Why One of the Most Famous Movie Lines Ever is Also One of the Dumbest!

I was 16, the year, 1970, the movie I graced at the Harrisburg Drive-in Theatre was “Love Story,” based on a novel by Erich Segal. It was a tearjerker, though at that time, I wasn’t programmed to cry at movies. What I do clearly remember about the movie, starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, was the quote, which ranks in the all-time most-famous movie quotes: nLove means never having to say you’re sorry.” The movie was followed, in 1971 by the hit song, “Love Means You Never Have To Say You’re Sorry,” recorded by the Sounds of Sunshine.


…and Dumber!

Ruthie and I just celebrated 39 years of marriage—39 glorious years! We’re as romantically in love as ever, and we have never had a bad season in our relationship. Oh, we had our intense skirmishes, but I don’t think any of them ever lasted for more than a day. If you asked me what the major key to our vibrancy in marriage was, I would quickly answer, “A good marriage is the result of two people who are quick to ask, “Will you forgive me?” And the quicker, the better. Saying “sorry,” as a pattern, isn’t something you can ever fake. If you are a humble person, it will come. If you’re not, you just can’t, can’t do it. Said another way, if you are humble in life, you will be humble in your marriage, but if you are not humble in life, you will not, cannot be humble in marriage.

But failure to ask for forgiveness, or say “sorry,” is NOT the problem!

Perhaps I just confused you. I’ll explain myself later, but first…

I’m Sorry for Stealing Other’s Thoughts!

I stole the title of this present article from an internet article, which is also about this famous, yet “poisonous,” movie quote and song. I also stole several paragraphs from the article, which I have copied and provided here before I give my concluding thoughts.

Amanda Craig, a writer for www.dailymail.co.uk (January 22, 2010), said it so well, I don’t think I could improve upon it. I’ll chirp in at the end.  The following italics are Craig’s words:

The news of the death of the author of “Love Story,” the best-selling novel and award-winning film about doomed young love, may have brought a tear to many a sentimentalist's eye. Yet Erich Segal's classic is no friend to love. For its famous last line –'love means never having to say you're sorry'— has poisoned countless romances, affairs, marriages and families.

It is, quite possibly, one of the worst philosophical guides by which to conduct your life ever to have been offered.

Whatever love means, saying sorry is a huge part of it. In fact, if you have never asked your loved one to forgive you, then you have never loved at all.

In 'perfect' human love…seemingly you don't ever need to apologize. Instead, as Oliver [in the movie] did, you can lie, deceive and forgive the very person—your own father—who is partly responsible for you losing the woman you adore. It's such a stupid line that films such as “What's Up Doc?” (in which O'Neal, our hero in the original “Love Story,” declares the quote to be '…the dumbest thing I ever heard') and an episode of “The Simpsons” parodied it. John Lennon too, declared: 'Love means having to say sorry every 15 minutes.'

…those who wish to transform themselves into better, happier people can only do so when they are truly penitent…Love divine requires believers to be on their knees as often as possible, begging for forgiveness.

It's no good being the one who is always apologizing, since apology risks martyrdom: as my friend, the author Kate Saunders says: 'If you're always the one kissing the cheek, you'll soon find yourself kissing a very different cheek on the body's anatomy.' (Think about it.)

I once had a particularly poisonous relationship in which, no matter how badly my boyfriend had behaved, I was always the one doing the apologizing, either to—or about—him. It never struck him that he might have done anything wrong, even when he sneered at my family—or slept with other women. Far from it: when I finally showed him how angry and hurt I was, his response was not shame yet more contempt. My mistake, of course, was to adore him so blindly that I fell for the Segal line and believed that there was nothing to forgive.

Having 'nothing to forgive' sounds fine in principle, but in truth it is nothing but an empty gesture.

Everyone at some point hurts and offends everyone else in the normal friction of life.

Real love is about the give and take of 'sorrys'—but until couples realize this, they can't move forward.

I’m back…

The problem with people who don’t apologize is NOT the fact that they don’t apologize. The real problem is WHY they don’t apologize. Not being willing to say “sorry” is just a surface problem, revealing a deeper character deficiency. The root reason is PRIDE, which means SELF-PROTECTION, which means SELF-CENTEREDNESS, which means you never have to say you’re sorry—God forbid!

But love says, take responsibility for your own depravity, insensitivity, and failure to love, and say: “I’m sorry! Please forgive me!” Again, not being a pro at saying “I’m sorry” is only a symptom of deeper problems in one’s heart.

Here Are A Couple of Reasons Why People Fail to Acknowledge Wrongdoing:

  • Pain. Perhaps growing up you were unfairly criticized or wrongly accused of things. Therefore, saying “I’m sorry” only reveals pain from your past. You learned to self-protect, and admitting that you are wrong feels like an assault to your self-worth.
  • Pride. Justice-oriented people are often the toughest ones to learn the lesson of admitting wrongs. If this is you, than you will put more blame on how you are treated, rather than on how you treat others. And if another is “more wrong” than you, saying you’re sorry feels like you are letting them off the hook.
  • Mutiny. I used the word mutiny to get your attention, but so often failure to say sorry is resistance to God’s will, His character, and His commandments. Another word is rebellion. It could also be a control issue, stemming from a wounded heart or from bitterness toward your spouse for something that happened in the past.
  • Didn’t know better. Perhaps the reason why you are not quick to ask for forgiveness, or say you’re sorry, is that nobody ever taught you this skill, nor discipled you in God’s ways. Maybe you grew up in an environment that never valued taking responsibility for faults and offenses. Did your family just sweep hurts under the carpet and then act as if they never happened or waited until the feelings wore off?

Three Lessons Ruthie and I Learned Along the Way…

  • Ask forgiveness for your reactions to wrongs done, even if you didn’t commit the initial wrong.
  • Ask for forgiveness, even when you don’t think you did anything WRONG, but you know you could have chosen a more excellent way to do or say something. Often, Ruthie or I will say something like this, “I am sorry I did that. Had I known you would feel violated, I would have acted/spoken more maturely. I will endeavor to remember this and do better in the future.”
  • Don’t cheaply ask forgiveness. Saying sorry isn’t a doormat philosophy. If you were not wrong, have a mature discussion and find conclusions—get to the root, and ask God for His perspective.

When Love Means Never Having to Say Your Sorry is Actually Okay

Now, having just blasted the concept of “love means never having to say you’re sorry,” allow me to provide another perspective. A few times in the Bible, a concept appears that, although quite different, bears some similarity to the song by Sounds of Sunshine. The concept actually promotes times when not saying sorry is okay. In 1 Peter 4:8 it says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Though Ruthie and I regularly apologize to each other, it would be bondage if we had to make “right” every “wrong.” I know Ruthie’s heart, and she knows mine.

Most potential offenses hit us and leave Ruthie and I like water off a duck’s back. She knows the way I say some things, or the insensitive things that I do, are not my heart, and vice versa. It’s just that in the course of life, though we get better at our relationship, we are not yet perfected in the way we speak or act. So, the culture in our marriage, though one of saying “sorry,” is also one of hiding a multitude (yes, a multitude) of sins, mistakes, offenses, and hurts.” But hear this: If we didn’t have a culture in our marriage of being quick to apologize, we couldn’t maintain a culture of hiding a multitude of offenses. That balance wasn’t easy to come by, and I’m still not sure we have it mastered, but day by day, we endeavor to walk in peace, respect for each other, obeying God’s commands. When we fail, we take it to each other and to God—together.

So in conclusion let me close with…

Love means being willing to say, “I’m sorry!”

Forward this to someone who needs it. It could help their marriage!

Take a minute and browse my new website: www.BruceLengeman.com. You will find many articles on counseling, marriage, personal growth, sexual purity, and some videos, too. Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!


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