Matan, a teenager at my local gym, came up to me with some confidential info and a dilemma the other day.
He asked me in a hushed voice: “Do you know I’m leaving?”
I didn’t, and I told him so. We talked about where he was moving to and why, the usual subjects in this kind of conversation.
But then, he asked something of me which hooked my attention.
“Do not tell anyone that I’m leaving.”
The inevitable pain of goodbye
I asked him why he wanted to keep it a secret.
He said that he had a good relationship with his coaches at the gym and that he didn’t want to ruin it by telling them that he was going to be leaving them.
In his mind, they were going to be upset with him leaving, which would ruin the relationship.
After hearing his perspective, I offered an alternative one:
“They’re going to be sad to know that you’re leaving either way. The difference is whether you give them the grace of letting them know before you’re gone, or letting them find out once you’ve already left.
One of those paths gives the coaches the chance to get their last words in with you, whereas the other denies them proper closure. Since you’re worried about upsetting them, guess which one will hurt them more?”
Think back to a time in your life when you had a connection with someone who suddenly disappeared from your life.
This doesn’t have to be a romantic kind of connection, but it has to be a meaningful one. Whether it was a student you coached or your own coach, or if it was your friend or romantic partner, how did you feel when their presence suddenly vanished for good?
Hurt? Confused? Like having a hole in your heart? Like an itch that doesn’t go away no matter how much you scratch it?
There were a couple of times in my life when this happened to me, and even when people I weren’t super close to disappeared, I still felt a little hollow when I realized they had left without saying goodbye.
I lamented not having had the chance to tell them goodbye. It left a sour taste in my mouth.
I was eventually able to convince Matan to let his coaches know he was moving away with a promise that they would wholeheartedly appreciate him letting them know that he was going to be leaving before he left.
I know I certainly would’ve appreciated a heads-up for the times someone I cared about abruptly left my life. Wouldn’t you?
A matter of respect
This isn’t just a matter of appreciation either; it’s also a matter of respect for the people you’re leaving behind.
For some people in your life, sure, that’s fine. You can’t possibly care enough about every single person who knows you exist to give each one of them a formal goodbye.
But you should know that that’s what it boils down to in the end. You don’t respect them enough to give them closure. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re not particularly close to them, but think about how the people you’re closer to would feel about you leaving without a goodbye.
They’d feel hurt and disrespected. They’d think that their feelings didn’t matter enough to you.
And that’s where the bridge has room to burn.
Conversely, giving someone closure and awareness of your leave gives room for the bridge to be sustained in a healthy and positive way.
And if you think I’m wrong about that, ask anyone who’s been ghosted.
As they say, some things are defined by their absence.
Don’t let your definition, your last impression, be a negative one.
At his request, I’d like to publicly thank Matan M. for this conversation, which gave me the inspiration to write this article.