By Zoë Boothby
Over the past eighteen months, my life has been divided between three cities across two continents: my hometown of Glasgow; my university town (or city, if you will) of Durham; and, most recently, Boston for study abroad. Yet, when I packed up my room and boarded the plane back to the UK earlier this year, it was the first time that I had had to permanently pack up what my life had become in one place.
Just as I had to deal with our apartment and crooked letting agency, I also had to wrap up many of my personal relationships. And it made me realise how terrible I am at saying goodbye.
Although goodbyes are always difficult, I think that this particular unwillingness to let go is a peculiar symptom of the modern condition. Though social media facilitates contact with people I might not be able to maintain otherwise, it has recently become apparent to me how illusionary many of these ‘connections’ are.
‘Yeah, we’re friends’, I might assert confidently about someone I haven’t seen in years, all because I ‘heart react’ to a change in profile picture every six months. Maybe in two years’ time, this interaction will be demoted to a meagre ‘like’. Maybe in another two, nothing. But still, they will be there, lurking in my friends list, providing me with the comforting knowledge that this person, who once meant so much, isn’t lost to me forever. And because of this, I’ve never had to master (or even learn) the art of saying goodbye.
When I lose touch with someone who isn’t on social media, I find it incredibly disconcerting. I find myself wondering what they’re up to, how they’re getting on, if they’re happy – as if I could gauge that from a social media profile anyway. But how could this person, with whom I spent many treasured hours, become relegated to little more than a hazy memory, without even an Instagram account to restore my mind’s faded images of them back to sparkling technicolour? The worst thing is that this loss leaves you re-evaluating what your relationship meant in the first place, and makes you reconsider whether you ever really meant something to them.
I’ve had a number of friends – friends that I’m not really friends with anymore – tell me that they prefer an ‘Irish goodbye’: that is, to leave (usually a party, but I think the meaning can be expanded) without saying goodbye at all. I guess this shouldn’t surprise me, given our generation’s penchant for ghosting as a means of breaking a connection. Why have a difficult and unpleasant conversation in person when you could just alienate them by severing all forms of technological contact?
I decided to take a more active role in my friendships
I once asked one of my friends who isn’t on social media how he keeps in touch with people. He offered me this radical solution: ‘Um, I just call them up and we hang out.’ Mind = blown. All joking aside, his answer made me quite sad. Sometimes it can feel like I spend so much time being available for people on mobile apps that it negatively impacts upon the amount of face-to-face time (not to be confused with FaceTime) that I actually spend with them.
Even though social media places friendships at a more focal point in our lives, I would argue that it has also made us more complacent in our personal relationships. How many people complain that they feel lonely, despite having unprecedented access to the people in their lives? My friend’s comment inspired me to take a more active role in my friendships and to ensure that being there for someone meant physically being there.
But what about those friendships that, despite the work you put in, nevertheless seem destined to fall apart? Well, in those cases, maybe I need to deal with my broken relationships like Leonard Cohen: ‘I think of you well in the Chelsea Hotel / That’s all, I don’t think of you that often.’ Moving forward, I would like to be more accepting of the fact that, in life, some people belong to a specific time and place; if they don’t transcend that place, then it’s probably for the best.
Because sometimes ‘see you later’ is a lie. Sometimes ‘see you later’ means ‘see you never’. But sometimes that’s okay, despite what social media may tell us.
Photograph: Bill via Flickr and Creative Commons