I Avoid Goodbyes At All Costs, Even When It Hurts People

It was a chance for a proper, decent goodbye with a good man who had treated me very well, and I blew it, preferring to sneak off in the middle of the night to go home alone.
Publish date:
August 7, 2013
growing up, Italian, goodbyes, irish, leaving is hard

I avoid goodbyes like I avoid llamas at petting zoos. They both produce the same anxiety in me. Just looking at a llama with his smug mug, chewing on his tongue and waiting for my hand to come near his mouth so he can bite it off makes my heart beat very fast. I start to sweat profusely and my breathing becomes labored. Llamas are the worst.

Except, they’re not as bad as saying goodbye.

I’d pet 100 lama glamas, feed them with ungloved hands and let them chase me around in the hot humid stench of a petting zoo all day long if it excused me from a goodbye.

There are words for people like me.

On the adverse side, there’s “cowardly,” or “wimpy,” or “pathetic,” or even “asshole.” On the more forgiving side, one might call me, “emotionally thwarted,” “easily overcome,” or “not quite a grownup yet.”

When my parents announced they were selling our family home, I started crying like a wee child denied access to a ride at Disneyland for being a centimeter too short.

“No you caaaaaaan’t!” I wailed.

I was 21, but the idea of saying goodbye to the house that raised me felt like tiny needles being rapidly poked into my heart in unison. It hurt.

Suffice to say, I hate goodbyes, as so many of us do. I realize that, in my case, at least, it’s a total copout to blame hating goodbyes for my inability to process or deal with sad feelings. I am, or I should say I used to be, very easily controlled and overcome by my emotions. And the sad that comes up with a goodbye, goddamn, I’m getting verklempt just writing about it.

Leaving people you love -- and even people you pretend to like at work and internally roll your eyes at -- is sad. It’s a shitty thing. So I have avoided goodbyes wherever I can, whenever I can for as long as I can remember.

Since I love a good dichotomy, my goodbye aversion pairs quite contradictorily with the fact that I’m a bit of a drifter and love making new friends. I’ve lived in five cities and three countries over the past three years, and have come to rely heavily on the Irish goodbye.

Have you heard of the Irish goodbye? It’s also called ghosting, the French leave, the Dutch leave, filer l’anglaise and probably some other cool terms based on ethnic stereotyping. I prefer the Irish goodbye because I love the Irish, forever.

Basically, it’s leaving a party without saying goodbye to anyone as to avoid awkward small talk. It’s the mini version of my goodbye problem.

Seth Stevenson talks about it in this Slate article. I totally do this at parties, all the time. I usually sneak out because I sometimes get shy around groups of people, especially ones who don't know me well. And if I do know the party people well, I still don’t like being choked by those goodbye feelings.

Instead of facing a goodbye like a grownup, I tend to avoid them at all costs. I follow up my non-goodbyes with sappy emails or letters, to try to make up for the fact that I chickened out. As Eric, my psychotherapist shaman, uncovered a few months ago, my goodbye avoidance probably stems from a deep fear of abandonment. Because I fear it, I sometimes do it to others before they can do it to me. Not cool, I know. I’m working on it.

Not all goodbye scenarios are created equal, and the airport goodbye is the worst. Getting picked up at an airport is awesome. They’re excited, you’re excited, it’s all new and fresh and full of promise. Getting dropped off, though, is horrifying. It’s the kind of experience I can’t handle with a friend or family member but don’t mind sharing with a stranger. I like to feel my sad feelings in front of strangers I’ll never see again, and cab drivers are usually pretty sweet to the girl weeping in the backseat.

“Did someone pass away?” “Are you OK?” they ask.

“I’m just…leaving,” I answer as he gives a knowing nod into the rearview mirror and tears drip down my cheeks.

I tried the Irish goodbye when I left Italy, only the Italians weren’t having it. I got called out left and right. I was saying goodbye to them, no question. One thing you can learn from Italians is how to unabashedly feel your feelings. “The Italian sendoff” will never be an incarnation of the term “ghosting” because Italians tend to live in that place between ecstasy and agony -- prepared, all the time, to fully dip into both worlds. Their goodbyes are long and sad and best avoided.

Especially if you have an Italian mother like mine.

She’s like a throbbing heart full of love, sentiment and delicious pasta. Every time she’s taken me to the airport, one look at her blue eyes as they start involuntarily welling up with tears and I’m totally fucked. I hug her tight and book it to the security line because, Jesus Christ, saying goodbye to your mom is a pain akin to her birthing you. (Just kidding, mom, I’d never compare the emotional pain of saying goodbye to the very real and traumatic physical experience of childbirth. Love you.)

But as with ghosting at parties, doing the Irish goodbye in life leaves behind an open door. Where you left it is where the memory stays. The party goes on. The trip extends. The relationship isn’t quite over.

I lived in San Francisco for about four months and while there, I dated a lovely man named Lewis whom I’m still very close with. I was leaving and we knew the end was approaching, and both of us were confused and unsure of how to deal. Actually, he was great. An emotionally mature man, he just wanted to spend as much time together as possible.

I was the mess.

On my last night, we went out for dinner and drank wine and went back to his place. He wanted me to stay over, but I couldn’t. For no good reason, I made him walk me home. Through the chilly San Francisco streets, he held my hand as we walked up hills and through waist high fog. He was wearing a black hoodie. I didn’t want him to leave. I didn’t want to leave. I thought I might be falling in love with him, and I was afraid. I didn’t know how to say goodbye.

Luckily, he wasn’t as emotionally underdeveloped as I am. He said he would miss me, he said how much he enjoyed our time together, he kissed me and kissed me and said goodbye.

I… didn’t say much.

Choked by the ugly cry ball forming in my throat, I blinked back tears and watched him walk away.

It was a chance for a proper, decent goodbye with a good man who had treated me very well, and I blew it, preferring to sneak off in the middle of the night to go home alone and worry about what I was leaving behind.

Since then, I had a total mental breakdown, which sucked, but on the bright side, it forced me to go to therapy, get on anti-ds and start learning how to process my feelings instead of swallowing them.

I’m trying to be better with goodbye because the regret of not saying it is worse than the awkward sadness that comes with it.

Goodbyes are endings. They are the welcome mat to the unknown. They are sad. They make you ponder life in a final sort of way that’s neither comfortable nor altogether happy. But they are necessary.

People need to know that we love them and will miss them.

I’d rather my loved ones see me snot faced and blithering than sneak away to avoid goodbye and not tell them that I love them. I might be turning into my mother.

Does that make me a grownup?