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Background

While it is normal to forget events that happened in the past, there is an event I can't remember at all. This event happened 2 years ago when someone confessed(confession of love) to me. This person was close at the time (and still is), however, from what they told me, I rudely rejected their advances. The problem is that I remember some things from that period, however I don't remember that this confession happened.

Question

How do I tell someone that I don't remember rudely rejecting their romantic advances two years ago?

Goals

  • Considering this person’s feelings is important, minimizing the amount of pain is a must.
  • I want to make sure that the other person knows I tell this because I want to be open, no other motives.

Notes

  • While it could be better to not tell this, just assume I really want to tell this even though it could turn out bad. Different approaches are okay, however don't give the advice: "don't do this".
  • I have instances of the past where I don't remember things while it was important enough to remember.
  • I trust this person enough that I know this event happened.
  • I handled all confessions that I remember with respect, because I think that is important.
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    What is your goal in bringing this up? Are you trying to get them to recount things their confession from two years ago? Are they calling you out on your rude behavior from two years ago? – sphennings Feb 15 '18 at 12:59
  • This topic came up by the other person and it was really clear it was still a part that hurt quite a bit. My goal is actually to just be open on what I remember, because I think it is unfair to just say "I would have done it different", while I don't even remember it happening. Note that I talk with this person on all kind of stuff, so it could be okay to say it directly, however a little bit more tact can be usefull :) – Peter Feb 15 '18 at 13:04
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    Would it be possible that at the time you shrugged it off as a joke, which led you to forget it as a regular banter, while this person took it as you making fun of their feelings? – HugoBDesigner Feb 15 '18 at 13:07
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    @sphennings I forgot to add that I have got a confessions (~4 times in my life) and I handles all of them with respect (and remembered them). So if I got one from a person that is important to me, it actually suprised me I don't remember it at all. I trust this person enough that I know it happened (I have one instance before of a totally different event I can't remember at all). I'll add this to the question. – Peter Feb 15 '18 at 13:16
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    So in a nutshell your question is "How do I tell someone that I don't remember rudely rejecting their romantic advances two years ago?" – sphennings Feb 15 '18 at 13:26
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How can I tell this person that I don't remember this confession at all. If I would have remembered it, it would have been an important memory (even though I would have rejected it at the time).

I think you should leave the bolded part out completely. I know you don't want any "don't do this" advice, but I think the most hurtful thing to say in this situation is "I don't remember because it wasn't important then, but it is important now." This makes it seem like you don't really care about the other person, when you've said in your question that this is not the case. The fact of your situation is that you don't remember, and whether or not the memory is important is irrelevant to your memory of the event in this case. If you value this other person, I suggest you leave out any remarks on how important the memory would have been. It's simple enough to say "Sorry, but I just can't remember that."

The thing is, if you make this over complicated you can come across in ways you probably don't want. The other person might think you're lying and you do remember, especially since you remember other things in that period. They might think you're making fun of them if you take it too lightly. If you're direct and honest, then it should be fine.

As far as hurt feelings go, it really depends on the other person. Some people can accept "I don't remember". Others think if they can jog your memory, you'll remember. I find that trying to jog a person's memory is just a recipe for disaster, because there's no way out that doesn't hurt the other person's feelings (if they're determined to do this).

That being said, I think trying is ideal in that situation. The event was important to the other person, enough that they really want you to remember. I would give it a try if they want to jog your memory, but if nothing comes up, be honest about that too.

Finally, if you do trust the person's memory and you want to apologize for your behavior, be as clear as possible if you're trying to apologize for something you can't remember, but don't minimize their memories or feelings on the event. Something like "I'm sorry I was rude," should suffice.

In this way you do the best you can to lessen the pain for the other person, but don't feel too bad if they are still hurt by this. If it was that important to them, it's possible that it is something that they might be hurt by regardless of how polite, courteous, and anti-pain you're trying to be. But it really isn't your fault one way or another that they're hurting in that case, and sometimes there's not much you can do. Being present and apologetic is the most you can offer in that moment.

In the end, a simple "I'm sorry, I can't remember. But I believe that it happened and I apologize for my behavior" might be enough for your situation, I think.

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    This is a good answer. I'd add: stick to facts and try to leave out your interpretation. In this case, "I don't remember" is the only fact you really have. Not over-complicating this is also an excellent point. – baldPrussian Feb 15 '18 at 13:58
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    The "don't do this" was more directed on not saying I don't remember (I was not clear on this). So lissening is the key point when I say this, because this person will probably try to make me remember. That being said I really like this answer. – Peter Feb 15 '18 at 14:00
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I think you need to plead oblivion. The key here is that you don't remember the confession - that says to me that at the time you didn't understand it, that is, you didn't realize it was happening. Establishing that fact should go a long way towards mitigating whatever your reaction.

Assuming that the above is true (that's important), I would try something like this:

Look, here's the deal...your expression sailed right over the top of my head and I didn't understand that you were expressing those feelings to me. Trust me, if I had, I would remember it. Given that you were so vulnerable in that moment, and I was just clueless, I'm sure my reaction was terrible. I hate that that happened, and I wish I'd been more sensitive...I'd like to think that if I'd been more aware, I'd have reacted in a way that would have caused you less pain.

Look, the truth is that if you didn't realize that this person was making this extremely vulnerable confession, you're not really guilty of reacting badly. You're guilty of being clueless or oblivious, but not insensitive. But don't focus on the guilt or innocence, focus on the person's feelings.

  • I like the addition, however by sying this I implicit say that it would have been important to me. As suggested above it would seem like I'm lying. Do you think this is not the case or that I should be carefull to avoid this? – Peter Feb 15 '18 at 15:33
  • It could only be important to you if you understood it. If this person told you in Swahili, it wouldn't be important to you. I think you need to tackle the mountain of convincing them that you just flat-out didn't receive the message in the first place. – Chris B. Behrens Feb 15 '18 at 15:35
  • BTW - middle-aged guy myself, I've had this conversation with women at least three times in my life. – Chris B. Behrens Feb 15 '18 at 15:36
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    I see, focussing on the fact that I probably didn't receive the message instead of that I forgot it. Didn't think about it in this way, that is a nice direction to tackle te problem. – Peter Feb 15 '18 at 15:43

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