Despite the ease of staying in touch, we will not say goodbye to “goodbye”
A few days ago, I said goodbye to my co-workers in the restaurant where I worked from May to August. Some of them I hugged and said “take care,” and some of them I looked right past, before I slipped quietly out the door. I returned home to a room littered with half-packed cardboard boxes, rolled-up posters, scattered shoes, piles mentally labeled “taking” and “not taking,” and some items floating in between. I took my phone out of my bag, opened Snapchat, took a picture of the room, captioned it “this is so sad,” hesitated, and then deleted it. Who would I send it to? The friends in Jersey who I was about to leave again? Or the friends down in Charlottesville I was about to return to? No recipient felt quite right.
It seems that every week, someone invents a new way of staying in touch from far away. Texting, Facebook, Skype, Facetime, Snapchat—we’re never at a loss for a way to say “hey, how’re you doing?” In a way, a formal goodbye almost seems silly. You can give someone a hug and say, “Have a good semester, see you at Thanksgiving,” and then the next day you’re both having a conversation, like you’re no closer or farther apart than when you were in the same town. You could argue that new communication technology is making “goodbye,” in and of itself, obsolete.
Imagine: “goodbye” is becoming like the floppy disc, the record player, the Walkman. We don’t need it anymore because we have laptops and smartphones. And why shouldn’t we embrace this change? We treat goodbyes like ripping off a Band-Aid—we want to do them quickly, get them over with as fast as we can. Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate them completely? You can easily just send a group text, post a Facebook status with six names tagged in it, to tell people that it’s been fun, that you’ll miss them, and that you can’t wait to see them again. You can skip the moment where you have to feel the distance growing as you drive away, and everyone will probably just assume that you were too busy with packing, or buying used furniture, or getting your car serviced before you make that 100-mile drive again.
But despite the allure of social media, we still feel the need to meet up one last time—one last day at the beach, one last lunch, one last night out, all for the purpose of saying farewell to a friend, a family member, a summer romance. We get together again. We brace ourselves. We cry. We call out and say “I love you” as the car is driving away.
Everyone knows the Shakespeare line: “parting is such sweet sorrow.” We don’t enjoy saying goodbye, but we are grateful even to know a person for whose absence we can grieve. The more pain we feel in our hearts with the farewell, the more we know that we value the relationship. And the more we look forward to the next time.
In the same way that it makes goodbyes feel superfluous, technology can also dull the magic of reunions. Constant digital updates can leave us with little to talk about when we actually come face-to-face again. We will have already relayed any important events or updates through some form of electronic communication. But we don’t want those greetings to lose their happiness and their excitement. And perhaps that is part of the reason that we won’t let our goodbyes become jaded either. There is a co-evolution of comings and goings; as one changes so does the other. And we will accept the saddening farewell as a necessary evil, in order to enjoy the moments when we reunite.