40 By 40 #11: Take a Trip With Friends
A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out — Walter Winchell
I was sitting on a beautiful beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico a few weeks ago. It was warm and sunny, I was lounging in my chair and just listening to the waves crashing on the beach. I was having drinks brought to me to keep myself cool. Horses made their way up and down the beach, available for anyone who wished to take a ride. Parasailers taking off and landing, vendors politely offering souvenirs, and tents for beachside massages. It was paradise, thinking of it now instantly relaxes me and makes me smile. Although I have traveled alone as a goal, this trip I was not traveling alone. With me were two friends who had decided to join me on this adventure. I remember thinking as we were chilling on that beach, and then saying out loud, “It’s crazy how not even a year ago I didn’t know who either of you were, and now here we are having an awesome time”. I was glad I made taking a trip with friends a goal.
Over the last 365 plus days, I’ve had to readjust my life in so many ways. A big part of that adjustment was realizing many things that I had thought to be true, were in fact not. One major area of my life that has gone through quite the change is friendship.
Growing up I was fortunate that I was always able to make friends. My first and longest friendships are with my brothers, a few years younger than me, but I can’t remember a time when they did not exist. In school I always had friends. Elementary, High School, College, as I went through each phase I made friends. Although what tended to happen was after I left one school and went to the next, the friendships I had tended to fade. Thankfully Facebook has allowed me to reconnect and stay in touch at least a little with people, but unfortunately I’m nowhere near as close to any of them as I once was.
After graduating and starting my teaching career, I again was able to start making friends. Fellow teachers and coaches became my core group. Also as part of a married couple, I was able to become friends with their spouses as well. My ex had made some work friends and it was the same deal there. So I felt pretty comfortable with my friendships. I had my individual friends, as well as couple friends, and most of those overlapped. When we moved further North, I made it a point to keep those friendships going as best as I could, because I didn’t want them to end up like previous ones where we just lost touch and faded away. Thankfully I was able to do that and maintained regular contact, while expanding our circle in our new locations.
I really enjoyed my friendship situation for a long time. I made some closer friends, while also having a larger pool of friends that were fun for hanging out, playing games, having parties, and other social opportunities. One thing was constant though over that time, and that was my best friend was my ex wife. Starting from when we met in college, we became super close, super fast. From that point on, she was the one I went to when I needed someone to talk to. She was always my first choice when it came to wanting to do anything with. While it is good that you like your spouse and want to do things with them, it can sometimes become a problem if you feel like you need them to do things with you or else you won’t enjoy them. That was the situation I found myself in. But it didn’t really matter much because we were still together a lot and were able to have regular outings with friends.
When I was told that a divorce was coming, I braced myself and tried to prepare for the many changes it would bring. Many of those I was able to predict, however one that really caught me off guard was how much it would change my friendships. The first and most obvious change was that I lost my best friend. Because my ex had always served as my best friend throughout our relationship, I had no one to talk to about what I was going through and feeling. It was so bad that I made the mistake several times of trying to open back up to her about what I was feeling, but I always felt like crap after because it was always just met with more rejection.
As the process moved forward, it started becoming more public what was happening. At first this was a relief for me because it allowed me to let people know what was going on and why we weren’t doing things as a couple. However, I immediately lost all the couples socialization and experiences that I had also come to love and rely on. So I found myself living alone, with half of my days and nights with no kids, but the people I had come to rely on as my friends were suddenly gone. I did receive some support from some of my closer friends, they offered their ears and time, and a few I was able to set up times to hang out in person, but it was definitely a vacuum that had been created. I think a big part of this is that when someone is going through something like a divorce, it becomes more awkward to reach out. What are they going to say? Are they going to just complain and be bitter? Will they expect me to take a side? I’ve found myself with similar thoughts in the past when people I knew went through something tough. It wasn’t that I didn’t care or didn’t want to help, I just didn’t know how, and so it became easier to just kind of not do anything.
I think it’s true that when times are tough, you find out who your real friends are. Despite this big hole in my life, I was blessed to find that I had some friends who were making the effort to reach out to me, to check in, and to find time to hang out. It was eye opening to me to see how some friends I had looked more at as acquaintances actually have become much closer, while others I thought I had a bond with I’ve barely seen or heard from. Having now been more than a year into this, I’m in a much better spot when it comes to understanding friendship. I am better able to understand the difference between a true friend, and someone with whom you are friendly. By understanding that difference, I’m better able to accept that some people are just not meant to be in my life as close friends, and it’s ok just to be friendly with them when our paths do cross.
Another big blessing that has come out of this last year, is that I have been able to meet a lot of new people, and develop many new friendships. I’ve joined a few Facebook groups aimed at connecting Single Parents with each other to provide support and social opportunities both for adults and for kids. I can’t begin to describe how important these groups have been to me and allow me to still go out and do things regularly despite having lost my connections to my previous friend circles. There are many people I could name and talk about how important they’ve been to me, but then this would get much longer than it already is. Instead I want to mention two of my friends that joined me on this trip.
August of 2021 was quite the month for me. Actually if you extend the month by a week each direction, it really was quite the stretch for me. On July 27th my 16 year marriage legally ended by teleconference. 7 months before that date I was in Cancun with my wife and 5 other couples. It was a fun 4 night trip. It would also be the last “couples” activity of any kind I’ve experienced since. As I wrote before, 4 nights after returning, the same length of the trip itself, I was told that the marriage was over. I look back on that trip and what I miss about it the most wasn’t being married, it was the fun of being part of a group of friends enjoying life and each others company.
As August continued I moved on with my new life as a divorced Dad by meeting with my fellow coaches for my Son’s upcoming football season. There would be 3 coaches that season, including myself. One was my good friend Chris, the other was someone I met for the first time, DaVonte. I got to know DaVonte better over the season, and although he’s a decade younger than I am, I found that we had a lot in common. To be honest if I had still been married I probably wouldn’t have reached out as much, but because I’m in making friends mode now, I’m glad that I did so. He’s an awesome guy, and an amazing Dad, and a lot of fun to be around.
As the month was coming to a close, I was starting to feel better. My knee was healing, but more importantly my heart was healing. I had accepted what I had believed to be the truth of the end of my marriage and was ready to move forward. Then, on August 31st, I met another friend for the first time. I remember I was just hanging in my living room by myself, and I saw I had a facebook message. I opened it up and it was a woman reaching out to me about how our children had met, and she wanted to introduce herself to me so that if there were ever any issues we could be in contact. At first I thought it was a case of mistaken identity since my kids were so much older than hers, and her location was so far away it couldn’t have been a school parent. So I said I think you have me confused with someone else. She didn’t. It turns out my kids had in fact met hers because our two exes were dating, and had hung out with them several times over the month. Then I found out that this relationship was not new, it went back to at least the previous year, to the time I was struggling so much and felt so much distance. It had all been kept one big secret, and the two of them had been planning their divorces from their partners that whole time.
So that’s how I met Jess. Since then we’ve become close friends. At first it was more about having someone who understood our exact situations and being able to share that pain. But as time went on I got to know her better and see what an awesome person she is and we get along great. It’s funny how in some of the most painful circumstances possible something good can come out of it. In this case of finding out about the reasons for my marriage ending, I made a new friend.
When I floated the idea of doing a Spring Break trip to all of my friends, I had many people that were interested. Unfortunately because of shorter notice, there were many who were not able to make it work for this trip. But I was fortunate that DaVonte and Jess said they’d come along to Puerto Vallarta with me. We had an amazing week. We relaxed by the beach, got massages, met lots of new people in the pool, ate awesome food, saw amazing shows, basically lived it up for a week. During the week we were able to continue to get to know each other all better, and I’m hopeful that as I plan more group trips, that they will come and enjoy those as well.
So for this goal, I took a trip with friends. They aren’t my oldest friends, but as I’ve learned going through this, you don’t have to know someone for a long time in order to feel like you know them well. I plan to continue to go out and find opportunities to meet new people, reconnect with old friends, and make new friends along the way. One day I’d like to have a best friend who is also my partner again. I know now how important it is though to make sure that I’m nurturing my other relationships as well so I don’t become too absorbed with any one person. There are many great days, and great trips, ahead. If you’re reading this and you want in on them, stay tuned, I’m sure I’ll be putting them together often!
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