Goodbye and Have a Nice Life

My teenage daughter is in a crappy mood and won’t – or can’t – say why. She has been giving me grunt-like, one-syllable answers when I ask her anything. Meanwhile, her cell phone is permanently positioned 16 inches in front of her face. The expression on that face makes it clear that the little device is not making her happier.

I’m wondering if this mood has to do with something she told me a few days ago – how she had decided to delete (or was it “block”? or “unfriend”?) one of her contacts – a member of her former class.

Before she switched to a new school, she had spent four years sharing a classroom with 23 other kids and a lot happened in that time. My daughter was elected “Class Speaker” for the last two years during which she earned her nickname: “The Socializer”. At the end of her last year, a boy who would probably have been bullied or cast out in a different class handed her a letter. In it, he thanked my daughter profusely for how much she had helped him to find his place in the group. He wrote that she would always be a very important person in his life.

She has always had a huge heart and I noticed a long time ago that once she lets someone into it, they stay there forever. It made me a little worried that some (boy) down the road could potentially hurt her very badly. I hinted to her many times that she would need to learn to protect that huge heart of hers – that there might be some people out there who don’t deserve a place in it. All the while, I sort of knew that she didn’t really understand me, that experience would end up being her teacher. And that there was no way for me to spare her from that. I could only be there afterward to help pick up the pieces and patch them back together.

I’m not sure that something like heartbreak is the reason for her present mood. I only know that it is a very big deal for her to be “unfriending” anyone.

That is where kids are today. They can’t simply move on to bigger and better things because the little device in their pockets keeps them connected to everyone they ever met. No one ever says “Goodbye” anymore.

In all of my travels, I met and connected with so many people in a time-limited way. With many it was clear from the start that a “Goodbye and Have a Nice Life” was somewhere off in the future. Of course, we didn’t say that expressly – there was often a pro-forma exchange of addresses and a (very likely empty) promise to keep in touch, sometimes even a letter or two in the mailbox before the relationship officially petered out. The point is that our lives intersected for a while and then one or both of us moved on with no hard feelings.

Of course, here and there a connection was made with sticking power – friendships that continued over time and despite distance. But these were the wonderful exceptions. There were also incidences of people suddenly and unexpectedly reappearing after years. Like an emailed apology I once got – twenty years after the fact – from an ex-boyfriend who had dumped me. (Can you spell “mid-life crisis”?) On the brighter side, there are the friendships that can be neglected for years but then simply pick up where they left off when the opportunity arises.

Time and distance sorted all this out for us. We didn’t have to actively disconnect from – or “unfriend” – anyone.

On the first day at her new school, my daughter’s new class set up their Whats App group and started carefully approaching one another via text message. In the classroom, they were all quiet and shy – hardly speaking with one another. In the evening the messages flew rapid-fire back and forth. In between, she monitored the goings on of her old class. She was neither here nor there. How can you ever arrive at a new place if you never leave the old one?

Technology today makes communicating with friends so much easier and not communicating with not friends so much harder.

I told my daughter that there will come a day when she has trouble remembering the names of the kids in her old class. She didn’t believe me. I’m not sure anymore if I should believe me.

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6 thoughts on “Goodbye and Have a Nice Life

  1. I think it actually requires less effort in a way. We used to communicate in the holidays by written letter, and had to make a lot more effort to stay in touch over the years. We also had more phone conversations whereas now a lot more is written – FB, whatsapp, snapchat etc.

    The downside is immediacy and impetuousness. It’s more obvious when you’ve been defriended, as you say. It’s more public too.

    I hope your daughter is okay. It takes time to learn to navigate this stuff. I’m 37 and I’m still not quite there! I still think way too much when someone does something in passing… I’m sure they’ve thought about it a lot less than I do. Equally there is something about learning how to let go. I used to hold onto every friendship jealously whereas now I’m older, I’m able to see that some run their course. They don’t have to be preserved at all costs.

    Your daughter sounds lovely and hopefully that will insulate her against some of the hurt.

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  2. Thanks Nara. Yes she really is a special person. When I asked her permission to post this, she asked “Are you writing about me and (name withheld)??” I said of course not and explained that I was really talking about cell phones and the whole befriending/unfriending thing. It opened up the opportunity to talk about her problem. She seems to have things in perspective.

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  3. Whatever happens, she will be allright. As you are there. And you are the best one I know “to help pick up the pieces and patch them back together”.

    I’ve not yet thought about the alterations, modern technologies cause to communication. But reading this, I notice, how my own communication habits changed. Take facebook, for example. Ever since there is all and sundry called friend, I beware of sharing real personal stuff. While posting anything, there is always the crowd on your mind. I think, this is the real reason behind all those cute cat videos.
    Weird, that this does not apply to blogging, at least not to such an extend.

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