Photo Credit: Jose Maria Cuellar

Stop Sucking At Goodbyes

There we were, in the cul-de-sac of her family’s suburban home. Her mom and dad cramming the last of her belongings into the minivan as they prepared to drive their first born nine hours away to college.

The sunrise was firing oranges, pinks, and blues into the sky, and her siblings awkwardly watched us chat safely out of their earshot.

“I suck at goodbyes,” she told me, “so I’m not going to say it.”

Don’t worry, I thought, it’s not like I drove all the way out here at 6:00am just to say goodbye.

She was true to her word. We chatted until her parents grew impatient, and when it was time for us to hug and, well, not say “goodbye,” she didn’t.

I don’t remember exactly what she said, but that is, in fact, exactly the point.

It was open-ended. I think she attempted a feeble “see you later” as a replacement, but it only served to rob the moment of any poignance and closure.

We were only 18, and I don’t blame her for being unable to navigate the complex emotions of her nascent journey into adulthood. We were too young and dumb to even correctly label our relationship at that point, let alone know how to give it closure.

What boggles my mind is that I still hear my cohorts echo that same sentiment 15 years later . . . “I suck at goodbyes.”

I know people who won’t attend going away parties or funerals or who will give a warm hug but refuse to say “goodbye.” Friends of mine will make time to see someone a few days before they leave but won’t show up to see them off. And it’s not just them. I see it on Twitter and Facebook from people I don’t even know.

The worst part is, they all seem to be proud of this, as if they’re admitting to being deficient at pushing old ladies down in the street or knocking over children’s ice cream cones. Their subtext says, “You might be great at breaking someone’s heart, but I could never do it.”

If you’re one of those people, I’ve got a simple message for you: stop. it.

There is no virtue in sucking at saying “goodbye.”

Let me tell you why:
1) It’s selfish.

While it’s hard to watch people leave, it’s harder to actually leave.

Moving away from what you know, starting a new job, getting a new home, or even dying, are all incredibly scary and potentially lonely events. Even if the new step is taken surrounded by family and friends, it is fraught with fear and worry.

Refusing to acknowledge the change and wish your loved one well makes their transition about you.

2) It lacks affection.

I understand how it might seem like you’re saying, “I love you too much to bear the pain of saying goodbye to you,” you’re not.

Instead, what you’re actually saying is, “I’m more concerned about managing my discomfort and preserving my remaining amount of denial than I am about our relationship.”

3) It poisons moments.

Moments matter.

Imagine if Dikembe Mutombo came along and swatted the last bite of your favorite meal off the fork (or spoon) every time you had it.

Or imagine if the film reel of every romantic comedy broke right before the characters kissed at the end of the movie.

Or if the detonator button/gun trigger in your favorite action movie never worked . . . if the lightsaber experienced illumination dysfunction at just the wrong time.

The reason “goodbye” is difficult is precisely the reason that it matters. It encapsulates in a moment the depth of a relationship. Instead of holding onto the grief, loss, and uncertainty of the moment, “goodbye” lovingly offers a blessing to the traveler. In saying “goodbye,” you selflessly absorb the pain of the moment to wish your loved one well when you could much more easily express your heartache instead.

Saying “goodbye” is the ultimate way of honoring a relationship. It puts the needs of the one departing above your own sadness to show that you love them despite the impending separation, and in doing so, it confirms every “I love you” or “I care” you’ve ever uttered up to that moment.

If you really want to show someone how much they mean to you, have the courage to say the one thing that is most difficult to say in that moment. As you’re feeling the pain of loss, offer them the relief of a benediction. What could be more loving than that?

Stop sucking at goodbyes. Just say it.