I started applying to graduate schools in different cities last October. So for almost 8 months, people close to me have known that there was a good chance I’d be leaving Boston this summer.
There’s an advantage to a long goodbye. When you tell people you’re leaving, their love for you pours out. I’ve had people say that they wish they’d gotten to know me better, that our workplace will go to hell in a hand-basket without me, that I’m brave, that they’ll miss me, that it’s been good knowing me.
It’s been lovely to feel this outpouring of affection. But it’s made me wonder—why don’t we tell each other that stuff regularly?
Why don’t I tell my best friends at least once a week how much I love them, how important they are to me, how brave and sweet and impressive they are?
Emoting like that feels awkward, especially for us stoic New England types. Some of us need an excuse to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us.
We never know how much longer we have with anyone. With each goodbye, I’ve had to tangle with the fact that I may never see this particular person again. The reason that’s top of my mind is that I’m moving out of state for at least a couple of years. But honestly, it would be true even if I’d committed to living out the rest of my days here in Boston.
My evangelical friends tend to be pretty good at telling each other how much they care. There’s a tradition of praying for one another in small groups, in which you ask God to help people with whatever their issues are, to strengthen them to meet those challenges.
This is normal in religious Christian circles, but not in agnostic ones. Usually it takes something climactic, like a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, or a departure from town, to draw expressions of love and good wishes.
If we know our friends love us, then why must it be stated aloud? Why can’t we just believe it silently, and assume that we all know it about each other?
There’s an element of risk in stating those feelings. Kind of like being the first one in a new romantic relationship to say “I love you.” You put yourself out there, risking rejection, risking being thought awkward and weird, risking mockery.
Our culture allows verbal expressions of love in romantic relationships, and to some extent in family relationships, but not so much in friendships. I do hear younger women telling their platonic friends “I love you” as they say goodbye at the end of the night. But that feels like a reflex, rather than something that carries emotional weight.
The higher the risk, the greater the potential reward. It is a holy thing to have someone express their love verbally, because they are making themselves vulnerable. They are taking their armor off.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have close friends. For many years, I doubted that my friendships were as real or solid as those I saw around me. I used to hold myself back a lot, which made it harder for people to know me. I’m getting better at opening up, but it’s a skill I’m still learning.
Some people have been wounded so badly that they shield themselves from closeness. Others have pathologies that make it much easier for them to drive others away than to draw them in.
So if we have friends, we’re fortunate. And we should struggle daily not to take them for granted.
Let’s make an agreement. Let’s start telling our friends that they’re the best, that we’re so happy to have them around, that we know how rare true friendship is, that they do it well.
If it feels weird, that’s cool. Life is weird. Humans are weird. Relationships of all stripes are weird.
If we put our hearts on the line, more and more often, it becomes easier to do, and we get more adept at it.
Anything that increases the amount of love in the world can only be a good thing. Verbalizing that love shows us how strong a foundation we have right under our feet—if only we’d look down to see it.