How to Find Closure When You Don’t Get a Goodbye

When you think too much about someone who doesn’t think about you at all.

You’re not sure what made you reach out, late one evening, when you saw she’d moved to the same city as you. You carefully type out the letters: nonchalant, carefree.

Hey, small world, what brings you to Boston?

You don’t know why, after seven years of not speaking to her, after seven years of trying your best not to think about her, you ask if she’d like to meet up.

I’m free this Saturday morning — any chance you want to grab a drink?

You do know that she’s been in the city for three weeks. You know, because her post on Facebook about her big move crossed your timeline. You’ve watched her Snapchat story about moving in, seen her Instagram post about her first day at her new job.

You know more than you let on to her, in that initial message. But you can’t tell her.

You don’t say, for example, that you’ve been waiting for her to get in touch with you — hoping she would, in fact, posting more than normal on your own social media, location tagging every image, waiting for her to realize you’re here in the same town. You have anxiously scrolled through the list of people who have watched your stories or liked your posts to see if her name comes up. You’ve been disappointed when it hasn’t. You read too much into it.

Finally, though, after three weeks of silence, you reach out. Maybe she just hasn’t seen the posts. Maybe she’s too afraid. Maybe it has to be you who takes that first step. You hit send.

After two days of leaving the message unread (and two days of you reflexively checking when she was last online, and whether the message had been opened, and fretting about what will happen if she doesn’t reply), she responds.

Hey, yeah, I’d love to hang out on Saturday! Shall we go to Tatte?

You agree that sounds good and nervously wait for the day to arrive.

Does she remember? Does she care? You dream about her that night. You wonder what she thinks of you, and what she thinks of what happened between you.

Photo by Honey Fangs on Unsplash

The morning you’re meeting up with her, you carefully pick out your clothes, some of which you ordered online especially for this meeting.

It’s crucial to look flawlessly put-together, but without making it look like you tried hard. You’ve gone through three different outfits before you find one that’s the right amount of curated but still carefree — the natural look.

You choose boots with a small heel and walk to the cafe to ensure your cheeks are rosy from the cold rather than artificial means.

She hasn’t messaged you since you arranged the catch-up a few days ago. You didn’t want to get in touch with her again — didn’t want her to think you cared very much at all — so you’re unsure of where to wait. Outside? Too desperate? Inside, so you can pretend to be browsing on your phone when she comes in?

You end up choosing to wait outside. The minutes peel by, one at a time, with you trying to triangulate which direction she’d be coming from, so you know which direction not to look in. You check your phone again — no messages — and put it back in your pocket. It’s thirteen minutes after the time you’d settled on.

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

You pull out your phone again to check it again when it buzzes, startling you so much you nearly drop it.

It’s a message from another friend. Annoyed, you put the phone away in your pocket, resolving not to check it but to just go in and order.

“Hey!” she says, materializing in front of you with a smile. You endure one moment of excruciating uncertainty — hug? No hug? — before she reaches for the door handle to go inside, putting you out of your misery. No hug. OK.

Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

She looks cool — glammed up. Instantly you understand that you have made a mistake in dressing down. She has so little regard for what you think about her that she hasn’t even bothered to try not to look good, unlike you.

You regret your casual look. It makes you look sloppy, and simultaneously like you are keen on not looking like you’ve tried too hard, even though you obviously have. What must she think of you?

She, meanwhile, glides into the cafe on her stilettos, holding the door open for you. She does not acknowledge the fact that she is late.

The menus are in a wire basket on a pillar as you come in. You pick one up and stare at it, desperately trying to find something to order that will make you seem effortlessly cool like her. She glances at it casually and makes her way to the counter.

How does she already know what to order?

You barely notice what she gets (steamed chai latte with a Danish) as you fumble to choose something. You end up ordering black coffee (now she’s going to think you’re worried you’re fat) and a Danish, too (and now she’ll think you’re copying her).

She sits down, sweeping her skirt under her and settling at the table while you both wait for your orders. You uncertainly sit down as well, pasting a smile on as you try to figure out what the tone is going to be.

Photo by Banter Snaps on Unsplash

“So, how’s it going?” she asks with an easy smile.

Relieved, you answer. You give her the highlight reel, with just enough self-deprecation thrown in to make it realistic. She smiles, laughs and frowns in all the right places.

“Sorry I’m late — ” she says, finally, “ — but to be honest I completely forgot we were doing this! I was caught up at my boyfriend’s house — ”

You tune out. She forgot? This has been eating at you for weeks and she actually forgot?

You nearly started an affair with this woman in front of her last partner seven years ago and she forgot that you were meeting to have coffee.

You believed she would think you were still obsessed with her, still thinking about her, still worrying about her when in fact, you realize in a flash of insight, she has not thought about you at all.

You tune back in. “ — so thank goodness that reminded me!”

Belatedly you wonder if there was anything you needed to respond to in that, and decide on a smile.

There’s no need to respond. She has completely moved on.

Although she was a huge part of your life, you barely touched hers.

All this time, you thought she was restraining herself from getting back in touch with you. You imagined her relief when you messaged her. You considered how excited she must have been, and nervous, at the thought of seeing you again.

But now, you are forced to realize she did not ignore you for two days, she most likely just forgot. You realize she did not choose the outfit to impress you, it was just what she had on. You realize she was not late in order to make you wait, but because you are so insignificant that the event slipped her mind.

You realize everything, very suddenly, just in time for her to ask you a question.

And as the weight of this realization crashes down on you, you’re able to let go. You answer, weight lifted for the first time in seven years.

An hour later, she checks her watch and sighs. It’s been an uneventful coffee. The Danish was excellent. The conversation was casual.

“I should get going. It’s great to get back in touch with you and hear how you’re doing!” she says, checking her phone for notifications.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

You wonder if you should make an offer to see her again — you wonder if she is about to.

She does not.

And you are startled to feel that you don’t need to see her anymore, either. This was enough.

The realization that she was not interested in staying in touch with you would have hurt you, before, but you come to terms with the fact that this drink, this Saturday morning meet-up, this hour of casual chit chat is exactly enough to close your old wounds and move on. You let go of all the longing, the worry, the second-guessing. The dreams of talking about old drinks and old friends, of understanding what was going through her mind, or telling her what was on yours, they are finally floating away from you, and you’re surprised to see they were heavy to hang on to all these years.

You will never get the big dramatic declaration. You will never get an explanation. You will never be atoned for your past mistakes.

But you don’t need them. This was exactly enough. You hug goodbye, and walk home. You do not check your phone to see if she has messaged you, and when you arrive at your apartment, you see your answering machine is blinking.

Hey, we haven’t talked in forever, but do you want to catch up sometime?

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MSc by Research. Psychology nerd. She/her.

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