The nonpology (also called a fauxpology) gets a lot of hate; however, I believe this hate is often undeserved.
To define my terms here: a full apology is one in which the person expresses regret that another person was harmed, admits wrongdoing, and takes steps to correct it in the future. A nonpology is one where one or both of the latter components are missing: either the person doesn’t think it’s their fault, or the person isn’t going to fix it, or both.
For instance, consider the classic example, “I’m sorry that I offended you”. The person is not admitting wrongdoing– they think they had a perfect right to say whatever it was they said. And the person is not saying they’re going to fix it– they are probably going to say the offensive thing again. But all things considered they would much rather you not suffer pain and they regret that what they did had that effect.
The problem is that apologies serve two purposes. First, you could want whatever happened to not happen again in the future: for instance, if your partner totally flaked on doing the dishes and you had to eat off paper plates, you could want them to remember it in the future. Second, you could want to be reassured that the person didn’t do the thing out of malice or disrespect for your feelings. In this case, what they actually did doesn’t matter so much: what matters is the cause. A nonpology is a way of saying “even though I don’t agree that I did something wrong and/or I’m not going to change, I do feel bad about the pain I caused you”.
I do nonpologies a lot because I’m mentally ill. I am working as hard as I can on being able to consistently show up to social events but, to be honest, it is not realistically going to happen in the near future. I can’t say “in the future I’m not going to cancel on our date” because that’s not true. But I can say “I’m sorry that I couldn’t make it” because I am. I wish with all my heart that I were capable of showing up to dates consistently, and I recognize that people may be disappointed, may have said ‘no’ to other plans, etc.
The actual problem with nonpologies is twofold. First, if you want the thing to get fixed, a nonpology is totally unhelpful. You’d think “look, I’m glad you still care about me, but I really don’t want to eat off paper plates, and as long as we’re not fixing the paper plates problem I’m still unhappy.” I think the solution to that one is for nonpologizers to realize that nonpologies are not a complete get out of jail free card. It is possible for someone to still be angry at us after we nonpologize, because it is possible they’re concerned about the actual issue, not just our behavior.
Second, in most cases, it’s relatively easy to give a lying nonpology. You can say “I am sorry that I offended you” when you’re actually thinking “ugh, if I say this, will you shut up and stop yelling at me?” I don’t have a great solution to this one, other than paying attention to the overall relationship. If a person seems like a basically caring person who treats you well, especially if they have a good reason why they did the hurtful thing, then accept the nonpology; if they’re just doing it to get you to stop yelling at them on Twitter, maybe don’t.
However, I think these two problems don’t make the nonpology useless. I think it’s valuable to be able to say “I care about you and your issues, and if I had seen a way to do this without hurting you I would have”– it smooths a lot of human interaction. Personally, the nonpology continues to be a tool in my relationship toolbox, and I am not ashamed.