Apologies can be difficult and tend to be short and shallow when you’re just trying to get on with your life after a rocky romantic or platonic relationship.
And it might be tempting to do things like send flowers or make a peace offering, or respond with a heartfelt Facebook post, but it might not always be the most productive way to go about things.
You might be more successful writing a letter that explains exactly what you were trying to do, and what you learned in the process than trying to apologize in person.
And don’t feel pressure to write in a certain format; you’re allowed to write a personal letter that doesn’t even resemble an email if you want to.
There are two ways to apologize to someone: publically, or in a private letter
The former, particularly if you’re approaching a romantic partner, can feel a little risky, especially if they’ve already indicated that they don’t want to see you again.
Of course, you don’t have to apologize publicly; some people prefer to keep things private, but in an ideal world, everyone would be equally comfortable with both.
There’s also a spectrum of how personal a letter you should try to send; for some people, it can be too personal to share with someone they’ve just broken up with.
It’s really important to remember that you don’t need to write your letter in a tone that reflects the way you’re actually feeling, but in a very different tone than you’d normally use to communicate.
Also, if you feel like you’re using up all the words you can put on the page, and you need to end with “I love you, from the bottom of my heart,” but you have literally no more space or words, or time, don’t force it.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s possible to say things in a letter that you can’t say in person, because a letter you can share with someone can be re-read, and words can change their meaning over time.
It can also be helpful to think about how you would ideally like to receive a letter; you may have a friend or a loved one you want to make sure knows how upset you are, or that you need a little extra support or comfort, or someone you want to tell what happened to you and how it made you feel.
If you don’t want to respond right away to a letter, that’s fine; you may be able to just send it to them later, once you’ve got a chance to process the whole experience.
To help get you started, here are seven email-friendly, letter-style apologies, presented in chronological order, with instructions on what you should actually say.
Your apology can’t begin and end with an apology
This is a short email, but it does go into a little more detail about what you’d like to say to your friend or partner.
An apology is almost always the first part, but when you get into it, think about whether you need to expand on what you were apologizing for.
It’s not always necessary, but if you feel like you can.
Don’t apologize for anything that they did
People who write to me are often surprised to learn that I advise that people don’t apologize for things they’re not actually sorry for.
And if you find yourself apologizing for something someone did, that’s usually the very first thing you should say: “I’m sorry that I ever accused you of…” or “I’m sorry that you ever did…”
The thing is, by apologizing for something you weren’t actually apologetic for, you may be able to turn what would otherwise be an awkward interaction into a conversation where both of you are actually admitting what happened.
You should send it off in the morning
As soon as you can, send the letter off to your friend or partner in the morning.
They may not get to it right away, or they may be distracted by other people’s emails, so it’s good to send it as soon as possible.
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have a long enough conversation with them to really hear them out or to apologize for what you said, and the only way to really do that is to say the apology straight out in a very clear way.
If they aren’t able to respond right away, don’t call, text, or email
Even if they don’t reply right away, don’t try to contact them again, whether in a phone call, in a text, or a direct email.
A letter you sent isn’t a proposal for a relationship or a new relationship, so even if you were worried that they might respond right away, it’s not a good idea to try to reach out again before they’ve taken the time to actually read what you’re writing.
You might want to add a sentence saying “This might sound silly, but I really need to hear what you think.”
If you don’t get a response from them in a couple of days, it’s not necessarily a reflection of how they felt about what you wrote.
They may have been very busy, or simply not replied.
If you were in the middle of sending your letter, it may be that you were just waiting to get a response, and didn’t feel like you should follow up.
You may want to modify your message to include something about wanting to know how they responded, or why they didn’t.