Standard Deviations

By Middlebury Campus

If our lives are stories we unfold, then leaving is punctuation — the friends we make, the lovers we fall for, often leave our lives in unexpected, often painful ways. Sometimes it is with an exclamation point, a final blow-up argument. Sometimes it is a long, drawn-out ellipses, a slow drifting away. Sometimes it is a question mark — there are people for whom you will never know why, exactly, they don’t speak to you anymore. There are bracketed leavings, em-dash farewells, ampersand retirements and vanishings with footnotes. And then there are periods.

It seems appropriate to talk about this, both for this final sex column and for those who will be leaving come graduation day. How does one, exactly, say goodbye, even for the length of a summer, to the people you love? For me, when this current crop of seniors graduates, I will lose friends — good people, whom I love deeply and hope to see again. But from a realistic standpoint, it is unlikely I will ever see many of them again — the currents of their stories will send them around the world, to different cities and professions and ways of life. And while the irony of living in an increasingly electronic, interconnected world is that no one is much more than a few clicks away, it is still painful to think that I may never get to hug some of my friends again.

So since it is the physical presence of people that is lost, be attentive, when leaving, to the body too. We often physically tense, grasp outwards and panic when we sense leaving — it is hardwired into us as children. Breathe and loosen — it makes it easier, for one, to deal with pain.

So how do you say goodbye? For acquaintances, one-time hookups, a casual meeting will often do. “Hey, thanks for that one night. You were fabulous,” is almost never the wrong thing to say. For people for whom there are still conversations to be had, unresolved issues, damage on one or both sides, often a meal is a good way to do it, provided both parties are willing to spend the time to make something right again. (I am personally a fan of meals — for one, any awkward silences can be filled by fiddling with your food, and for another, food will often provide comfort when little else can.) If both parties do not agree, of course — too painful, too fresh, or simply no interest in ever seeing the other person again — then you simply have to find peace, as best you can. It is by no means an easy thing.
For ex-flames, this same process of punctuating the story can often work, though it is, naturally, tricky sometimes to navigate the reefs of old affection. Hand-delivered letters also can give resolution, as well as minimize the somatic reaction to the sight and scent of someone you used to love.
And for current loves, ongoing relationships where the water still runs deep? Enjoy the time left. See clearly the future’s possibility — the worst feelings in a long-distance relationship can come from trying to hold on too tightly to a thing that’s already gone. It’s the hardest call to make, especially when the future is uncertain — but whether a relationship can take the strain of distance is often not characteristic of the distance, but of the relationship itself.
For all these, really, enjoy the time left. Think of it less as “too much” or “too little” time, and more as just enough time to make things right. The days can sometimes seem merciless, marching sunrises inexorably towards the moment you leave — but it is easier to live and thrive and smile when it is not that you have 17 days left with your friends before you never see them again, but that it is you simply have 17 days.