“But I didn’t mean to be offensive” can be a common refrain both in person and online. While well-meaning, it does not help the situation, as it often comes from a position of defensiveness and privilege. It’s very important to unpack your privilege (whether it’s white privilege, class privilege, male privilege, or subtler privileges like never having a miscarriage, infertility, a mental illness, or family conflict) before coming to the relationship or discussion table.
Not being aware you’ve said something offensive is, in fact, a sign of said privilege. Which is why it helps so much to recognize what happened, learn from it, and try again. It’s not a time to act defensively. Emphasis on action. Because let’s face it, feelings happen whether we want them to or not, you can’t control how you’re going to feel. It’s pretty normal/natural that you might feel defensive, guilty, embarrassed, maybe even a little angry when someone calls you out on your privilege. Let the feelings wash through you, be mindful of them, but don’t act on them with defensive words, behavior, or blaming the other person for making you uncomfortable. Please continue to remember that you are coming from a place of privilege, and it’s understandable you weren’t aware of it at first but it is not their job (as you are in the position of power) to make you feel better about the situation. That power is in the hands of the one with the most privilege, and it’s work-through-able. Deep breathing, personal reflection, and reframing this experience–not as failure, but as a way to learn to be more vulnerable and open with another, and to celebrate someone was willing to do that too–are all helpful ways to get through.
Lastly, on to socks: I had a friend who shared how she was running late to a session of a religious ceremony that required particular clothing. Painters had finished her entire house the day before. She went to her built-in drawers to get the particular white socks needed for this occasion, but couldn’t find the thin slot to pull them out with. Hers was a very old house and these drawers had been painted over before, and this was it’s last hurrah–they wouldn’t budge the thick coats of paint worked like glue. So she left without them.
In the dressing room before the religious session, she noticed others looking at her funny. She knew not a single person could have imagined why she wasn’t wearing the proper footwear, even if they had suspicions: no one could have guessed her socks were painted into a wall. Everyone gets socks painted into our walls once in a while, it wasn’t their fault, so it’s so important to tread softly about particular pain/experiences others are going through that gets easily blindsighted. Doing so may prevent a “I didn’t mean to offend you!” moment, and even if it doesn’t hopefully one can understand the hurt the other person received (from the miscommunication) without any defensiveness needed to escalate the conversation. Even, “I’m so sorry, I can see how that hurt you,” (period.) can go a long way. Respectfully asking, “please tell me more about your experience with X,” if you know the person well can go even further. And through mutual empathy, the possibilities of relationship growth are phenomenal.