When I was in preschool I loved watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. For 30 minutes each day, I would suspend my disbelief and actually become one of his neighbors. My mother laughs whenever she reminds me how I waved to strangers in the supermarket, yelling, “Hi, Neighbor!” at the top of my lungs.
As each episode concluded, Mister Rogers always sang the goodbye song, "It’s Such a Good Feeling," removed his cardigan sweater, put on his jacket, and promised to return again the next day. In doing so, he taught us that goodbyes are important and bring a “very good feeling” to others. The lesson is seemingly a straightforward one.
Why, then, do so many relationships end without a proper goodbye?
From an isolated date to a committed relationship, from a casual relationship to marriage, stories in which one person disappears without a word or with such a brief explanation as to leave the jilted party dumbfounded are commonplace. Here one minute, gone the next. Up in smoke. The effect can be frustrating, maddening even, and altogether devastating.
Gratuitous phrases used as feeble attempts to tidy up the messiness of a failed relationship, succinct statements such as “Good luck to you,” or “I wish you all the best,” can actually be more damaging to a dissolution than helpful. The curtness of these statements, the coldness with which they are offered, often do not measure adequately against the length or depth of the relationship, leaving burning questions unanswered and the blindsided party left wondering what went wrong. And, as the goodbye song describes, the “things you want to talk about” are inevitably ignored and a proper goodbye ultimately falls by the wayside.
Equally upsetting is leaving someone with the promise of a call or of seeing each other soon and then not making good on that promise. Again, the same questions are left unanswered but, this time, the aggrieved party does not even benefit from the platitude or the façade that the other person cared even the slightest bit.
All day long I say goodbye to people. Whether it is a friend I meet for lunch, some random stranger who I converse with while waiting on line at the bank, or the exterminator who calls to remind me of my upcoming quarterly service, I bring some sort of closure to the interaction in which we have just engaged. At a minimum, it is a show of respect. More so, I am letting the other person know that, at least for the time we were dealing with one another, what he or she said mattered.
Of course, with platonic relationships saying goodbye, whether for the time being or permanently, is arguably a much less emotionally charged process. When it comes to matters of the heart, the situation is not always as easy to navigate. Admittedly, it is much simpler to turn the other way while the jilted person visibly suffers. That way we do not have to look into someone else’s eyes and see the pain we are inflicting.
I cannot claim to have always been tolerant of someone else’s feelings. When I first began dating after my separation, I went out on three dates with a very nice guy. By the third date, however, I was sure that I no longer wanted to continue seeing him. When he kept attempting to make plans with me, instead of being honest with him about my feelings, I avoided him and, I hate to say it, disappeared. He was, to say the least, angry and I was the recipient of a few nasty texts and emails.
Looking back, I know my handling of the situation was unkind. He was a nice person and was nice to me. I should have come clean and perhaps even acknowledged a specific quality I liked about him but that, regrettably, I still did not think we were right for each other in the long run.
In the end, only we can give ourselves the closure we crave. But how much easier would it be for our former romantic interest to achieve that sense of closure if we simply finished things off properly? No one wants to feel the sting of rejection and we should take some responsibility for the pain our decision causes another. Karma is a bitch and the likelihood of standing on both sides of the rejection fence is real.
It is important to remember that exiting a romantic interaction with dignity also spares someone else’s dignity in the process. We all want to come away knowing that we mattered. That the kiss we once shared was, even for a fleeting moment, meaningful. That the knowing glance we exchanged will be remembered. That the passion we shared was heartfelt. That the long conversations we spent exposing our vulnerabilities will be held sacred.
By abruptly leaving a relationship, even disappearing, and not paying homage to the other person, we insult them by devaluing the time we spent together. And that, as Mister Rogers would likely argue, is not a very good feeling at all.
What dating dating lessons have you learned along the way?