Saying goodbye, over and over again

Leaving Canada in May 2015
Leaving Canada in May 2015

When you travel or move regularly like I do, you are always saying goodbye. Sometimes it feels like a daily occurrence and if I’m being totally honest, it can take quite a toll on your morale. On occasions, other people leave first, but more regularly it’s you. And while some days you can be perfectly fine with it, when you feel like you’ve found a real friend, someone who understands you, it can be very difficult to walk away. As much as it is part of a life of travel, it doesn’t make it any easier. 

You know the feeling. You meet someone, you feel an instant connection. Whether you are friends or more doesn’t really matter at this point. You like each other’s company and have fun together. At one point you look at a calendar. And there it is.

The expiration date.

Maybe it’s you moving on, maybe it’s them. Regardless, the end is coming.

Not everyone reacts the same way when you see the end coming. Some people try their best to spend as much time together as possible before it’s time to part ways, and others like me, shut themselves out.

I never mean to do it, but I’ve realised over time, that I tend to repeat the same pattern over and over again.

There are different situations where leaving can feel like a relief. Perhaps you don’t get along with the people around you, maybe you feel like you don’t quite fit in. It might be a culture you don’t understand. Maybe you are getting tired. Or you simply have seen and experienced everything you wanted to do in this location. When this happens, I’m not struggling as much with goodbyes. And I think that’s because the end comes when I am ready for it.

When you feel like you can still discover many things about a person or a location and you’ve booked your next destination, or they have to return to work, it’s a lot more challenging. I think the difficulty comes from feeling like there’s still unfinished business.

Expecting the end

From time to time you know before you get somewhere that there will be an end date. And you also know it will come before you will be ready for it. That was my feeling last time I went to see my friend in Berlin. I was spending a few days at her place, and I knew even before getting there that I would have a hard time leaving. And sure enough, it went by really fast. And the last day rolled in too quickly.

That time my reaction was slightly different than usual. I had decided to try a new approach: enjoy as much time as possible with my good friend Anne, and not worry about my departure. I knew it would be hard to leave, however, I didn’t want that concern to taint the few days we had together. This change of mindset meant that I had a really good time, and did not shut myself out like I usually do. There was no time for it anyway. That being said, I have to admit I did shed a tear or two on the tram when we went our separate ways. I tried to act tough as she was really emotional too, and I didn’t want to make it worst, but I was hurting.

Being acutely aware goodbyes are coming

As soon as I realise that the end is coming, I start apprehending the goodbyes. I’ve never been one to be comfortable with goodbyes to start with, and this whole travelling lifestyle didn’t make it any easier.

During some of my longer stays, I felt like I was protected in a little bubble. There was the life in either the hostel, on the sailboat, or in Calais with a group of similarly minded people, and there was the scary outside world. Because we lived in close proximity, it created that feeling of an entirely different world. A unique world where we knew what to expect, where we didn’t have to hide who we were, and because it was somewhat sheltered from normal life, we were all experiencing similar feelings and we could easily understand each other. That makes leaving these bubbles truly difficult. Not only are you leaving friends, but it feels like you are leaving your favourite blankie. The world is not any meaner outside than it was before, however, you lost your protective environment. And that can be scary.

Once I’ve left those almost sheltered living situations, I quickly realised there were some things that weren’t all that great, and that some things I thought I would miss, I ended up not even remembering once back in the outside world. Even if I knew this would happen, I still found going back to the normal world to be challenging. For example, when I left the sailboat were I lived for over two months in a closed community, simple things like cooking only for one or two instead of a group or going to the store and meeting strangers everywhere were weird.

It sounds silly now, but at the time it felt like I was a baby bird trying to fly on my own for the first time. While I was fairly confident I could do it and move on, it still felt like I had no idea what to do with those two floppy things on my side. I struggled to find my balance at the beginning. Things were happening too fast or people were talking too much about insignificant things, but soon enough, I got used to the feeling in my wings and everything was okay again. And I landed fairly smoothly back in the real world.

Lovely card I received when I left Calais
Lovely card I received when I left Calais

Feeling left behind

Always meeting new people and making new friends is the best part of travelling. However since I keep moving, every time it feels like I live on borrowed time. There will always be a time where we will move on to our next destinations.

I’m not going to lie, some goodbyes are rather easy. For example when I’m moving on to a new and exciting adventure. Still, when it’s the other one who’s moving on first, it’s not quite the same!

It’s hard not to feel left behind. Abandoned even. People are moving on with their life. And sometimes they don’t even look sad doing it. I should know better since I use the exact same tactic to protect myself. Acting tough, walking out, and then wiping that stupid tear away from my face. When you are the one being left behind you feel the empty space a lot more. It takes a lot more work to fill in the void. Luckily enough, I find myself in the leaving seat a lot more than in the staying one.

There have been times where I was really happy I wasn’t the one leaving. That was usually because most of the people I liked stayed as well. So losing one or two people, yet still having the rest of the group made it easier to deal with.

Missing out on possible great moments

It’s not easy leaving everything and everyone behind.

Over and over again.

Because I’m scared of getting hurt and miss people more than I would like to, I end up sheltering myself from those feelings by avoiding seeing the people I like. I always do that when I know I’ll be moving on. I stop trying to take relationships or budding friendships to the next level because I don’t want it to be more difficult when I do leave. Because I’m scared of getting hurt when they or I leave, I make sure to hurt by closing myself up and then regretting not spending all the time I could with people I truly care about. It’s some kind of protecting mechanism. Really stupid but there nonetheless.

I’ve made the mistake in the past of not getting 100% involved with someone because we both knew the end was coming and we would be moving on to other things. So we kept things casual, and on the last day after a proper talk, we realised we both would have liked it to be more, however, we were scared to get hurt. Not only did we get hurt anyway, but we probably missed out on great moments. Learning from this and other similar mistakes is very challenging but also necessary to stop repeating the same patterns.

Preventing myself from spending time with loved ones because I’m scared of getting hurt, is not only stupid but, I ended up hurting even more and being mad at myself for not enjoying a little bit more time in good company.

When I close myself up, it might look like I stopped caring about my new friends, but it couldn’t be any further from the truth. I’m simply really awkward at this whole human feeling thing!

Saying I’ll miss you

With accepting the fact that I can be sad to leave, and that I am allowed to cry, I also have to learn to be able to say I’ll miss you. Just because I don’t say it with words doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. I’ve never been really good at expressing how I truly feel. It might have something to do with the fact that some of my extended family have never expressed any feelings towards each other. Not saying I love you, or I’m really happy to see you. It’s not something we do. I guess we just don’t know how and are scared to look silly.

I’m slowly learning though that people can’t guess what I am feeling, especially if I make sure to be far away before letting myself become emotional. I promise I’m not as cold as I might look! I do have feelings, I just don’t know how to share them when it’s the right time to do so. If you tell me you’ll miss me and I answer that I won’t be away for too long, it’s my way of saying, I’ll miss you so much too. I simply don’t really know how to voice these words.

I’ve been learning, slowly but surely. Now when it comes closer to saying goodbye, I do warn my friends that if I walk away it’s not because I don’t care, but because I do not like goodbyes and have never learned how to do it properly. At least now they know and might not take it as personal. So while I’m still working on saying proper goodbyes and not avoiding them altogether, friends I’ve met before and just walked away from seemingly unaffected, now you know. I do miss you guys and I was really sad to leave. I just had no idea how to say it.

Which kind of person are you, the spending as much time as possible together, or avoiding each other not to get hurt?

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