For many who experience divorce later in life 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. You're never the same as before.
Marriage does a good deal toward defining your day; affecting the neighborhood you live in, when you go to bed, when you wake up, how you spend your holidays, and how far you can go looking your worst at home. After a divorce, that sense of direction that a partner can give you goes away.
In any marriage you give up things. Many emerge from a divorce with a fierce desire to at live life on their own terms after many years of compromise “Now, it’s my turn”….or in other words, WTF. The only good thing about divorce when you are older is that freedom to consider only your own happiness (unless of course you are a caregiver). You might be able change careers or move to another city.
Counselors often advise a change of scenery after a divorce. It can be as simple as changing a room or as complicated as moving. Many women relocate after a divorce. I don’t have the statistics, but I am willing to bet women do it more often than men.
My relocation after divorce was not to Mexico but rather to Colorado. Colorado seemed to attract the type of women I wanted to hang out with post-divorce; independent, fearless women who pitched their own tents and took orienteering courses (as one twenty-five year old mournfully put it to me on a Breckenridge ski lift one morning, “they don’t need us at all.)”
Five years after moving to Denver I decided to add an additional element of adventure by alternating months in Denver with extended months in Mexico. During my first trip to Mazatlán, people told me every expat they knew who was single was there because of a bad break up (hence I discovered that other divorcees were just as bad-ass as me).
Life after divorce shifts your focus to friends. The quality of your friendships becomes more crucial than ever. You need more of them, more people in general in your life to take up the space than had been taken by one person.
Even ten new friends can't take the place of living with someone and having companionship every day. You need to learn how to make the unavoidable extra time alone work for you. Living abroad is a great framework for learning to be quiet in a room. Most expats report that living in another country has put them more at peace with themselves and being alone.
I had spent five years after my divorce building a new social network in Denver before deciding to move to Mexico part-time. The big question was how was I going maintain those new-ish friendships at home while I was in Mexico? How was I going to keep having people to come home to? 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?
As it happend, I needed not to have worried. The thing that your friends want for you, expect from you actually, is that you live your own life successfully. They are living their own lives. One day they might surprise you by re-locating themselves. Nothing stays the same. Neither do we.
Friends want you to take charge of your life, not see you cower or cling to what's not working. Instead of turning away, I hope I kept my reputation as someone they didn't have to worry about. When I'm home, I’m not shy about insisting on getting together a little more often than I did when I lived in Colorado full-time. I realize that as the one who left, that burden is more mine. I make them a priority over work and errands, something none of us did very well before I left.
My part-time expat life enabled me to keep a healthy desire for intimate friendships from developing into a dependence on them for every holiday. 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 would I be sending if I was always available?
My friends watched me struggle with finding work in those lean years after the Great Recession. No one wants to watch a friend move into ever-less expensive apartments, ever more sketchy neighborhoods. I explained how a part-time expat lifestyle would enable me maintain my standard of living. Being unhappy, taking jobs you hate and living a meager life puts more pressure on friendships than any absence does.
Part-time 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 if I were part of a couple. New acquaintances don’t have to pass through a double filter (mine and that of a spouse). Only I decide. And them too of course.
My friendships in the United States remain, I believe, just as close as they were when I lived in the U.S. full time. If I had to count our hours together, I would venture to bet that the number of hours spent together are roughly the same as they were before I started coming to Mexico. We just compress those occasions into fewer months.
The expat life bounces you around continually. Changes in scenery and context, the periods of settling in and then pulling away shakes up your complacency. Finally you wake up one day after all you've been through realizing once again 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
About the author:
Kerry Baker is 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. The book is a practical guide to expat life by building a strong foundation through where you live.
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.