, older mean girls/guys…two against one. It always seems to give them extra moxie, with one backing up the other! (age doesn’t seem to be a barrier).

      • lottie says:

        Thanks Lauren,
        Yes your comments are right. I feel so much better for speaking up,I thought at first my imagination was running riot by their snide remarks.They will have to get a new door mat.LOL The books have arrived one of them “Too nice for your own good” by
        Duke Robinson. !!!!!
        Not any more. This post from Lilly is very interesting,I’m reading the other comments and I feel there is more to hear from Lilly.
        Take care Lottie

  8. Andi says:

    Lilly, I think you deserve a pat on the back or a hug for even realizing and admitting that you made a cruel or insensitive remark. At some point, we all do, whether we intend to or not.

    But more often than not, most people don’t bother to apologize — or even admit they made a cruel remark. I know a lot of people who say mean things under the guise of “kidding” or being sarcastic. And they think they get away with it, without consequences. So, again, you deserve a lot of credit for owning up to your mistake.

    I agree with Irene when she says: “A forty-year friendship should offer a solid foundation to work out relatively minor problems like this one. It may even strengthen the friendship.” This is especially true when friends are willing to talk things over — and it sounds like you and your best friend are willing to talk it out. I’d love a follow-up “report” on what happens next, Lilly. Good luck to you both.

  9. Depending on how often you are accustomed to seeing each other, when that amount of time is approaching, I’d reach out and suggest a time and place to get together. I probably wouldn’t mention the incident at that point. If she still wants to discuss it, she’ll most likely bring it up when she sees you or at the end of your get together you can say something like,”I’m glad you were able to see past my insensitivity the last time we spoke, I would have been so sorry to have lost you as a friend.”

  10. Amy F says:

    Hi Lilly,
    Irene’s right, we all say things we wish we hadn’t and sometimes phrase things awkwardly. Since your friend texted back quickly, I’d take it as a good sign.
    When someone says “at a later date” my first thought isn’t within a week, I think closer to a month. All that depends on the frequency of your contact before. If you talked every day, a week feels like forever.
    You didn’t put her exact words, but I’m not sure she meant, “We’ll talk about it at a later date and not speak until then.” Depending in the relationship, I’d interpret her words as, “We’ll talk more about it when we both have the time and energy.” and the relationship would continue, maybe a little awkwardly, until then.
    You haven’t told us the flippant remark. I would need more than a week if the comment was something like, “I’ve never respected the kind of person you are.” since a statement like that would affect my trust in you and belief if your honesty since you acted like you respected me. Of course, a statement like that seems much worse than what you said. If your statement expressed prejudice about an aspect of me, if you said something about disliking my kids or something that attacked my family or me, that would take longer.
    I’d reach out to her the way you normally would. Text, call, or email if you usually touch base that way. I would probably let her take the lead in when/if she wants to talk more about the statement. She might be thinking, “she apologized and I haven’t heard from her since.”

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