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How to Know When Saying Goodbye Is Saying I Love You

A certain avian family member lets his mama know his neck feathers itch and need scratching, like, right away!

Have you ever come home from an all-around sucky day, only to open your email inbox and realize the suck is just getting started?

This happened to me the other day.

I arrived home, sweating, starving and grumpy, anticipating a soothing shower and a quiet evening of scratching itchy avian neck feathers while playing “inbox catchup.”

What I got instead was a large dose of pure unadulterated electronic poison, courtesy of (as the song says) “somebody that I used to know.”

This someone was very special to me once, and for quite a long time. We met at a time when meeting each other seemed as much like a godsend as any meeting ever could.

This continued for years…decades, really. Then things started to shift, at least from my perspective. Where my preference was to learn from the past, drop it, and move forward, my dear friend seemed to have a preference for keeping the past up close and personal in a way that felt quite unproductive and hurtful to us both.

From here, slowly but surely, our paths started to part. Then one day, I arrived at a fork in the road. I looked around but my friend was nowhere in sight. I realized I was going to have to make a choice, and whatever I chose it wasn’t going to be an easy choice to make….or to enforce.

I chose the path that would have us part ways, whether for a time or for all time. All I knew was my presence in my friend’s life didn’t seem to be bearing fruit for either one of us, and it hadn’t been doing so for quite some time.

So I did the deed and held my breath, explaining my reasons as simply as I could and wishing my friend well. There was only silence on the other end. So I said a prayer and let go and took my first wobbling steps out onto my new solo path.

To my delight, the new path was everything I ever hoped it would be and more. As I’ve continued to travel that path, I can see how my life has become quieter, happier, more loving, simpler, sweeter and so much more open in every way. It is a great path for me – a near-perfect fit.

Of course, I have had moments of grief, anger, regret, second-guessing, self-recrimination – it is never easy to say goodbye.

But as time has worked its magic and I have slowly healed, I have felt better and stronger and more hopeful for us both, thinking that the parting has done me so much good and so surely my friend must have benefitted as well.

Then I opened my inbox the other day. The silence was broken at last, and, in a way quite typical of past relational patterns between us – i.e., it was broken as loudly and lengthily as possible.

It only took reading a few sentences for me to realize this might just be the most poisonous message I have ever received in my whole life.

As I read on, my fears were confirmed. It felt like someone had snuck up behind me and poured pure poison all over my heart. The writer had requested I read the entire message, so I kept reading – scanning, really – in an attempt to honor the request without literally poisoning myself to death in the process.

At the end of the message, inexplicably, the writer then requested that we renew our connection. I immediately closed my email and called my mentor.

I wasn’t breathing very well at this point. It had been a very long time since I have had to call my mentor for anything like this. My first question to her was simply, “why would someone who clearly hates everything about me want to have me as a friend?”

My mentor immediately gave me permission to delete the message without responding and reassured me I wasn’t the horrible, hateful person it had described.

We then talked for over an hour, catching up and sharing news, and returning to the topic of the message every so often when new fears or concerns would arise within me.

Thanks to Lynn’s love and kindness, I had a lovely, restful sleep that evening instead of laying awake all night hating and blaming myself and worrying I had all of the horrible qualities described in the letter and then some.

While talking with Lynn, it also hit home to me how much I have personally changed since parting ways with my old friend. That goodbye wasn’t the only difficult goodbye I said that year, yet those hard choices gave me the chance for a fresh start I could not have made in any other way – a fresh start I desperately desired and had worked so hard to receive.

For instance, I have far fewer friends now than I did back then, but those I do have now are pure love.  Truly – if one day I become like any one of them, I will be a lucky soul indeed. The same holds true of my heart connections with my family, my pets and my partner. There are many days now when I feel like the luckiest version of me that has ever lived.

My little casa is a haven and a home to me in a way no other place I’ve lived has ever felt like. My feathers and shells live happily here together, and we spend all day, every day together as I continue to build my work-from-home freelancing writing business.

In short, I have chosen to seek being happy, to work with what feels right and let go of the rest without second-guessing, to embrace the love that is there in every form, to draw close to nature, to do my best to weather the sucky days and keep my chin up throughout.

But it is still so hard to say goodbye, and even harder to enforce it. This very difficult choice has taught me that sometimes saying goodbye feels exactly the same as saying “I love you.”

How could it be anything else, when at the time you say it, it feels like the hardest and most impossible thing you have ever asked yourself to do, and yet any easier choice also feels so much less loving?

That is how it felt to me on the day I made the choice to say goodbye to this particular friend.

It still felt that way when I read my friend’s letter.

And it still feels that way right now, today.

Today’s Takeaway: Is there someone in your life that you feel you may need to part ways with because it is the most loving choice for you both? Or have you faced this choice in the past? Do you think that saying goodbye can sometimes be a form of saying “I love you” – why or why not?

How to Know When Saying Goodbye Is Saying I Love You

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2017). How to Know When Saying Goodbye Is Saying I Love You. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Nov 2017
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