As a self-proclaimed introvert and longtime social anxiety sufferer, I have a serious problem with goodbyes. No, not in the sentimental way that I’ll miss being around a person or even a fearful way that I hate being alone. Honestly, no offense to all you good people out there, but most days I’d much rather be by myself. Other people really freak me out.
Let’s get this straight, I may often be awkward in new, overwhelming social settings, but hellos are much more manageable for me. Hellos are straightforward. If I haven’t met you before, then obviously a handshake and an introduction satisfy even the most extroverted person’s need for a greeting. After that, I can fade to the background or make multiple unnecessary trips to the bathroom in order to give my mind a minute to relax from its incessant flittering.
What should I say next? What if he asks what my job is, how am I gonna explain that? Man that silence lasted a couple seconds too long, now we are all doomed. Am I talking to loud? Am I talking too quietly? Am I not talking enough? How much longer are we going to talk about the newest season of Orange is the New Black? Shit! I don’t have an already prepared response… scramble, Mackensey, scramble. What are you gonna say?!
Yes, trust me ladies and gentleman if this was your internal dialogue you would make a few extra trips to the bathroom too, even at the expense that people may assume you are having a serious reaction to the Thai food.
Anyway, so hellos are the easy part, the middle conversation and mingling is a slow painful road to exhaustion, but the goodbye is where my own self confidence goes to die.
You know how I said hellos are straight forward? Stick out your hand, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself. Now sometimes I even mess that up but usually that’s where I get it right. Well goodbyes, they are nowhere near straightforward.
Goodbyes force you to be ultra conscious of the crowd. Is this a hugging crowd or a second handshake bunch? Did I make enough of a connection with so and so to warrant a more intimate parting gesture? Do I go the conservative route with a handshake at the risk that the other person felt some close bond that put us on that new “hug level”?
Now I want to pause for a second and speak to all you “huggers” out there. You know who you are and if you aren’t a hugger than you know the people I’m referring to. You are the people that had functional families that showed appropriate amounts of affection leading to this crazy thing called secure attachments. Yeah, I basically despise you. You go for the hug after a social interaction lasted even just half an hour because of that intense human connection you feel with all your fellow earth dwellers. Blah blah blah…
Cut the bullshit. If I’ve only known you for half an hour, then most likely you don’t even know my last name, which means we are no where near the level of a hug. Now I don’t mean to sound harsh because I love a good hug as much as the next guy, but you huggers make it really hard for us goodbye-phobic people. Because essentially our whole goal is to avoid that handshake-hug confusion fiasco.
You know the situation. You reach your hand in toward the person’s torso only to have them extend outstretched arms in preparation for a bear hug. Not only are you left with your hand in a rather uncomfortable area you also have to deal with the resulting awkwardness with a cool and easy going recovery.
Folks, if you can tell so far, I am neither cool nor easy going.
Therefore, you quickly fetch your lingering hand that had landed all too close the person’s crotch and reposition it in the most awkward hug known to humankind. But you gotta be cool. You meant to do that. You were always going in for the hug. It’s all good. Nothing to see here. And you both drown in the awkwardness without once acknowledging it.
Torture. But not the worst of the hug fiasco.
Once one person sets that hug precedent. Everyone else in the vicinity of the hugger feels obligated to follow suit. So you have the worst kind of domino effect that can make someone with my level of social anxiety want to suffer through more small talk rather than conquer the receiving line of goodbyes that awaits you. Now you have found yourself among a group of people who you consider just above the level of absolute and complete stranger that feel this internal obligation to hug you goodbye.
Thank you, healthy relationship hugger man/woman. You have just forced someone else with a normal distrust of human connection and appropriate personal space awareness to face her own personal hell. And you are smiling about it. Basking in the glow of having met so many amazing people that you convince yourself are gonna be your new best friends.
Wrong. I just want to do a simple benediction-type goodbye with a wave and a universal “See ya’ll later” and get the hell out of there so I can lay in bed with my book or Netflix and bask in feeling safe from these catastrophic social situations.
But the risk of looking stand offish or unfriendly overpowers my crippling anxiety and growing resentment at Hugger McHuggerson over there. I walk the line. Hugging each person, some of whom I didn’t even share a hello. I begrudgingly do the “right” thing simply because it leads me closer to my exit.
So, now you know, goodbyes are the worst. Sure you can hug and hug freely! Hugging is awesome. But maybe as a human race we can figure out like a safe word or a signal to smoothly communicate the awkward message of: I really don’t know you very well and, although I’m sure you are a great person I do not feel the need to say goodbye like we are new soul mates. Please accept a nice wave or handshake as my token of acquaintanceship.
And maybe with that signal we could spare just one life from the devastating fear of goodbye.