THEY SAY THAT GOODBYES are mini-deaths. In fact, they’re more like mini-births, with a long struggle to separate yourself and get some fresh air.
Saying goodbye on the telephone is particularly tricky because you can’t use any of the subtle body language signals like walking away. Instead, there’s an elaborate goodbye ritual that can start up to five minutes before the call ends. The first signal is to say that it has been nice talking to them, implying that it’s about to finish. Be very careful not to use the present tense and say, “It’s nice talking to you”, as they’ll take this as a green light to do yet more talking. Similarly, saying “I’ve got to go” isn’t half as useful as “I’m going now” followed by the phone being put down.
Some people on the phone are like broadband, in that they’re always on. You can put the phone down and lift it up several times in the conversation and they’ll still be talking. Don’t feel guilty about just ringing off abruptly, because they’ll just continue talking to their spouse, fish, or thin air.
Young people often think saying goodbye at a railway station will be romantic. When you arrive at the station you’ll probably be at your peak of tearfulness and will have said all the high cheese things like, “You know I’ll wait for you.” Then you find that the train is an hour late and you suddenly decide that, although you don’t mind promising to wait for them, you’d really rather not wait with them, especially if the café’s closed.
Even if the train’s on time, the actual parting can be tricky. In modern trains, you can’t hang out of the window snogging because you can’t get the windows open. Instead you have to stand on the platform mouthing silent rubbish through the double-glazed window. Then, just as the train moves out, someone fantastically attractive sits down opposite your beloved and smiles winningly at them.
Saying goodbye is only one part of the fiendishly complex process of taking one’s leave. When you actually leave someone’s presence you have to judge whether and when to look back and wave. Walking away without looking back can imply that you’ve forgotten all about someone. To be sure to avoid offence, wave till someone is out of sight. This may backfire if you can’t see very well. You think they’ve gone but they’ve only taken a small step backward. When this happens, you’ll probably regret that you immediately said “Good riddance”.
Never say one last parting remark. Nine times out of ten the person leaving won’t hear it. They then have to smile and laugh and pretend they heard you shouting, “that’s the wrong train”. Or, they have to come all the way back, and before you know it you’re saying hello again.
© GUY BROWNING IS AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.