I’m a fan of the Irish goodbye. If I have to leave, I like to do it quietly, without fanfare or explanation. Just wait for your moment, then slip away unnoticed. Perfect. (This puts me firmly at odds with my Minnesotan upbringing, which encourages a full goodbye tour of any gathering, hugging and chatting with each person in attendance, prolonging your exit anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. A nightmare.)
Our brains are brilliant self-preservation machines and will do anything to protect us from both the dissonance of being wrong and the pain of rejection. When someone chooses to leave, it’s a rejection of not just our choice to stay, but of ourselves. It stings, to varying degrees, and we tend to go into defense mode. We dismiss the leaver as irrelevant—It is they who are making the wrong choice to leave, whereas I am very smart and good for deciding to stay—and shut them out.
At a party, this isn’t much of a thing. It’s a flash. “Seeya later buddy!” and before you can shake off your awkward half-hug, they’re back to a riveting conversation about the merits of Gladiator vs. Troy. No big.
But when you’re leaving something bigger, like a job or a city, the effect is far more pronounced. You get to see yourself shifted from significance, recalculated from present tense to past. You notice subtle differences in interaction, the way people steel themselves against you. Their brains are building walls to protect themselves, and you’re just hanging around reminding them of your rejection.
I’ve been both the leaver and the left, and I understand both sides. This week, I’m walking around the office watching projects move forward without me, people dropping me from communications, the world reordering itself to account for my absence, and I’m feeling the pain of an outsider. I no longer belong here. I’m just roving cognitive dissonance in sensible flats.
Yesterday, my boss tried to Irish goodbye me. She’s on vacation through the end of the week and had every intention of slipping away without giving me a chance to hug her, tell her how much she’s meant to me, and make her watch me cry. (Look, if you’re going to be supportive and wonderful to me for years, you’re going to have to behold my squished-up, red-eyed snotface when we part ways. THAT’S THE DEAL.)
Fortunately, a coworker tipped me off, and I marched into her office to drop a few tears in her doorway and stumble over the words, “I’ll miss you,” like the emotionally stunted Midwesterner I was raised to be. She took it like a champ.
I understand the desire to disappear and avoid the entire terrible goodbye process altogether. If it were professionally acceptable, I might have left that way. Walking around in the remnants of your departure, offloading work onto people you love and have empathy for, and feeling the pain of disentanglement is a certain kind of hell. It’s like a prolonged and intense breakup, and no one’s having a good time.
I’m in the no man’s land of neither here nor there, haunting a space where I no longer belong. I just keep reminding myself that soon I’ll be on the other side, sipping mimosas (kale smoothies) in style (relative poverty). Just three more days.