Trading Divorce for Travel

Reflecting on it now, it seems appropriate that my husband and I took a weekend trip to sign our divorce papers.  At the time, I was living in New York City and he in San Diego.  In an attempt to be amicable, we decided to meet in Palm Springs for the “official” signing.  It was a typical Palm Springs weekend that we’d experienced dozens of times before: the air hot and dry, with oily and glistening leathery women sprawled out on chaise lounges around the pool.  The difference this time was that when we left on Monday, we would go our separate ways, to opposite ends of the country.  All the hopes and dreams we’d had for the future would drift away on the hot Santa Ana winds. 

Broken bonds

The bond I had with my husband was built on travel.  I met him while on vacation, the ice was broken when we discovered we shared our three favorite cities in the US (Austin, Savannah and New Orleans), and our relationship began with a long distance email exchange while he spent time in Australia.  It was within these cozy conversations that we decided our next move, as a couple, should be to travel the world together.  Shortly after – technically, our third date – we flew to Honolulu for a three-month stopover on our way to Taiwan.

It was within these cozy conversations that we decided our next move, as a couple, should be to travel the world together.

Hawaii was amazing.  We found a small apartment deep in Palolo Valley.  It was rat infested and mold saturated, but we loved it.  We hiked for miles through our backyard rainforest and had silly jobs scooping ice cream on Waikiki beach.  We ate poi and poke and learned how to kite surf.  We were within a few weeks of our departure to Taipei when the letters began to arrive.  My husband, a Harvard graduate and test-taking genius, had begun to receive “Congratulations!  You’ve been accepted” letters from law schools on the mainland.  He had applied months before, prior to our trip plans.  Something closely resembling a slow and painful downward spiral ensued.

A sinking ship

Relationships are messy.  They’re personal and complex and marvelous and perplexing all at once, and giving up on your dreams throws a curve into that chaos.  It is difficult to explain why we chose to abandon our desires in order to pursue what we thought was the American DreamSomething in those acceptance letters promised security and happiness, and we fell for that guarantee. 

With that decision our relationship began to unravel, one thread at a time, and continued to loosen and disentangle until we were miserable. We were working 14-hour days and struggling to pass ten contented minutes together.  Our travel fund was depleted by student loan bills and impossible California rents.  Our travel centered on visiting family and attending weddings.  We stopped doing things that we wanted to do, instead, we focused on meeting the expectations encircling us.

We stopped doing things that we wanted to do, instead, we focused on meeting the expectations encircling us.

The moment I felt settled in our routine was the moment I realized that we had to get out of it.  All talk of travel and seeing the world stopped and was replaced with talk of an impending partnership at my husband’s law firm.  I was about to graduate with a Master’s degree.  We were on the precipice of a long, shuddering sigh into complacency.

I couldn’t take it, so I left. 

I moved out of the house, away from the life I had feared and suddenly found myself suffocated by.  I pursued an opportunity in New York City; my husband stayed in California.  We shared sentiments of moving to a new place when he could secure a new job.  After a year, nothing had changed.  We decided it was time to go our separate ways.  Our relationship that had been built on desire to see the world, live in other cultures, and educate ourselves through travel just didn’t work without the dream.  So we let it go.

In April of 2011, we arrived in Palm Springs, signed the papers, and went our separate ways.

Going solo

California, the state we filed in, has a mandatory six-month waiting period.  During those six months, we kept in touch, albeit slightly with occasional phone calls and emails.  I was accepted into a summer program at Oxford University and jumped at the opportunity to spend time in England.

In the end, it was miserable.  I was lonely, intensely lonely.  As someone who relished in their “alone” time and never hesitated at the chance for a weekend alone, the loneliness hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had never experienced it before.  I dejectedly wandered round London, wistfully watching the couples giggling while snapping photos in front of Big Ben.  I thought I hungered for simple companionship – but no, I missed my husband.  This is what we had dreamed of doing together and experiencing it alone was heart wrenching, not liberating.

This is what we had dreamed of doing together and experiencing it alone was heart wrenching, not liberating.

My return to New York solidified it.  I couldn’t shake how much I missed my husband.  But we had signed the papers, given in to complacency and the American Dream, and followed the motions through to the inevitable filing for divorce.

It was too late.  Wasn’t it?  Back in NYC, jobless and alone, I found myself on my kitchen floor, half-packed to move home and half-lotus with my cell phone in hand, sobbing to my dad.  Almost immediately after deciding to move home, I received a call offering me my “dream job.”  Yet I cried so hard as I told my dad the good news that I had to repeat myself 3 times before he understood.

His response might be the single kick-in-the-pants that halted my downward spiral and gave me the strength to start the long, difficult climb back up.  He said, “Well, if the job offer makes you cry this hard, it probably isn’t what you want, is it?”

What I wanted was to travel the world with my husband; it’s what I always wanted.  What I needed was the courage to go for it.

No, it wasn’t.  What I wanted was to travel the world with my husband; it’s what I always wanted.  What I needed was the courage to go for it.

A step in a new direction

I started the conversation with my husband.  He was also feeling depressed – he’d gained 100 pounds, hated his job and his life in California, and felt that sinking feeling of life unwanted.  Like me, he lacked the courage to take that leap.

I remember exactly how it started.  I asked him one night, as we Skyped from 3500 miles apart: “If you could visit any three countries in the world that start with the letter “C”, where would you go?”

His answer:  Colombia, Cambodia and the Congo.  The floodgates opened.

How about “I” countries?  India, Indonesia and Italy?  Me too!

So it went for weeks.  I began researching RTW trips and found the delicious world of RTW blogs.  I was hooked – and convinced.  We could do it.  We could turn back the clock and do what we had set out to do.

No one agreed.  We faced a variety of reactions.  We experienced some jealousy from acquaintances and co-workers.  Our close friends and family – those who knew about the impending divorce – were skeptical.  Very skeptical.  Downright worried.  Each of our family members reacted differently – some were shocked but excited, others completely bewildered by our decision, and still others were simply angry.  They thought it was a wonderful decision, a perplexing decision, a terrible decision.

It was our decision and one we were proud of making together…One that, after ten years of making decisions to fit in with other’s expectations, we finally made based solely on what we wanted out of life.

It was difficult to listen to their advice and feedback, nod politely, and then go on about the business of planning without dwelling on the opinions.  Regardless of what kind of decision it was – stupid, terrible, brilliant – it was our decision and one we were proud of making together.  One we would stick to this time around.  One that, after ten years of making decisions to fit in with other’s expectations, we finally made based solely on what we wanted out of life.

Two days – literally – before our divorce was finalized, my husband went to the court and reversed the filing.  On that day – December 14th, 2011 – our journey commenced.  We spent the next nine months struggling through the planning and saving process, the medical exams and inoculations, the fear of my husband leaving his 6-figure salary, and the pain and joys of renewing a relationship.  The following September, we boarded a one-way flight to Dublin, Ireland. 

Our dreams realized

Making the decision to leave our static life behind was the single most terrifying and extraordinarily liberating choice we have made in our ten-year relationship.

Making the decision to leave our static life behind was the single most terrifying and extraordinarily liberating choice we have made in our ten-year relationship.  In comparison, the decision to divorce was effortless, the decision to leave Hawaii, painless.  Somehow, the most difficult decision turned out to be the right choice.

The easy decisions were the wrong decisions. 

While our relationship hasn’t mended, it is healing.  I am proud of my husband and I for stepping away from the cliff, the simple jump, the easy way out.  We chose the path less taken, and it started the healing process.  I believe our future youngsters will thank us.

And yes, we did become one of those annoying giggling couples snapping pictures in front of Big Ben.

Read more inspirational travel stories from normal people who have made travel a top priority and check out resources to help you do the same:

Photo credits: Geoff Livingston, tony.evans, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

 

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