My goodbyes, au revoirs and bon voyages have started. I finished work this week, and as I was bidding farewell to my colleagues, some who are now friends, it raised some awkward questions.
Are we close enough to kiss? Do we feel comfortable enough to embrace? Is a handshake too formal?
I have tended to keep my work self very separate from my personal self. A few people have snuck past my hard work veneer, but as a general rule, work is work and home is home and never the twain shall meet. That said, I am not made of stone, and there are many people I have met at work who I have genuine affection for and I hope our friendships will continue and evolve into the future.
Others tend to treat work as the place to make new friendships and so to them, their work relationships are always personal. I went to a close friends birthday last night, and almost everyone in the room (including her partner) was someone she had met through a work place. She has built a great network of friendships this way, and it works well for her.
For me, particularly in the past few years, my work life has borne virtually no resemblance to my personal life, and it has been much easier for me to keep the two separated. I have gone through some very difficult and intimate experiences, so keeping my personal life away from work was part of my survival mechanism.
The first colleague I said goodbye to was actually a few weeks ago. I had worked with him for over 6 years, and to me he is now a friend. He is one of only four people at my workplace who knows exactly what personal experiences I have lived through in the past few years. Our friendship is completely platonic, my friend is married with two children. We catch up for lunch every month or so and just chat about our life and work. I really value his friendship and hope it will continue on the outside. He has gone overseas on holidays, so we bid our farewells early. After catching up for a coffee, we both got into the lift and continued our banter. But when the lift stopped and I had to get out, it dawned on us both that this would be the last time we would see each other for a long time. So in the middle of a full lift of work people, for the first time ever we gave each other a hug and kiss on the cheek and said goodbye.
It wasn’t awkward, just sad. He is someone I will miss.
Others were not so easy. There’s that guy who is just a little creepy. He was never inappropriate, but I never felt completely safe in his presence. I deliberately avoided being around him in my last few days just to be sure I could avoid any unwanted physical contact.
Then there is that person who is really nice, I have enjoyed working with them and truly wish them all the best. However I don’t feel like I know them on a personal level at all, and I certainly don’t feel like they know me. Our goodbye was awkward, as they felt the need to lean in and kiss my cheek. Thankfully this only lasted for a brief moment. I don’t know when it became the social norm to kiss people you don’t know well?
There were others who didn’t even bother to say goodbye. We weren’t friends, but we were colleagues for quite a while. I felt like perhaps I did deserve at least an “all the best”. But not a word, how rude!
Then there is the other extreme. That person who has worked with me for years and who I care a great deal about. Because I have always maintained a professional distance, they have always respected it and kept their distance. Even at arm’s length, there was still a lot of warmth and affection between us. In saying our goodbyes, I wanted to embrace them and wish them well…make them promise that they would stay in touch. But of course, even in farewells, they were respectful of the distance I had created, and gave me a quick kiss and wished me the best. I don’t know if they wanted to embrace, or perhaps I had read the relationship we had all wrong. I hope our friendship does continue, it will make me sad if it doesn’t. I suppose I will only know for sure in time.
Its funny how different people can see the same situation. The importance (or unimportance) that someone can have to me, can be completely different to how that person sees me in their life. In a workplace, you usually can’t tell what that relationship truly is, until you say goodbye, and then sit back and observe how others react. Leaving the place I have worked at for the past 6 years, certainly opened my eyes to this.
Regardless of relationships, I am still not convinced that kissing belongs anywhere in the workplace, outside of the workplace……well that’s a completely different story.