Why is saying goodbye so hard?

Awkward, painful and mostly badly timed, goodbyes can be rough

By Hugh Upsher

I try not to meet new people, partly because it involves effort, but mostly because the social anxiety of saying goodbye to an acquaintance is a traumatising experience. This is not in the sense that I may never see them again, but rather that I have to partake in the ritualistic dance of wave/handshake/hug negotiations. We are all in the midst of the most awkward generation known to humankind. Some people will go as far as to wear it like a badge of honour, proudly publishing their latest awkward exploits in search of pity likes. Unfortunately, it’s my fault as much as it is anyone else’s. If someone asked me to draw up the standard social etiquette that everyone should strictly follow, I would fail horribly.

Personally speaking, I really enjoy hugging people, but some people don’t dig full-frontal body touching based on the fact that we made each other laugh a couple of times at a dinner party. There is a complex internal measuring system to determine what someone would have to do or say to earn hugging rights from me. Will it become a forced forward-leaning uncommitted hug? Or maybe an unsuspectingly stern bear hug? The terrifying fact is that there is no known way of judging the situation before it’s too late. If a person made no effort to contribute to the conversation, but giggled here and there, I don’t think that justifies hugging in my book. That person gets a short wave or a shake if they’re in close enough quarters.

As a guy, other bros can be the most difficult to navigate, even the ones you’ve known for years. Some will accept a hug only on special occasions and farewells, others will never venture out of the safety of the high-five or handshake zones. To make things super weird, there is now the established ‘man hug’ that bizarrely starts as a handshake, and then once the shake is set, a hug is awkwardly initiated in the form of mutual back patting. Sadly, this is the most intimate some men will ever get with another man off the rugby field.

One thing I never get right is the cheek-kissing thing. I’m not sure where this originates from, or why it still happens, but I am never ready for it. Some will simply lean in and kiss the air near my cheek, while others will physically try to plant their lips on my cheek, to which my natural reaction has always been to flinch. Even if I picked up the cues early enough, am I now expected to do the same action simultaneously? Is it even physically possible for two people to kiss cheeks at the same time?

Then there are those people-I-kind-of-know-but-didn’t-expect-to-see encounters, or as I like to think of them - surprise attacks. Obviously it’s always great to see familiar faces when you’re out, but how much effort do I need to put in for someone I wasn’t planning on spending any time with? Generally I tend to give a wave, and then spend the next few hours thinking about how I could have been friendlier while considering breaking away from my current conversation to do some form of damage control.

I really hope this clears everything up, to summarise, I have no answers, and we are all doomed to continue the cycle indefinitely.