Is There a “Right” Way to Say Goodbye?

I’m not talking about ending relationships, or facing death. I’m just talking about leaving the room.

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

How it began.

Last night, at about ten PM, my husband got up from the couch and said, “I’m going to go start getting ready.”

I looked around, confused. It was 10 PM. He was getting ready to go somewhere? I was just sitting there, waiting for the kitchen reveal on “Christina on the Coast” (would the decision-phobic homeowner be happy with her backsplash tile choice? I had to know). Were we going somewhere? Did we have 10 PM plans?

Finally I got it. “You mean, get ready for bed?”

“Yes.” And that’s what he did.

The plot thickens

On the way to work this morning, my husband and I had one of those conversations in which we learned something about each other. My husband is reading a David Sedaris book, and he told me about one of the essays that talks about how his father would just get up and leave a room. No explanation, no apology, no farewell. He’d just stand up and leave the room to go do something else.

My husband thought this was strange and hilarious. I thought it was…normal. That’s what I do. At work, I am often the first person to leave meetings. I do not excuse or explain myself when I walk out of a room.

I just go.

So this morning, after he told me about David Sedaris’s father, my husband and I talked about our own leave-taking styles.

I am impatient. I’ll just leave when it’s time to go. I never linger. My favorite way to leave a large party is with the Irish Goodbye. Not even a wave to my host, I just bounce. At smaller gatherings, I often watch for other people’s exits. I quickly grab my coat and slide out the door on their slipstream.

Within the walls of my own home, I do not let anyone around me know if I am going to go in the kitchen and do the dishes, or take the dogs out, or go to the bathroom. I just do those things. I have been known to get ready for bed early and tuck myself in with a book, and not say a word about it until my husband wanders in to find me.

To me, this is simply the natural way of things. One thing ends, another begins. Let’s move on.

My husband usually lets me know where he’s going within the house. He also told me that he’s always been known for his long goodbyes, and his reluctance to draw phone calls to a close. When he goes out to eat with his friends, they often stand in the parking lot continuing the conversation for some time after they finish eating.

This would literally kill me, I think.

A little history

One of his high school girlfriends told him that when they were dating, she learned to be gentle and gradual in saying goodbye both on the phone and in the driveway (where all teenage goodbyes happen). She would forecast the parting for quite a while before she’d actually do it. She’d let the younger version of my husband get used to the idea, warm up to separation before it finally happened.

She went on to date his best friend after she and my husband broke up. The first time she pulled into his driveway to drop him off and said, gently, “Well, I think I’d better be going,” he said, “Okay, bye,” and got out of the car and went to his front door without a backward glance. She was shocked.

I love this story.

More history

In my husband’s family, he says leave-taking was always an extended process. I am reminded of this when we visit my wonderful mother-in-law. She’s my third mother-in-law, and I lucked out this time. We always have a delightful time when we visit, and then, there is the leave-taking.

This seems to be organized into three parts. There is the goodbye in the main part of the house, followed by some extended conversational goodbyes in the kitchen while she gets us water for the drive back to Portland. Then, there is the by-the-back-door leave-taking in her utility room. If the weather is nice, there can also some goodbyeing done in the driveway. It is all very warm and fond, and no one hurries through it.

My husband says that when he was a child, saying goodbye after visiting relatives was a similar process, but that each part of it took even longer. Sometimes, part of the family farewell happened after the family was in the car. Windows were rolled down and extensive conversing would occur while his father was behind the wheel. Waiting to leave.

Apparently that was fine with all parties involved.

As we talked, I came to understand that to my husband, an abrupt leave-taking implies, “I’ve had enough of you!” In fact, he said this twice while talking about Sedaris’s essay. Because to leave like that, quickly and without explanation, implies a swift rejection of the present company.

I tried to explain that for me, there’s no rejection implied, just a readiness to turn to the next thing on the list. A drive home. Brushing my teeth. A clean kitchen. Whatever is next, I am ready to put my attention on that, and I don’t feel the need to reassure or disentangle myself before I move on to it.

I am wrapping my mind around the idea that I am abrupt.

My husband is not abrupt. He sometimes sidles up to topics in conversation, with extensive preambles that can go on to the point where I demand to know what he’s talking about before we go any further (see: me, abrupt). He is romantic and caring, and though I’d like to see myself as both of those things, I think in these areas, he probably wins, hands-down. So he handles separations with a degree of sensitivity that I don’t bother with.

The thing is, neither of us is right, and neither is wrong. No one has to change.

We both just have to understand.

These days.

Last year, I was sitting on the couch with my husband, and I said, “Oh my god, I have book group tonight!”

I jumped up and ran for the coat closet and was finding my keys when he appeared and said, “Hey!” in this way that makes the word three syllables long. I love how he does this, how he says “Hey” in this certain way, how that communicates that he is not done with me yet. It stops me in my tracks and makes me focus on the man I love.

On this night, I stopped long enough to see that he looked a little hurt. “You didn’t say goodbye.” So I did. I barked out, “Goodbye!” I was in a hurry, and I was confused. He gave me a kiss and a few squeezes and let me walk out the door.

Being married involves compromise. I will probably never clarify where I’m going within the walls of our home, but since that night, I have been careful to always say goodbye to my husband when I leave the house, and to say it with care.

Being married is strange.

I like it.

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