When in Doubt, Toss the ‘Apology Flag’
By Jeff Salter
It’s been a while since I discussed / clarified a particular image I used in my second published novel, “Rescued By That New Guy in Town”. Allow me to explain my use of the term ‘apology flag’ as it applies to relationships between men and women.
I can’t swear that I invented the term – though I don’t recall ever hearing it before I wrote the scene in which it appears. But the practice (of men tossing an apology flag) has probably existed for at least two generations … possibly longer.
Read the excerpt below, and then I’ll try to explain WHY men, in relationships with women, toss the apology flag.
[Kristen Prima has been back-and-forth with Ryan Hazzard, the mysterious new guy in town who’d rescued her from the fund-raising ‘jail’ after everyone else had left the armory’s Halloween Festival … and who’d later saved her from three drunken thugs. But she got terribly confused at his behavior when Ryan recently spent the night – on her couch – after sustaining a concussion during their joint community service. Then Ryan left town suddenly. With nowhere else to turn, Kris uncharacteristically calls her unsophisticated younger brother Eric … for man advice.]
From Chapter 27
“Eric, that’s not why I called.” I took a deep breath. “I need a man’s advice about something…”
“You need me to whip somebody’s butt?” Eric sounded too eager.
“Uh, no, Eric. No need to accost anybody. Not yet anyway.”
“Well, you just say the word. I got some buddies who’ll mess up anybody for a case of beer.”
“Eric, will you focus? I called for some advice.”
A long silence. “Advice?” There was background noise including his girlfriend’s voice and a loud television. “From me, Sis?”
I was already aware that I’d stepped into the Twilight Zone with this call. No wonder Eric was surprised: I couldn’t recall any previous instance when I’d sought advice from my younger sibling. What made me think he could help now? “Well, I’m confused about this guy and I thought if I bounced it off you, maybe I could understand things better.”
“Is this a joke, Sis?” Eric started chuckling in advance.
I didn’t reply.
“Well, slap my butt on a hot grill! This must be a doozy.”
It was a doozy, and I still didn’t believe I was asking Eric. “Okay. This guy who rubbed me the wrong way from the git-go…”
“You still on that pirate fella?”
“Right, Ryan Hazzard. Well, we ended up working the whole weekend together at the animal shelter.” I explained everything and Eric listened as carefully as he could, considering Velma interrupted twice to ask questions about his dining preferences. I learned that Eric thought dirty rice was rice which had fallen on the ground. I also picked up a tasty new dish idea: stewed squirrel over dirty rice.
Eventually I maneuvered him back to the point of my call. “So, why wouldn’t Ryan thank me for letting him sleep on my couch? And what did he mean, he was sorry?”
Eric took a long sip of something. “Well, I’m stuck on that first one, too. Either he appreciates what you did… or he doesn’t. And ya can’t change it either way.” He paused, probably to rehearse the next part through his brain quickly. “But I think I’ve got the other one. Guys usually throw the apology out like a ref tosses a penalty flag.”
“Not another sports analogy!”
“You know how those zebras spot something on a play and they yank that yeller flag and send it flyin’. About the time it finally hits the ground, they’ve made up two or three possible fouls. Then they huddle together with a couple other officials, usually including the head ref… and they try to guess which foul will stick the best.”
“Eric, I’m asking you why Ryan apologized and you’re playing highlights from a football game.”
“Hang on, I’m gettin’ to it.” He paused, probably to test my patience. “Just like the refs toss the flag and then figure out what the foul really was… that’s what your pirate guy did. He just figured he’d screwed up somehow, so he threw the apology flag… and now he needs a few days to figure out what he’s supposed to be sorry about.”
It was just idiotic enough to be plausible. “You mean, it might have been a generic apology… rather than Ryan being sorry for anything in particular?”
“Well, I think the ref version works better, but yeah. That’s about it. Unless…”
“Unless he’s kinda like me.” Eric chuckled softly.
Almost afraid to ask, I did anyway.
“Well, I just mean, if I’d spent the night at a pretty girl’s house and nothing, ya know, happened… well, I guess I’d be a little sorry too.”
“Eric! Why on earth did I call you for advice?”
He probably wondered the same thing. “Well… sorry.”
The word caught me flat-footed.
Before I show you another (shorter) excerpt with this same image, let me try to explain why guys might toss an apology flag to help smooth a relationship bump. To do so, I asked four buddies for their explanations.
Buddy # 1 — “It’s a pre-emptive strike. Usually she’s smoldering about something and the apology flag can sometimes defuse whatever it is without me having to bring home flowers.”
Buddy # 2 [the most scholarly of these four] — “Well, sometimes whatever she barks about is not necessarily the real reason she’s peeved. Often it’s just the trigger for something else, usually totally unrelated.”
Buddy # 3 — “Could be multiple reasons to make her mad … and I’m not sure which one she knows about.”
Buddy # 4 — “If you go ahead and toss the apology flag, there’s still a chance you can avoid having to spend hours yakking about whatever you allegedly did wrong, recently.”
Now that you’ve heard from my panel of experts, here’s the second (and final) mention of the apology flag: much later, near the very end of the story.
From Chapter 39
Supper was un-notable, except that I’d underestimated the number of scrambled eggs Ryan could put away after tromping through the woods on a cold, late afternoon. To fill in the caloric gap, he got up and made more toast.
I watched him.
Ryan was at ease in the kitchen, just as he was in the woods. In fact, since I had known him, he seemed to be at ease in every circumstance, except for those first few stumbling, hung-over moments in the darkness of the armory. At ease. This was a man with nothing to prove to anybody; Ryan could handle himself. He didn’t look for trouble, but didn’t run from a fight if it was necessary. Being in his presence, I felt unbelievably safe. Yeah, all the meanings of that word. Even after just two short weeks, I already knew I could count on him. This was not a man who’d deceive me, steal from me, or abandon me — I could trust Ryan Hazzard.
So, naturally, I teared up.
“What’s wrong?” He put down the bread and came to my side at the small table.
“Nothing.” I shook my head sideways. “Just thinking.”
“About what?” He looked worried like he’d done something wrong and I guessed he was about to throw the apology flag.
I shoved away tears with my knuckles and tried to smile. “About how much I like having you here… with me.”
Ryan knelt beside my chair, and for a really weird second I thought he was going to propose. Ha!
“You’re where I want to be,” he said softly.
The phrasing was unusual, but it warmed me. Yeah… all over.
You can readily see that most guys seldom have any idea what they’ve supposedly done wrong, if anything at all. But somehow, it seems like the man is usually at fault anyhow. So you can easily understand that some men keep the apology flag handy… just in case.
When Kris awakens in a costume, behind wooden bars inside a pitch-black community center, her only available rescuer is the hung-over new guy in town (who’s dressed as a pirate). Problem is: she’s sworn-off men, especially buccaneers.
Badly burned four years ago by a player who ruined her financially, Kris Prima’s heart is locked down as tightly as her lifestyle is confined by those massive debts. When first assisted by recent newcomer Ryan Hazzard, Kris is resentful, slightly afraid, and determined never again to trust men. But when court-ordered community service brings them together once more, she begins to appreciate Ryan’s charm, good looks, and capable manner.
With all the rumors and assumptions which followed Ryan from a large metropolitan area, how can small-town Kris even begin to trust him? And why won’t he explain any of those situations? Through her efforts to learn Ryan’s mysterious past, they share further experiences: many comedic, one quite dangerous, and others very tender. Despite several misunderstandings, Kris’s bottled-up feelings slowly re-awaken and she finally learns enough about Ryan to know she wants him in her life somehow. Kris regains her ability to trust a man and her heart is freed from its jail.
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In slightly different form, this first appeared on the blog of Heather Gray on May 7, 2013 — with a reprise on Sep. 4, 2013.