My friend is leaving Colombia tonight, heading back to the States to start grad school in a month. It’s a great opportunity for her, of course, very exciting etc., but obviously on a selfish level I’m sad to lose someone with whom I’ve already spent lots of time eating pizza, drinking wine and watching the occasional Ryan Gosling movie. Also, it means I have to say goodbye to someone I really like, about seven months earlier than I’d anticipated. This unequivocally sucks.
It’s these kinds of moments where most people will inevitably trot out that old reliable: “I’m so bad at goodbyes.” This is, by far, the most socially acceptable way to react to having to deal with someone’s departure, even in the kinds of mobile, transient communities you find among international workers and travelers.
But here’s the thing, friends: nobody is good at goodbyes. They’re not something that the average human enjoys, unless you’re saying goodbye to a particularly difficult boss or horrible ex-boyfriend. In general, we’re not big on abandonment or drastic change, and goodbyes tend to involve both of those things.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that I’m good at dealing with goodbyes (please see first sentence of above paragraph, thank you). But truthfully, I would feel dishonest if I claimed to be particularly bad at them. It is possible, you know, to deal with departures without reacting to them as The Worst Thing In The History Of The World Ever. This, however, does require a few factors in your favor, some of which are definitely more controllable than others. This, I think, is more or less what works for me:
1. The first is not being a crier. If you’re prone to crying (and I know a few lovely people who fall right into this category), I got nothing for you. Sorry. Personally, I violently loathe the idea of crying in front of any entity other than my teddy bear, and do everything in my power to keep it that way. So, crying. Don’t do it. Doesn’t help.
2. The second, I’d argue, is a strong belief in personal agency and responsibility. If I want to stay in touch with someone, I will. Sure, when you leave the country, your relationships do change — I can’t text my friends at any hour about the cute teacher at work, and I have to schedule Skype calls to keep updated on the lives of people at home. The frequency changes — where I used to be in contact with some friends every week, now it’s more like once or twice a month. This is a necessary side effect of geography and new systems of telecommunication, but it’s not like these people suddenly stop existing in my life, or become less important. They’re still entirely there. If you want to stay in touch with someone, you will, one way or another. It’s as simple as that. So saying goodbye doesn’t mean that person is gone forever — unless you want it that way.
3. The third, and maybe most important, one has to do with time management, or some emotional version of picking the site for your battles. I usually do this thing where I anticipate leaving a place or people about three months ahead of time, and preemptively go through my depressed grieving process at that point. My friends think this is slightly masochistic and entirely comical, but dammit, it works for me. Granted, it does lead to a lot of mournful looks directed at things like Lake Michigan and the entirety of Davis Square, and drunken conversations (or, occasionally, somewhat more than conversations) with my friends about how much I’m going to miss them — but it also gives me a manageable amount of time to work through whatever negative emotions I’m feeling ahead of time in order to be calm when the actual moment arrives. And calmness goes a long way towards making these kinds of transitions easier.
This was most relevant at two points recently: when I graduated from college, and when I moved here in January. Both situations involved leaving people and places that I love dearly, and I spent a good amount of time during the months beforehand moping about how much I was going to miss Ian’s Pizza (oh, mac & cheese pizza, ambrosia of the Wrigleyville gods!) or sitting in my living room with my roommates at midnight talking about femme invisibility. I was probably incredibly unpleasant to be around for some of those days — but when the time came to actually leave, there was no crying. I’d already moved through that, and everything was wiped clean to make space for my excitement about whatever was to come next.
Of course, this time I’m not the one leaving, which makes it a bit harder, although the fact that I’m living in Bogotá for at least seven more months is a pretty good consolation prize. And I didn’t get that much advance warning this time either, which has pretty much negated that vital third strategy. Still, these kinds of changes are inevitable, and it’s certainly made me realize how much I’ve already established a life and routine here, in just two short months. I have friends I rely on, a favorite bakery and a standing Ultimate Frisbee date with some of my students on Monday afternoons, and I’m already comfortable enough with all of these aspects of my life that change feels peculiar, instead of still just part of the adjustment process.
So Rachel, I’m going to miss you, but good luck in New York, and thank you for helping me realize how much Bogotá, for me, has already begun to feel like home.