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A Defense of the Jewish Goodbye

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The most popular story on Slate right now is a call for “ghosting,” or, in slightly more ethnophobic terms, the “Irish goodbye.” In it, Seth Stevenson argues that bidding adieu is inevitably awkward and therefore pointless and the expectation to do so should be done away with in polite society. Better to email or text your a host a thank you the following day, than stammer through a drawn-out goodbye late in the evening. He writes:

Goodbyes are, by their very nature, at least a mild bummer. They represent the waning of an evening or event. By the time we get to them, we’re often tired, drunk, or both. The short-timer just wants to go home to bed, while the night owl would prefer not to acknowledge the growing lateness of the hour. These sorts of goodbyes inevitably devolve into awkward small talk that lasts too long and then peters out. We vow vaguely to meet again, then linger for a moment, thinking of something else we might say before the whole exchange fizzles and we shuffle apart.

Jews, as popular lore goes, are incapable of ghosting. I, quite possibly because I am Jewish, am incapable of ghosting. As the old joke goes: “WASPs leave and don’t say goodbye, Jews say goodbye and don’t leave.”

I have always longed to be the type of person who can pull of this cool exit. (Is this due to a minor case of self-hatred rooted in my fear that I am a little too similar to “The Nanny” than I care to admit? Probably.) Instead, I am the very one who can often be found hovering under a doorway, purse on my arm, while last thoughts and feelings are swapped and improbable plans are made.

But reading Stevenson’s portrayal of the goodbyes he wishes to say goodbye to has made me realize just how glad I am to be part of a culture that sees the beauty of the exchange.

Stevenson hates goodbyes because, in his eyes, they involve two people suffering through a conversation they would rather avoid but feel powerless to stop. Seth, I don’t think it is the goodbye you should get rid of, it is your friends.

When I am engaged in a proper two-way Jewish goodbye, there is no awkward small talk or vague vows to meet again, and it doesn’t end with the conversation fizzling out and us shuffling apart. Instead, we rush to learn just a little more from one another, to tell each other how lovely it was to see their face and how we really wish it could happen more often. The duration of the goodbye is directly connected to the feeling of genuine affection between the parties parting—the longer it lasts the more we are blissing out on the magic of human connection.

Ghosting might be a fine way to go at a party of acquaintances, but I sure hope, before writing off goodbyes completely, that guys like Seth get to experience a good “Jewish” one. Goodbye.

Follow Elissa Strauss on Twitter at @elissaavery.

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