Goodbyes are hard, but they are the trade-off of life

“People change,” I continued after people say the cliche, “Time flies” as if I was always prepared to face the tragic irreversibility of the unrestorable being-in-the-moment state. Saying goodbye has become a frequent routine as I grew up, and when more and more people come and go, all I can do is just to witness it in helplessness.

I just ended a fleeting summer romance, again. With career path divergence that leads to long distance and incompatible schedules, the relationship was anticipated to be unworkable. My undergraduate study jumbles between Shanghai and Durham. We have frantically occupied schedules that make relationship-wise dedication now painfully hard. The newly blooming attraction also did not correlate with robust understanding for efficient communication.

Leaving behind the exquisite moments that have become paralyzed nostalgia, I hope that I can continue delightfully with my chosen path of an exciting future. Devastated and overwhelmed frequently, I wonder whether recurring breakups due to goal discordance are characteristic of adulthood. Time, attachment and memories bind me to the emotional despair of saying goodbyes.

Life is long, and I am still young and will meet new people. I get it. Maturity is when I realize and accept the implausibility of holding on to irredeemable moments with someone. But how many connections do I need to cut off in life in the course of growing up? If the important long-term goals ask for devoted time and resistance from distracting irrelevancies, how much will I have to sacrifice for the sake of efficiency and productivity?

“How life works,” he said, “is when one day you are here, and the next day you are somewhere else.” Heartbreakingly, life seems to be a route where one cannot pass through without seeing any permanent happiness turn into hurtfully ephemeral memories. This universal, ineluctable giving-up piques the question of the quid pro quo that life offers. Emotionally shattered though I am, I still keep walking on this journey because I expect the rewards worthy of my sacrifices. The uncertainty of what awaits me and the dubiousness from where it leads dishearten me sometimes.

  • Why give up the present affection for something I may or may not miserably agonize over after settling down?
  • Why is delay of gratification a must when we are young even though we are unaware of the location, time and quality of rewards ahead of us?
  • Why are humans designed to overcome the sufferings of losing what they love for the moment in the first place?

These questions prompt my reflection on the function and mechanism of enjoyment and sufferings that form human lives.

Is losing a must of growing up? Seeking to understand the principle of fairness, I wonder whether this give-and-take mechanism of life is fair. “Everything happens for a reason,” people repeat as if we have our fate destined before our eyes. But  the repetitive consolation of the will-be-met loved one does not help. The “what-ifs” iteration in every unwanted ending seems endless.

Our prefrontal cortices are not fully developed; our personality is not unalterable yet, and our experiences are not sufficient for future-impacting decisions. Maybe after a few months together, my vindictiveness towards his disparities will emerge; or his irritation towards my emotionality becomes visible. But what if life never grants me a chance to experience these long-term looming disagreements? I can only just affirm myself that the transitory attachments I will reminisce about in hindsight are also the experiences that life designates for me.

I am sure anyone deciding to go to Duke (or even farther to Duke Kunshan) has to leave at least one thing behind. For professional growth, academic engagement, adventurous fun, new clubs and friends or just for the sake of figuring out their lives. The inevitability of losing and giving in is so hurtfully regular to the point that no one is unaccustomed to it. The quasi-unattainability of a goal feels like a cyclical lifelong sequence of waiting, hoping and failing.

I hope we will figure out our own meaning of life that deserves what we are working towards. And if life allows me just a brief amount of time to experience things, I won’t hesitate to revel in or ache myself again in those temporary adventures anymore.

It’s sad that people make acquaintances with goodbyes and have to proudly call it maturity. But it takes strength and courage to leave something to get ahead, and that should be pride-worthy.

Chi Nghiem is a Duke Kunshan University second-year. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.


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