CBS Sit-Coms And The Art Of The Apology

charlie sheen, two and a half men

Apologizing and empathy could have saved Barney, Russell and Charlie some hard times.

Sorry, I can't promise it won't happen again, I recognize that it upsets you, but I'm still stuck CBS's decision to run three primetime sit-coms on Monday evening revolving around the consequences of treating women shabbily. Barney, Charlie and Russell (the fun-loving womanizers from How I Met Your Mother, Two And A Half Men and Rules Of Engagement, respectively, played by Neil Patrick Harris, Charlies Sheen and David Spade, also respectively) were eyeball-to-eyeball (figuratively) with a Don Juan's scariest adversary*: the wrong, pissed-off woman. (I'm all out of love for the term "scorned woman" at the moment; let's avoid it.)

While some quite jilted ladies want their pound of flesh (or, generally, a tenfold accounting for any pain inflicted upon their soul, psyche or corpus, like in a Mel Gibson film), most just want an apology. That's it.

Dudes catch a lot of heat for the inability to sincerely apologize and admit full culpability. The Roman historian Titus Livius said, "Men are only too clever at shifting blame from their own shoulders to those of others." For some guys, admitting he's wrong or out-of-line sets both an ugly precedent and revokes the statute of limitations on old sh*t. Most guys are terribly familiar with the old chestnut that "women forgive but never forget." Plus lots of dudes have a touch of Ted Mosby syndrome (a soul-rending impetus to be right all the time, guilty as charged). On top of all that, DMX tells us, "there's a difference between doin' wrong and bein' wrong and that ain't right," I have no idea what that means, but it could explain why guys are supposedly reluctant to apologize.

Psychology Today has a blog about why dudes have a hard time apologizing and some of it makes sense in a pop-psychology sort of way. They give a fairly condescending six-step guide for men to apologize.

If men really do have a problem apologizing, it comes down to two issues: 1) The golden rule; and 2) empathy.

The unrepentant skirt chaser wouldn't mind if the friend he brought home the evening before skipped out while he was brushing his teeth (even if she took his underpants as a keepsake). Most guys appreciate knowing the extenuating circumstances that caused someone to let them down and think doing likewise is the right thing to do. Anything else is, essentially, "Ooops, I just flaked."

And that leads to a deficit of empathy. The vaunted "women's intuition" is largely a chemically-induced ability to read emotions. Most men, by nature or nurture, aren't as slick that way. This, dude, is a problem. Sometimes a calm, no-frills, non-shrill, without-reference-to-antecedent explanation of why something was wrong goes a long way to getting the due apology. ??To sum up, both genders should take a note from their partners on how to make apologies more effective. Feel free to know in your heart that your way of apologizing makes more sense; you can be really sorry and not take off your glasses.

*Note: A Casanova's second most fearsome opponent is a cuckolded husband. His third toughest enemy is his mark's skeptical friend.

**Note: The Y Chromosome isn't the genetic guardian of the inability to sincerely apologize, much like apologies accented with qualifiers don't count, apologies that end with a barely unsaid "you goddamn baby" don't count.