September 05, 2003
How to say “I will” and mean it:
The recent college graduates are dispersing. Some are off to new jobs, others to new schools for even higher degrees and the few that remain, though close geographically, will drift worlds away. This is the nature of things. The summer’s over and everyone has to say good bye. And with each farewell comes the familiar promise more easily dispensed than kept: “I’ll call you. We’ll keep in touch.”
At what point in time did it become compulsory to follow partings with this signal of eventual disappointment? We’ve all said it at least once with the actual intention of following through, we say “yes, I will talk to you again,” only to get caught up in the daily grind and forgetting. On the other hand, we’ve also all said it multiple times fully knowing that there’s no chance in hell that it’ll happen. We lie, and we do it to dull the social severance.
I’ve had to dole out my share of little lies. Like many of my friends, I’ve moved away and started a new job, so I had to say my thanks and farewells to former roommates and co-workers. In a few months time I’ve grown quite close with some of these people, but there’s still the unfortunate reality that I likely won’t ever come across or speak to them again. Yet, I said my “I’ll-call-yous” and promised my “don’t-worry-I’ll-come-visits.”
Only one of these people came right out and said it: “Come on Irene, you know we won’t see each other again,” and I wished I was as forthright as he. But I didn’t want to believe it. I like to say things and mean them, but for most situations it’s just not realistic to do so.
Posted by irene n. at September 05, 2003 03:33 PM
The other aspect of parting is that they take a bit of our soul with them - the time and narratives you share with each other. It's like building a fire together, stoking it and putting logs in, or throwing useless crumpled up paper in the flame. Then you get to sit there and go, "hey, that's a great fire. I feel warm. I like watching the flame dance."
When people leave, they take a part of the fire with them... then you're left to build fires with strangers. It's okay, but it's a lot of work getting a good fire going. There's kindling to be placed and logs to be gathered. Sometimes you don't spend the energy to get it started because you're tired, the air's damp, the wood's wet, you don't need a fire. But sometimes people hangout, tell stories, jokes and drink and inadvertently get a bon fire going. Those are pretty cool.
I’d like to think I’m a man of my word. When I tell someone, “we should have dinner sometime soon,” I can usually be counted upon to phone the person at a reasonable time in the future to arrange such a meeting. On those rare occasions, however, when my words are mere lip-service, I wonder why I perform the seemingly needless verbal gesture.
I guess it comes down to a matter of manners. Sometimes anything else besides a promise of a future meeting will come off as rude or, to say the least, abrupt. Imagine this scenario. You’re waiting with a friend—maybe even an acquaintance—in between classes and your friend says, “Oh hey. Got class in five minutes.” To which you reply, “O.k. Bye.”
Now, for me, this seems like a perfectly reasonable and non-offensive exchange, but others, perhaps more well-mannered than myself, would say that this dialogue lacks elements of common courtesy. There are certain normative expectations to say more than simply “o.k. bye.” Even worse, suppose the friend goes on the offensive and says “See ya around?” What’s a person to say in that case, when there is no reciprocal desire to see that friend? What a predicament indeed. So, we say our small lies to be polite and remain functioning members of society.
But, I shouldn’t be so cynical. Perhaps the potential for deceit associated with an “I’ll give you a call some time” or a “we should hang out” just makes those rare occasions when someone does, in fact, make good on their word that much more valued. I think I like that.