I had just spent five days in paradise. Absolute, unspoiled paradise – a tiny, quiet island in the south of Cambodia with postcard-perfect beaches, emerald umbrellas of green trees, white sand adorned only by the criss-cross tracks of scuttling sand crabs and the continual sounds of whispering waves.
As much as I’d love to reminisce this place all day (and most likely will, in another blog post), my love for the island Koh Rong Samloeng is not what I’m here to write about.
I’m here to ponder how we feel when we say goodbye. Has our value of goodbye changed with the rise of the internet?
I remember a holiday I took when I was about 13 – my family and I went to Skiathos, a little Greek island where my brother and I made friends with some other children. We spent two weeks having competitions in swimming and hand stands… in fact, just about anything that could somehow measure a winner and a loser. At the end of the two weeks, it came to saying goodbye.
I was devastated. Particularly so when saying goodbye to Ashley, a Welsh guy who was also my first ever holiday romance and someone I followed around like a lost puppy. I knew I’d miss him but also, I knew I’d never see him again. This was before email addresses, facebook, mobile phones, etc etc. Our only method of contacting each other would be letters… and I knew we’d be too lazy for that. We flirted with talk of staying in touch – “I’ll write every week!”, but of course, neither of us ever did.
Fast forward thirteen years and things are entirely different. We have an absolute plethora of different ways to communicate (all with their individual levels of etiquette I must add!), and staying in touch has never been easier. In fact, I was recently talking to an American guy called Jack who was explaining how he keeps in touch with his recent holiday romance.
“Well, I don’t want to seem desperate, or like I’ve been lost without her. So I haven’t really been emailing her on facebook. Instead, I just click “like” on a few of her Instagram pictures so that she knows I’m still thinking of her”.
After talking to Jack for a little while longer it became painfully obvious that he was desperate and he was totally lost without her, but that’s beside the point. The point that I started to think about was whether or not we have become so spoiled with outlets of communication that we’ve forgotten how to say goodbye. I think I have.
To outline what I mean, I’m going to return to the aforementioned paradise island. (Because who wouldn’t want to do that?!)
I had travelled to the island as part of a group of five people; myself, Giovanni (Italy), Hannah (Holland) and Frédéric & Jeroen (Belgium). We had originally met at a bus station in the southern Cambodian town of Sihanoukville. We were all equally keen to get out of the touristy area and head for a quieter beach.
Before we had even learned each other’s names, we were busy haggling over prices for a tuk-tuk and cramming our bags into one tiny vehicle to save… oh, about 20pence. This backfired a little (but perhaps cemented our friendship) when the tuk-tuk, strained by the weight of five people plus luggage, later began to roll back down the hill we had just chugged up.
Laughing hysterically, Fréd and I were made to jump out of the moving vehicle, run behind it and begin pushing it back up. We succeeded and the tuk-tuk took off in mighty strength, forcing us to tear after it, taking on a leap of faith to get back into the seats. (I was later told that my leap was “less than pretty”. Never mind, eh?)
Anyway, that night, a few beers later and some snake vodka for Hannah’s birthday, it was like we’d known each other far, far longer than a tuk-tuk ride and a sunset.
The next morning, after breakfast and attempting to dust off the snake-vodka hangover, we heaved ourselves onto a ferry to take us to that magical island. As luck would have it, my wonderful companion Tessa who I had just said goodbye to a week before happened to be there. Small world.
We celebrated four wonderful days on the island before Tessa had to leave for Vietnam. Tessa and I had been travelling together for seven or so weeks and had been fairly inseparable. We had split up a couple of times, just for a few days, (mainly because I was in hospital), but we always knew we’d see each other again. This time, was different. We were heading for different countries; different destinations and our paths were finally becoming untwined.
As I waved goodbye to her on the ferry dock, another friend turned to me and said “No tears? I can imagine this must be really hard for you”.
Strangely? It wasn’t.
Saying goodbye to Tessa was a happy affair, we hugged, we waved, we laughed and that was it. With Tessa, I know I’ve made a friend for life. We live on the same continent, we both want to visit similar countries in the future – I know this isn’t the last I’ve seen of her. Perhaps I’ll see her in a year, perhaps I’ll see her in ten years, but I know it isn’t the end.
But, possibly a larger part of my nonchalance towards saying goodbye is that I know we can take advantage of any number of the endless phone applications and social networking sites that allow us to stay in touch. Even if Tessa and I never send a single message to each other, it won’t matter because I know in the back of my mind I can contact her if I want to.
And this is something that I think has shaped every single goodbye that I’ve said to anyone in the last few years. Of course there have been some goodbyes that are harder than others, but ultimately any person you part ways from is really only a Skype date away. You wave, you smile, you move on.
So, when the day came that my lovely group of original islanders and I had to part ways, I went through the usual goodbye dance; swapping contact details, promising to send photos, fantasising places to meet up. I was typically blasé; after all, I could easily like their Instagram photos, right?
And then something happened.
As I hugged goodbye to Jeroen, someone who had become a wonderful friend over the last few days, he grinned and said;
“Cool! Probably never see you again, safe travels!”
I couldn’t believe it. He’d broken the rule – the one thing that nobody really ever admits. It’s just so much easier, nicer, and kinder to indulge in the charade of seeing each other again.
I laughed awkwardly. But I admit I suddenly felt overwhelmed with sadness. My bubble had completely burst and I was no longer able to blissfully ignore the fact that there are so many wonderful people that I’ll probably never see again.
And since then I’ve had an ongoing debate with myself – what’s the best way to say goodbye? What level of honesty should I have with seeing people again? Have facebook and other sites completely ruined our sense of appreciation and emotion?
I wonder about Jack and the way he dealt with saying goodbye to his holiday romance. If there weren’t so many ways to contact a person and instead just one outlet (say email for example), would he have just written her an honest message that he misses her?
Ultimately, I think that yes, we are completely and utterly spoiled and have forgotten what it means to say goodbye. I compare the sadness I felt when 13 year old me said goodbye to Ashley and the appreciation I felt that I had met him to any one of the casual goodbyes I’ve had in the last year. There just isn’t that same level of gratitude.
I’m not sure exactly what to do with this - I think it will be an ongoing exploration. I know that I want to start appreciating the connections I’ve made and being more thankful for the people I’ve met, but equally that means being open to the inevitable sadness of losing that person. And if there’s one thing that I’m not very good at – it’s admitting I’m sad.
What about you? Do you agree with anything I’ve said? Are you any better at goodbyes than me – or have any words of wisdom?
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