It’s that expat time of year. Not only is it the summer exodus where we say goodby to friends who we won’t see for 2-3 months. It’s moving season. So I’m also preparing to say goodbye to some close friends this week. They’re the last in a large group of departures for us this summer. There’s no 2 ways about it. Goodbyes SUCK! I hate them, I’m bad at them. I avoid them. I go in to complete denial about the whole thing. I cry the whole way through them (I’m talking ugly crying here too – not just a bit misty eyed). And this is why I won’t say goodbye.
I’m emotional – it’s who I am
When I first arrived in Doha, I was welcomed into a lovely little group of girls. They were younger than me and most of them weren’t even thinking about becoming paren. So it was pretty kind of them to include me in their shenanigans.
After a couple of months one of the group moved on. We all chipped in to a leaving gift and had takeout at someone’s house for a dinner party. As she opened her gifts and the first people started to leave I watched. Still a bit of an outsider, I didn’t have the emotional attachment that they had to each other.
And I teared up. (What can I say? I was emotional before I had the Things. Now? I’m a wreck lol). “Are you CRYING?” asked one of the girls. She wasn’t and looked surprised that I was. I tried to explain. “I just know how she feels. How you all feel. It takes me back.” I said.
I’ve no idea whether or not she thought I that was a good explanation or if I was just totally lame and emotional.
It’s what we do
You would think, as an expat, that we’d get used to saying goodbye. We say it to friends and family at home every time we go back. We say it to those same people when they come to visit us wherever we are living in the world. We say goodbye to expat friends when they or we leave for the summer. We say goodbye to those friends when they leave for pastures new. I know our paths will cross with some of these people again. And I know they won’t with others. Even if they do… it will never be the same again. Not like it has been here.
You’d think that it would somehow get easier or that we would get hardened to it. But it didn’t. And we didn’t.
Easier? You’re kidding right?
Nothing about goodbyes gets easier. Nothing. Sometimes I’d even argue it gets harder… more painful… worse for those of us doing it time and time again. We withdraw, unable to let people close. We find ourselves unable to put ourselves in a position where we’ll inevitably have to say goodbye again.
I used to totally avoid saying goodbye. If I’m honest I didn’t even realise I was doing it for a while.
I’d leave a place while people were away. I told myself it was just how it worked out. My departure was too far in the future to really think about it being a proper goodbye. So I’d not do a big goodbye or I’d think (pretend) that I was seeing the person again before they or I left. And then… I just didn’t.
I grew up (a bit)
As we got older I still found myself doing those sorts of things but it was harder and harder to avoid. Our leaving party from Houston was 36 hours before we flew. It had been a traumatic week. We’d sold a house we loved and weren’t ready to leave. We’d spent a wonderful New Year’s Eve with fab friends. We’d come to the sad realisation that we had to leave our dog behind for 24 hours instead of having him fly with us as his documents wasn’t going to be ready in time. We’d left debit cards in cash points and made mistakes on paperwork.
By the time we got to our party it was all done and we were mentally and emotionally drained. I held it together for the most part but when people started leaving I fell apart. There was no avoiding it that time and it was really, really hard.
I‘m pretty sure I still didn’t say goodbye
If I’m completely honest I don’t remember what we said to our Houston friends but my goodbyes since then have made me think I probably didn’t actually say the word goodbye.Even when we left London there were tears but I don’t think there were goodbyes. I still didn’t realise what I was doing.
We’ve said goodbye to friends of varying degrees of closeness in the 3 and a bit years that we have been in the Middle East. I mean if anywhere was the place to get used to saying goodbye this is it. I’ve actually managed to avoid it pretty well. I’d see someone the week before they left and as we said goodbye I’d say: “But I’ll see you next week. Before you leave.” And I just wouldn’t. She’s be busy or one of the kids would be ill. Something would happen and the goodbye just wouldn’t. We’d exchange a text or a message. Mission successfully avoided.
But it was this summer that I started changing things. I knew I’d been avoiding it. And for some reason I decided to make a change. (Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve still already successfully avoided a couple of goodbyes and there are still quite a few more left to go). But there are a couple of examples which make me think I might be evolving:
Close friends left
We went out for brunch, drank too much, went for post brunch drinks and then an after party. It probably wasn’t a great combination. I was in pieces. Mr Wanderlust even got emotional. The Things, thankfully, were almost oblivious even though we’d told them the deal. I’ll never forget waving them off in their taxi as they headed off to the airport. I took a selfie at home. I wanted my swollen, tear stained face to remind me how crazy hard this expat life can be sometimes.
Crazy last days
A good friend left a few weeks ago. I knew she was manically packing their last things. I knew she had no time for one last cup of coffee. I asked if I could go over and hang out while she packed. It was so nice to see her just that last time. It didn’t matter that the house was in chaos or that she was randomly trying to give me ice cream cones and spice jars that she didn’t want to throw out. That’s the joy of expat life. We’ve all been there. We all know how it works. 30 minutes was all we needed but it was good for both of us that I went.
I saw a girlfriend in the street not long later. She was off on holiday that night and when she returned I’d be gone. By the time I returned, she would be gone. We made the realisation that I wouldn’t have made even a year before. Neither of us wanted to admit it, but it would be the last time I saw her. We tried to excuse ourselves out of it – it was too hot out and we were both sweating. But we faced up to it and shared a hug.
A couple of days later
I knew a friend was leaving the compound for a hotel. When they left the country for their new assignment I would be out of the country. I knew we both had busy days that day but I also knew what I had to do. I messaged her and asked to pop in for a goodbye hug. The reply was almost instant. “I’d love that”.
We chit chatted but I didn’t stay. I knew there were things still left to do. A tearful hug later and I was off (ironically to say hello to a newcomer).
What did these goodbyes have in common?
I didn’t actually say goodbye.
I went to say goodbye. I went to give us all closure or whatever it is that we need as expats.
But I didn’t actually say the word. I said a lot of other things. I said “We’ll see you in the UK / US / somewhere.” Or “All roads lead to Houston.” Or just simply: “Take care. Safe travels.”
So for all of you that I haven’t said goodbye to for all of you that are yet to leave:
This is why I won’t say goodbye. Because it’s just too hard and just too sad. It’s just too final to say goodbye even if I know we may never see each other again. Because goodbye can’t convey what you mean to me, the part you have played in this part of my life or I in yours.
So I won’t say goodbye. Instead I’ll give you a hug and I’ll wish you luck. I’ll say “Take care and safe travels.”
And I’ll say “hello in advance for the next time I see you”.