Several decades ago, there was a brief craze in my class at school for 'Love Story', both the film and the book. Now I only remember two aspects. One is that it was sentimental schmaltzy nonsense ideal for a young teenager but no one older, and the phrase:
Love means never having to say you're sorry
At age 13 (or whatever), this sounded wonderfully romantic. Then I grew up and realised that it was meaningless. Or worse, wrong.
I have a personal irritation with people who say 'Sorry', when they mean 'Excuse me'. Years ago I was on a sardine-packed bus, and someone behind me kept saying sorry. I assumed it was because they were pushing against me. Realising - I thought - that they had little choice because of the force of people behind them, I turned round graciously say 'It's all right, not your fault', only to find they actually wanted to get past me to get off the bus. After they had got off, several people confirmed that I wasn't in fact mad and they had wondered why this person kept apologising when we all knew we were squashed almost beyond endurance.
Over the intervening years I have seen it as a minor irritation, until yesterday, when I was in the so-called convenience store near work. Typical lunchtime crush, especially round the sandwiches. Aisle filled with people choosing sandwiches and staff 'tidying' the shelves.
A man comes along, against the general flow, at speed, shoving past people. As he shoved past me, he exclaimed 'sorry' and (inadvertently I assume) knocked my boob with his extended elbow. I was a bit cross, but reminded myself 'It's probably just you, Gert, you do tend to over-react'. Until a woman about my age said something like 'What's his problem, no manners?'. I pulled a face in agreement and said "Apparently, saying 'sorry' is sufficient." She laughed.
The phrase 'love means never saying sorry' assumes everyone is perfect, at least when they're with their lover. Extend the word 'love' further to include all those friends and even acquaintances that you have no desire to hurt, and what does it mean?
There are very few people who can honestly say they never speak impetuously or react based upon their misunderstanding. Perhaps someone says something innocently that reminds of us a previous unpleasantness from another, and we speak harshly. We make what we think is a joke but it touches a raw nerve.
If we didn't intend to hurt, the gracious thing to is to apologise sincerely. Sincerity is key. If it's grudging or belated, a forced apology, it doesn't really count. But most of all, the kindest thing to do is to say something like 'I recognise that I hurt you, that wasn't my intention, I didn't realise that I would, I misjudged, I'm sorry.'
It's actually quite easy when it's a minor or peripheral hurt, but it surprises me how many people find it difficult. It is much more difficult when there is a fundamental issue of principle at stake, because you're not really sorry that you said what you did. Maybe over phraseology, and certainly because it escalated an already tense situation. "I'm sorry I woke you up and called you a duvet-hogger when you so desperately need to sleep just because I didn't have my fair share of duvet (but I still believe that you hog the duvet too much)".
I dislike the habit of 'apologising' when, rather than acknowledging the hurt feelings, the person saying sorry is trying to excuse or justify their behaviour. "I'm sorry that I called you fat, lazy and stupid, but I had an awful journey home and then the cat threw up and anyway I've been called a lot worse in my time, I can assure you. By the way, you really shouldn't get so angry over just words, perhaps you should grow a thicker skin."
So, I conclude, saying sorry is often an act of peace and sometimes an act of aggression. And meaningless if insincere!