What is it about saying goodbye that’s so complicated?
I can’t be the only person this happens to: I’m trying to leave an event or a phone call and even after explicitly stating I really do have to leave, I still find my myself there many minutes later. Now, I’m so annoyed I might as well be gone because I’m certainly no longer paying attention to whatever it is you’re rambling on about that was “so important.”
At a recent press event, a rather pushy (and pully) PR person was literally tugging at my clothing (!) trying to show me more of the same stuff I’d already seen, even after I made myself perfectly clear: “I need to go pick up my daughter from school at 4.” It’s one thing to try and avoid a goodbye, but when there’s a child in the mix? Shame on you.
While this was an isolated incident, saying goodbye is a problem for millions of people. We can’t seem to find a way to say goodbye without feeling rude or insensitive or totally awkward.
But why? Since when do goodbyes come with such baggage?
“Goodbyes are poignant preludes to the leave-takings and withdrawals that deprive our psyches of the sustenance they need to maintain our selfhood,” reports Psychology Today. It’s heavy stuff: “As such, every goodbye is a premonition of disintegration, a foretaste of death, another step on the path to ‘adieu’.”
So basically, our fear of death makes us not let other people walk out the door without it being an ordeal. Okay, that’s a little more pathetic than it is rude, but still. Do we really have to let our own inner dialogue and personal freak-out about our eventual death keep everyone else up past their bedtime? Maybe when we’re 5…but 35?
This bugs me. A lot.
Maybe it’s because I’ve faced my own death before, or maybe it’s just because I’m impatient and selfish. But when I want to go, the last thing I need is pussyfooting around with someone who isn’t ready to end our conversation. Honestly. I know I’m not that fucking interesting.
Here are just a few examples of things that happen to me when I am trying to say goodbye to people:
1. The person simply ignores me. I may have clearly said: “I really need to go,” but they keep talking as if I only said it in my head, which I’m at least 70 percent certain I did not.
2. The person acknowledges me, but still ignores what I said. “I know you have to go, but…” and they drone on assuming I meant I have to go later, like next Thursday.
3. The person asks why I have to leave. Which, unless we’re married or I spawned them, generally isn’t any of their business. Sometimes people just have to leave, like perhaps to go see a therapist about why they get so annoyed when people ask why they have to leave. So, you know, talking about it may be a tad awkward.
4. This one usually happens in a group setting, like the unbearable conference call (as if any conference call is bearable): “Does anyone have anything else?” Asking like it’s a test, and you fail if you don’t come up with some witty observation you hope will help you get that raise you were promised.
5. Or they do this one: “Okay, real quick…” I’ve had “real quicks” last more than an hour. For real.
So how can you make saying goodbye official and effective and not a complete waste of your precious breath?
Here are some of my favorite tips I’ve discovered over the years:
If you know you really do have to leave at 1, make it clear you need to leave by 12:45, 12:30 if you’re with a talker. That way, you give yourself enough padding and time to stop in the bathroom on the way out and scream for ten seconds before driving away all annoyed.
Make a follow-up plan.
“I really have to go now, but I’m going to call you first thing tomorrow to listen to the rest of your brilliant idea about how a ‘Game of Thrones’ restaurant would be nothing like those Medieval Times restaurants but still way cool.” As if.
Just talk over them.
It’s super rude, but seriously, it’s only fair. If they start up with that “real quick” bullshit, just cut them off. If you’re polite, you can even say, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have to go. I’ll see you later.” And just go. Move in for the hug if that’s your thing, the cheek-kiss (of death) if need be, and just don’t give them the space to keep you there. Talk your way out the door. “It was great seeing you! I’ll call you! Have a great time! Thanks so much! Medieval Times! Great idea!” And bam. Before you know it, you’re gone and they don’t know what hit them.
The Irish goodbye.
This is my hallmark move (despite being zero percent Irish) and when all else fails, it’s really the only option: Just slip out quietly without saying goodbye. It’s a drop-the-mic move, but let’s be real: getting out the door is a battle.
Fake illness and/or death.
If you’re not ready or able to pull off the slip (like in a one-on-one sitch), you can also just pretend you have to vomit or slip into a coma (which if your hosts are really not letting you leave might not be much of an act), and no one will give you too much grief. Hopefully.
That’s it. Goodbye.
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