The last goodbye

If holidays are a season of greetings, they’re just as equally a time for farewells. Whether holiday parties, year-end meetings, or phone calls, there are statistically more reasons to get together with people at the end of the year. This concentration, then, by default increases the number of “goodbyes” we must issue. And, I’ve noticed, it appears goodbye is harder than it seems.

When leaving, we layer on the parting words, repeating ourselves again and again, only punctuating farewell with a “goodbye” when there’s nothing left to say. In an informal study of these encounters (in one culture anyway), I’ve noted we seem to be guilty of the double, triple, quadruple, and quintuple+ goodbye.

The traditional exchange goes something like:

P1: Bye, and thanks for having me.
P2: Thanks for coming.
P1: See you again soon, I hope.
P2: Absolutely, hope to see you over the holidays.
P1: OK, take care then, and thanks.
P2: Yes, take care.
P1: Hope to see you over the holidays!
P2: Yeah, see you soon. Definitely. Count on it.
P1: OK, thanks again. Bye.
P2: Goodbye. Thanks again for coming.

See also:

The structure and use of politeness formulas, 1976, examining little snippets of ritual

And on and on. By the actual goodbye, both parties have fallen into a repetitive pattern, reviewing what’s already said, mimicking and building upon the other. Is the repetition a warm-up to the actual? Are we diluting goodbye? Do we have byephobia?

[Image: Ed Emberley drawing books use repetition and imitation as a teaching tool. Emberly: “If a child gets satisfaction or consolation from imitating the creations of another — let him go to it. Before you know it, he’ll modify, embellish, improvise to create something of his very own.” Image via. Upcoming film.]

Repeated repetitions

It happens in greetings as well. When encountering a person, we greet them with how are you, often following with something along the lines of, so how’ve you been? If we manage to catch ourselves, we pretend, somehow, that the second question was different from the first, lest we seem as if we were nodding off already.

Are we just not paying attention?

See also:

Goffman’s Interaction Ritual for more insight into little ceremonies of greeting and farewell that occur with conversational encounters

I suspect that something else is happening — intentional repetition, and in the case of the goodbye, intonation is key. People are listening, but the replayed words themselves may be quite meaningless — it’s the rhythm and repetition that’s meaningful. In this way, the goodbye exchange is a harmonic pattern, a song of sorts, and a tone indicates it’s time to close. Not all that different then from a final sketch, a culmination of individual lines, alone just single repetitions and meaningless patterns. The final goodbye is the culmination of everything that came before it.

If thought of this way, the last goodbye is not something to be edited, but the last verse. (I must admit, however, I still prefer an edited version on the phone.)