Your Divorce, Your Friendships, and Your New Expat Life
For many who experience divorce, it is a hideous journey. Even for those who initiate it, the sense of guilt and loss can be overwhelming. Divorce not only changes your daily life, it changes how you approach what remains of it.
Marriage is characterized by compromise; where you live, the job you keep, when you go to bed, when you wake up, how you spend your holidays and how you look by 9:00 on a Saturday morning. Most are loving compromises, accompanied by the belief that you are part of a team. You do it for the team.
Everyone wants a companionable life partner. You emerge from the loss of that ideal with a renewed commitment to live life on your own terms, if nothing else. You are bursting to make the most of what remains, to be happy again, even if it means changing careers, cities and friendships.
To cope with divorce, you need some new friends, people who don't know you only as part of a couple, people who never had to take a side or had opinions.
Counselors often advise a change of scenery. It can be as simple as changing a room or as complicated as moving to a new city. Many women relocate after a divorce and I was one of them.
My relocation was not to Mexico at first but rather to Colorado. Colorado had the type of women I wanted to hang out with; independent, fearless women who pitch their own tents and take orienteering courses (Or as one twenty-five year old guy mournfully put it to me on a Breckenridge ski lift one morning, “They don’t need us at all.)”
Five years later I decided on adding an additional element of adventure by alternating months in Denver with extended months in Mexico. During my first trip to Mazatlan, people told me every single expat they knew was there because of a bad break up. Hence I learned that other divorcees were even more bad-ass than me and had taken their re-locations to the next level.
The biggest issue remained. After having just spent five years re-building my social network after my divorce, what worried me most was how was I going maintain my new-ish friendships.
Would they feel abandoned each time I left for Mexico? I had worked very hard to start over in Colorado. Would I be throwing that all away?
I needed not have worried. The thing that your friends want for you, expect from you actually, is that you live your own life.
They want you to take charge of that life, not see you cower or cling to what's not working. Instead of turning away, I gained their respect as someone they didn't have to worry about.
My part-time expat life has enabled me to keep a healthy desire for intimate lasting friendships from developing into a dependence on them for every holiday. When I am in Denver, they are my first priority, rather than being on a sliding priority scale year-round.
They understood that at 55, my employment prospects as a generalist were pretty grim, and that this lifestyle would financially enable me maintain my standard of living. No one wants to watch a friend move into ever-less expensive apartments, every more sketchy neighborhoods. Taking jobs you hate and living a life you hate puts more pressure on friendships than simple absence does.
My friends in the U.S have active lives and are often gone themselves, traveling or visiting their families and children. What kind of message am I sending if I’m always available?
Life after divorce is a paradox. The quality of your friendships becomes more crucial and you need more friends, more people in general in your life. At the same time, you need to learn how to make your increased level of solitude work for you. Living abroad is a great framework for that.
Expat lives are always made up of joyous reunions and bittersweet partings. Now that I have departure deadlines, my friends and I put more effort into making plans in the time we have. A friend of mine wrote a poem about that phenomenon once, how everyone wants to see you, especially when you’re leaving.
Making friends in Mexico and has been easier than expected. Expats seek each other out and are more accepting of differences than they might be at home.
As a single expat, my relationships with Mexicans progress in a way that never could be achieved as part of a couple. New acquaintances don’t have to pass through a double filter of acceptance and language barriers. Only I decide. And them too of course.
The expat life bounces you around continually. Changes in scenery and context, the periods of settling in and pulling away shake up your complacency until you wake up to the day finally understanding once more, after all you've been through, how lucky you are to be here.
"Beating Loneliness as An Expat" - by Expat Arrivals is a little pessimistic but makes great points.
"Why I'm Thankful to Be An Expat" - from the Wall Street Journal.
Most recent: Some things you'll need to pack for long-term trips that you never would have dreamed of
Hi, I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering full or part-time expat life in Mexico, including "If Only I Had a Place," on renting the smart way in Mexico.
My first book was the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web.
Lesson plans that keep it fresh every day, and Spanish makes your life infinitely richer in Mexico.