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How To Keep The 'Good' In Goodbye
      Author:Elizabeth Bernstein     Source: http://cn.wsj.com     Release Time:7/6/2011 9:23:35 AM     View Times:18581
I recently moved to another city. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I don't mean the decision to move, or the packing (although they both were tough). What nearly did me in were the goodbyes.

I never thought it would be easy leaving good friends and colleagues. Still, I was unprepared for the many lunches and dinners where my friends and I cried -- and for the look on my best friend's face at my going-away party.

I didn't make the process easy. I dreaded leaving so much that I avoided telling people the actual date of my move. I became adept at diverting conversations to other topics. I picked a fight with a friend over, well, nothing at all, simply because it was easier to be mad than sad.

My friends, for their part, offered up reason after reason why moving would harm my career and love life. I still get at least one email a day asking when I plan to 'come home.'

People often underestimate how hard it is to adjust when an in-person relationship suddenly becomes long-distance. 'It leaves a big hole your life,' says Jill Kristal, a clinical psychologist in Larchmont, N.Y., whose business, Transitional Learning Curves, helps guide people through the emotional process of moving.

We may think Facebook and other social-networking sites, not to mention texting and Skype, will keep us close. But can a few sentences, or a photo or two, really take the place of seeing a friend in person?

Dr. Kristal remembers preparing to leave Boston years ago and how she picked a fight with her roommates -- over a carrot peeler. This type of arguing is a natural way to mask the pain of separation, she says. Anger, which is directed outward, can be empowering; sadness is internal. 'If you stay with anger, you don't have to deal with the sense of loss,' she says.

For 26 years, David Eddy, a 63-year-old software salesman in Boston, has regretted how he said goodbye -- or, rather, failed to say goodbye -- to a roommate. As he was leaving, Mr. Eddy shut his bedroom door and watched out the window as the taxi drove away. 'I never said goodbye to him since I didn't want to lose him,' says Mr. Eddy. 'I still kick myself for being such a dork.'

It is often harder to be the one left behind. The decision to leave is out of your control, says Irene S. Levine, a Chappaqua, N.Y. psychologist who writes a blog about friendship. The ones who are left see the move as a rejection of their city, workplace or way of life. They may feel envious that they weren't also able to get up and leave. And they may feel threatened that their friend will make new friends and forget them.

Such angst! My friends' discomfort made me think they might know something I didn't about how tricky it would be to go from a day-to-day friendship to a long-distance one. I decided to ask them: Could I have made the farewell process less difficult or more meaningful? What should we do to ensure our relationship stays strong? Here's what they said:

'I am having a hard enough time without you here to face the topic any further.'

'I don't want to talk about this, it's too painful.'

'Wait, did you move?'

I looked elsewhere for inspiration.

Alison Storm and four childhood friends from Sioux City, Iowa, live in five states in four time zones. They have stayed close for the past 10 years by circulating a book called a traveling journal. Each woman gets to keep it for a few weeks, writing down her memories of the friends, details of her current life, photos, even questions for her pals to answer. ('If you could go anywhere on vacation this year, where would it be?')

The diaries -- they are on their third -- contain crossed-out lists of addresses, photos of weddings and children, even a picture of one of them modeling a homemade faux-fur bikini. The journals also helped them share and process grief after one of their close friends died in a car accident. The women estimate the books have traveled 38,000 miles.

'It's like our history book -- you feel so much closer to your friends when you get it in the mail,' says Ms. Storm, 32, a freelance writer now living in Greenville, S.C. 'Unlike Facebook, we aren't sharing this with the whole world, and it's not there just for the moment,' she says. 'It's forever.' The friends started a website, www.thetravelingjournal.com, selling handmade journals and encouraging others to start their own traveling diaries.

After Erin Duvall, a 26-year-old writer, moved to Los Angeles last year for grad school, she found that email helped her become closer to a good friend in Nashville, Ashley Schwartau. The two rarely speak on the phone, but they do send each other long emails. 'It could be anything from a simple 'Hey, I saw this Harry Potter video' to a long 'Okay, so today so-and-so pissed me off and I hate their guts and they need to eat worms,' ' Ms. Duvall says.

The two found it easier to express feelings in emails than in person. Unlike in a conversation, there was no interrupting -- one person could 'speak' until she was finished, then the other responded. The fact that they weren't face-to-face made them less shy. 'I learned things about her I might not have learned,' says Ms. Duvall.

Three years ago, Susann Jarvis left Los Angeles, where she'd lived for 20 years, to return to her family in Rhode Island after her soy candle business failed. She says the move was 'a strange, small death.' She vowed to stay in touch with friends by phone and email. But with one friend, she shared her deepest thoughts and fears in handwritten letters, as if they were chatting in his living room. For a year-and-a-half, every week she stuffed the pages, along with mementos, into an envelope and mailed them off to him. Last year, when she moved back to Los Angeles, Ms. Jarvis hand-delivered the last package to her friend. 'We both felt as if I'd never been away,' she says.
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