Sweet nothings. Terms of endearment. Pillow talk. Language is one of the ways we convey love to our partner. As a writer, it’s no surprise that words are my “love language,” and at this time of year, I have loving words on my mind. Specifically, the most supreme of sentiments.

What three words are the most romantic in the English language? Some might say, “I love you.” That’s very nice, and important in its own way. A compliment a la, “You are beautiful,” might woo some. But for me, a different phrase takes the cake.

“I am sorry.”

When I used to work in retail, at a now-bankrupt chain of electronics stores, we were coached never to apologize. It might admit some sort of culpability for a customer’s woes, we were told. The problem is that saying, “sorry” doesn’t always mean that you did something wrong. Admittedly, children are told to begin to rectify a wrong by apologizing with those very words.

While the dictionary agrees that the meaning of “sorry” is apologetic, regretful, and even self-reproachful, to me, the connotation of “I am sorry,” is also one of empathy. “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I’m so sorry to hear that,” are expressions of shared grief.

Women apologize far more than men, in my experience. I could write a whole different column on that phenomenon but lately, I’ve noticed how often I say I’m sorry to my husband: when I forget to bring a dirty dish to the cabinet or eat the last chocolate chip cookie, when he has a bad day that I wish he hadn’t, when the baby’s crying wakes him early on a weekend morning. Some of these are legitimately my fault, although they are usually minor transgressions. Most of the time I am acknowledging and massaging the fact that something has happened that is not ideal for him, or perhaps even very disappointing.

In contrast, he recently shrunk a sweater of mine and I got a shrug and a grimace. I knew he felt terrible, but the words would have helped. Today, our son scratched my eye with his tiny baby claws. My husband replied immediately to my text: “I’m sorry.” Obviously the injury was no fault of his, but the words helped it hurt a little less. What can I say? Empathy is romantic!

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