No ‘I love you’ At The Airport.

The first thing I do when I wake up is to check the news. I shouldn’t really – I come away from my phone screen usually with more to feel concerned about then I had going to sleep the night before, inevitably needing the whole day to process the various worrying items from that morning.

Though I feel this habit flies in the face of every nugget of advice regarding well-being I have ever been given, I like the idea that the information is stored away somewhere ready for me to either deploy in conversation or for what I have read to make sense with the assistance of some life experience. Some things have to be lived to be understood.

The latter was the case with this article which initially I skimmed on the date of it’s publication and then found myself citing at the weekend. The conversation had turned to films; I have a pathetically limited knowledge of the cinema. In the seconds before I brought this article out to my defence I wondered to what extent I read in order to plug the gaps and why I would be uncomfortable with exposing the gaps in the first place. Do I actually expect myself to be able to comment on everything?

We were staying with friends of my boyfriend (who departs for India tomorrow) in Amsterdam for the weekend. Because they are his friends I find that I measure more carefully than usual my prospective contributions to any discussion. There seems to be more at stake than sitting in the car with my own childhood friends, where any potentially wayward or throwaway comments do little to tarnish the years accumulated together.

So when I brought up the article and the things that only happen in films what I hoped for happened: there was a moment of introspection with everyone thinking about those scenarios which rarely occur in real life and thereafter a sharing of those thoughts to the agreement or disagreement of the others. Despite having read the article which prompted the discussion I had little original content to add. Either I haven’t seen enough movies or my life is one.

The next morning we drove to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. The drive to the airport, any airport, with someone who is not accompanying you on the forward journey is a very particular kind of drive.  The already confined space of the car is further crowded with things unsaid – promises or apologies or secrets you’ve been keeping. The larger the terminal looms the more likely you are to blurt out something that sounds like a verbal last will and testament.

Where once I was somewhat of a Goldilocks on the days of my departures – arriving too early or almost too late – I now understand the stages I will go through. I can plan the time needed accordingly. I know I usually cry for example; I know that recently my bags have been selected for a random search and I know that I can breeze through airport shopping without being in the slightest sense tempted. If I haven’t already bought you a gift before arriving at the airport, you won’t be getting one.

I should be used to saying goodbye to him by now. Yet despite the painful preamble in the form of the drive to the terminal and our typical coffee in the minutes before either one of us passes through the security gate, whenever I make eye contact and say it, ‘goodbye’, I can feel the pressure of the tears.

A couple of months ago I stopped trying to force myself not to cry. Like most things, the more you tell yourself not to do it you will inevitably feel drawn to do just whatever it is you’re trying to avoid. It would take incredible will-power for me to disengage from the heightened emotional atmosphere of a departure day nor do I entirely think that I should be aiming for such a total response. Surely feeling is the clearest way to know you’re alive and that certain things matter. What better way to divine a sense of purpose than to know what it is that you will miss letting go off and what you will look forward to welcoming back into your life.

We hugged, we kissed, before disappearing around the corner to the security queue I looked back and he says he stayed until he couldn’t see me anymore. Objectively there is no right or wrong way to say goodbye. And yet when I was mounting the stairs to join the queue I panicked when I realised what had not been said in our parting moment.

I did rush to the balcony overlooking the departures floor to see if I could catch him a last time, fully intending to shout the words I perceived to be missing down to him. It would have been a truly cinematic moment had he been there still and I had succeeded in shouting I love you and hopefully hearing it in response. As it was he had already left and I walked the length of Schiphol, passing the various distractions and checks, bothered by the this sense of what had been absent from our goodbye.

The truth is that neither of us had obviously thought about saying it. Whether this means that in our own company the I love you is always present and does not need explicit stating, or something else, I don’t quite know. While waiting at the gate to board I sifted through all our previous goodbyes, desperate to know what it meant should I discover that this had been the first without either one of us saying what we had not that morning.

I realised that though this goodbye had differed, and that yes other times we had both said I love you, the idea that there should be a formula for a goodbye was ridiculous. There I was attempting to define a structure for the ways in which we should leave one another though each time had been and will invariably be different: holidays, funerals, job interviews, solo-travel. In our shared history there were probably moments where making the declaration of love wasn’t necessary, perhaps wasn’t needed and may only have been there as a result of the fear of maybe never seeing one another again.

And then of course I wondered to what extent my thinking that these words should feature in a goodbye is the result of all that cinema, shaped by countless demonstrations of love in airports on the screen. Even I have not escaped the cinematic trope that the last words we should say to someone is that we love them, least we never set eyes on them after that moment. It isn’t wrong to say I love you at the airport but it isn’t wrong to leave it out either.

What I felt that morning in the airport was what was expressed. That the word love didn’t feature could be the starting point for all kinds of concern regarding our feelings toward one another however I don’t think I will let it become that. It almost seems cliché to worry about it.

The romantic goodbyes and declarations of love at departure gates do happen I am sure but they also don’t which is fine too because it is human.  The next time I am back in Amsterdam I will bring up this conversation again and add that only in films are we treated to the ‘perfect goodbye’.




Article referenced: is here with the follow-up here. Credit to the authors, readers and The Guardian.

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