A common question I get when describing my nomadic life is “Won’t it be hard to constantly say goodbye to the people you meet and become friends with?” I usually bite back the response, “It’s nothing compared to leaving the lovers!”
It is undoubtedly true that the transient life of a nomad includes an awful lot of goodbyes. Like anything you do often, it pays to do it right.
No goodbye without hello
First, let me put a positive spin on goodbye. What would be worse? Saying goodbye or not having anyone to say goodbye to?
Yes, nomads say more goodbyes than most, but this is because we say hello more often too. Nomads must make new friends wherever they go because there are no old ones to fall back on. So when you stand there in the departure lounge with tears flowing down you cheek, remember that you are blessed to have met a person worth crying about, and be grateful for the time you had together.
Why are goodbyes painful?
My old geo-static life was rigid with habits and routines. Whenever I lost someone close to me, be it a break-up or a friend moving out of town, they took a part of those habits and routines with them. Suddenly, you realize how much you need that weekly gossip at the coffee shop. Since you relied on those habits and routines to fill your days, you find yourself untrained to think of things with which to fill this vacant time. You are left with a hole in which you wallow in bitter thoughts on what you no longer have.
Think of life as a memory foam mattress; the more rigid it is, the more time it takes for the imprints of lost friends to fade.
The nomadic goodbye
For good or bad, the situation is very different for nomads. Our lives have no habits and routines that can be disrupted. Most important of all, when we say goodbye it is because we are going towards something new. There is simply no time to wallow in the sad loss of a friend when you must deal with finding a place to live, learning a new language, making new friends etc.
This really takes the sting out of the goodbye. In fact, I recommend that you indulge in the sadness during the journey from the old place to the new, because you will be too busy to do so once you arrive. (And to hell with your fellow passengers; don’t let public shyness stand in your way of a good sob.)
You might initially feel guilty for bouncing back from your tearful goodbyes so quickly. Don’t. You are not being a cold-hearted bastard and it does not cheapen your friendship. It is simply impossible to mourn the old when you are busy fighting not to drown in the new.
Finally, don’t try to trick yourself into feeling sad to appease that guilt. Not only will you feel like the most false person on the planet, but brain research also shows that it is not healthy. The more we feel sadness, the more we train our brain to do so, and the sadder we get overall. Don’t go there willingly!
Care for those you leave
So that is overall pretty good news for us nomads. However, the situation is darker for those to whom we say goodbye. They don’t have the distraction of a new challenge to ease their pain. True, we rarely stay long enough to disrupt their habits and routines, but don’t underestimate the impact we can have. We embody the glamorous idea of an unfettered life of freedom and adventure. It is an idea that can stir up a lot of emotions.
I’ve had people tell me that the worst thing about meeting me was that it made them question their own lives. No one enjoys self-doubt. To a degree, inflicting that pain can be a merciful act if it helps someone out of a life they don’t enjoy. Positive change often comes from asking ourselves frank questions. But most people have healthy beautiful gorgeous lives full of security, friends, relationships and hobbies. Yet, many grow so accustomed to these blessings that they barely acknowledge them. It blends into the background, leaving them with the impression that their lives are empty. They are mistaken, and you can help them realise that.
Point out the beauty of their lives. Their normal friends, equally accustomed to the status-quo, won’t think to do this ‘out of the blue’. But you can. You are the free radical; you are the visitor with the fresh perspective. Be a mirror in which they can see their own lives with your fresh eyes. Ham it up if it helps get the point across. Excitedly gush over how comfortable their house is. ‘Oh’ and ‘Ah’ over their beautiful garden. Whisper admiringly how handsome/beautiful you think their spouse is. Make them proud of their lives so that when they imagine themselves living an exciting life as a nomad, they do so with a fair appreciation of what they have right now.
Do this, and when the time comes to say goodbye, they will have a fresh and positive take on their lives with which to dull the pain of separation, just as you have a fresh adventure to dull yours.
Staying in touch
So far, I’ve spoken about goodbyes as if you would never see or hear from your friend again. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll dedicate a future post on keeping in touch, but let me just say that Skype is fantastic. Seeing the face of your friend is much more helpful in keeping that connection alive than a phone call.
Keep in mind, too, that you can come back and visit whenever you want. After all, you are a nomad and free to go wherever you damn like! It is one of the boons for which you sacrificed so much; you might as well use it!