Three Social Experiments that Helped Me Move to Mérida and Find Sobremesa

2017 and 2018 were the two hardest years of my life,

since divorcing in 2010.

Lesson after lesson, I learned the level of my resilience. However, as 2019 began, I realized how incredibly tired I was. Even though I have an amazing support team of friends and family, I am single and deal with the daily “stuff” alone.

I am home alone. I carry in my groceries alone. I cook alone. I sleep alone. I am around clients all day, yet I am still alone. My awareness of being alone became a prevalent factor in my day to day life.

Satisfaction with my quality of life was rapidly declining.

What was happening? Was I having a mid-life crisis? I didn’t feel crisis oriented. I just felt out of sorts and stuck. The interesting thing is that 2019 was rapidly becoming my most successful year in business yet I still felt like something was missing.

I yearned for something more, something different, something substantial. I had no idea what that looked like or how to go about getting it. I always ask clients, “What do you want? What are you willing to do to get it?” Now, it was time to ask myself those same questions.

The first thought was related to being alone.

My attempts at connecting with people whether it was dating, or social engagement left me feeling disengaged and disappointed. I began to question myself. Was it me that people were not wanting to engage with? I had an established, wonderful core group of friends who met on a regular basis. But my attempts at social interaction outside this group were unsuccessful.

My second thought was related to work-life balance.

I spent a lot of time involved with work as an entrepreneur, owning my own business and as a writer and author. I intentionally established a good work-life balance by taking time off for myself. Work was satisfying however life was not. This thought led me back to being alone. Feeling disengaged caused me to socially isolate myself.

Then, life decided I needed a few more curveballs.

My dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a misunderstanding over my birthday resulted in the loss of a friendship and a promising love relationship ended in disaster. What was I doing wrong? Did I go left when I should have gone right? Was I not making good decisions? My personal life sucked. If I didn’t make a tremendous change, 2019 would be another hard year.

As I asked myself the question, “What do I want?”, the only answer I came up with was not to feel this way any longer. In order to find the answer, I had to remove myself from my environment to get a different perspective. It’s extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to find answers by remaining in the same situation and location. One of my mantras is if you want to change your life, you have to change your environment.

When I get stuck, I travel to Mexico.

Mexico is the place where I disconnect from the world and reengage with myself. Mérida was on my radar. It made sense to book a trip there with the intention of discovering the answers to “what do I want and what am I willing to do to get it?”.

Mexico is not a country of convenience. It is a country of community and connection. Life is slower and, when life is slower, I can rest and allow the answers to appear rather than hunt for them in the confusion in my personal life. Many Mexican nationals know of Mérida but not many Americans do.

A brief overview of Mérida:

In 1542, Spanish conquerors founded and built the city on the site of the ancient Maya city of T’hó, one of the oldest and continually occupied cities in the Americas. They used many carved Maya stones as well as limestone to construct the colonial buildings found today in the historic city center. The white color of the limestone is the reason Mérida’s nickname is the White City.

Mérida was a walled city until the mid-19th century, built primarily to protect against periodic revolts by the indigenous Maya people. The colorful city gates, facades of the colonial-style houses and the architecture lend a charming and inviting atmosphere. Each neighborhood is centered around a park and a cathedral where people connect on a frequent basis.

Each time you say Mérida, people’s faces light up like you’ve said, “It’s Christmas everyday”.

I heard about Mérida through friends when working in the Riviera Maya. It wasn’t a surprise that my first trip to Mérida was magical, inspirational and stunning. As I walked around the city center, or Centro as it’s called, I experienced a deep release.

  • I let go of tension.

  • I connected to myself.

  • I learned about my needs and wants.

The answer to my questions slowly and softly appeared. I looked around. I observed people. I watched their interactions. I heard their laughter. I witnessed their connection. I felt their lack of stress. I sensed true community. I asked people why they lingered after a meal with no rush to leave or pressure from the waitstaff.

Over and over again, I heard the term “sobremesa”.

Sobremesa is the Spanish tradition of relaxing at the table after a heavy meal. It begins after dessert is served, and typically lasts between half an hour and an hour. During summertime and holidays, the practice tends to last longer. Sobremesa includes lingering at the table after a meal to tell stories, laugh, touch and talk about whatever is happening. The conversation flows naturally and effortlessly.

In the home, sobremesa can last for hours. In a restaurant, sobremesa can last for as long as you want. Waiters are not pressured to bring you the check as soon as you are finished eating. They only bring the check when you ask for it, indicating that YOU are finished and completely satisfied.

The best part of sobremesa? I can have sobremesa alone for undisturbed and uninterrupted reflection time. I can connect to myself, observe others and relax with no pressure to leave as soon as I’ve finished eating.

Could the practice of sobremesa be one of the things I was missing?

The feeling of being disconnected was not a new one. My efforts at social engagement were thwarted by people who would rather spend time on their phone or device vs. connect with an actual human. And, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Several of my friends have expressed the same feelings and shared similar experiences.

Over time, we’ve come up with some observations:

  • People are more emotionally attached to their “devices” than they are each other.

  • People will not commit to an engagement (meeting, drinks, dinner, etc.) until they know they will not have a better offer.

  • Fear of missing out or FOMO is creating a huge division between actual reality and perceived reality.

  • Social media, dating apps, likes and swiping are doing more harm than good. While social media is a bridge, it should not replace actual human interaction.

  • People aren’t getting their basic needs met through connecting, touching and communicating.

  • Roles are becoming more and more blurry causing confusion, disappointment and loss of purpose.

Keeping all of this in mind, I decided to initiate a series of social experiments upon my return from Mérida. I wanted to determine if the feeling of being disconnected was justified. If I was right, I knew I would have to make changes sooner rather than later.

My first social experiment involved dating.

My theory: the majority of people on dating apps are bored and don’t really want to meet in person OR they are so touch deprived that they use the app to meet for sex. Thus, the reason why so many apps have a reputation as hook-up sites however ALL sites can be used for hook-ups.

I joined Bumble, Match and Facebook Dating. This would give me a good cross reference for comparison and contrast. The results were staggering and supported my theory. Over a 90-day period, I received over 2,000 likes with 24 direct messages that were more substantial that just a simple “hi”. Out of these 24 messages, I spoke with 5 people over the phone and had only 3 meetings in person.

Proving my theory correct as well as my recent experience with being love-bombed, I am redefining my wants and needs with the opposite sex.

My next experiment involved random social engagement.

My theory: people are either afraid or unwilling to chat with strangers. People use their devices as a barrier keeping them from connecting to others. Those who are alone, feel even more lonely when they are out in public. Then, if given the opportunity to have the right conversation with the right person, they will dominate the conversation.

I visited a variety of restaurants and sat in the bar for drinks and occasionally a meal. Choosing casual to expensive provided a good range for conversation. Over and over again, my theory proved correct. Thirty outings resulted in four conversations in which the person was so keen on telling me about themselves and their troubles, I became the listener with no balance of back and forth.

The results of these two social experiments left me wondering why I continued to stay in Dallas.

I wanted to move for a while and realized there were a few factors keeping me from actually doing it.

I feel guilt from my divorce.

I left my children to go to Mexico once. If I did it again, would it bring up old wounds and distressing memories for us? I still had their father’s voice in my head mercilessly condemning me. I left because I needed to find the strength to stay in my marriage or the courage to leave it. I had to get away from the situation to see it clearly and realize staying was not an option.

I feel sadness and have for quite some time.

I know I disrupted my children’s lives with divorce as well as not following through with commitments after the divorce. After I was in a better place mentally and emotionally, I addressed my shortcomings and promised to do better. Recently, my sons told me that when I am sad it makes them sad. I have to be responsible for my own sadness; letting it go, healing and moving forward.

I feel a tremendous amount of self-doubt.

I knew I needed to do something different to feel better. Hanging onto life by a thin thread waiting to live life didn’t feel good anymore. Was I doing the right thing in thinking about moving? Was this the right time, the right situation, the right circumstances?

I had a huge A-HA moment: I was waiting for other people to live their lives so that I could live mine.

This is part of what kept me stuck. Is this the basis for a midlife crisis? Waiting for others to live, sacrificing our own needs and wants? I do believe we have an intrinsic desire to be needed and wanted. But was I carrying that too far? Forcing myself to stay in case someone needed me vs. taking care of myself first?

This is not what I teach my clients, and with this realization, I recognized I needed to create the life of joy, connection and community I desperately yearned for.

After only one week in Mérida, I knew it was the place for me.

I just needed to figure out how I could get soon as possible. When I returned to Dallas, there was a dull film on everything. My life felt flat, colorless and lifeless. My close friends and family knew I was not the same person as when I left. They could see that I was happier, brighter and more engaged when I spoke about Mérida.

I finally found my happy place and Mérida was it.

I knew what I wanted and needed to do but I had to be sure.

If my theory proved correct through one last social experiment, I could leave with no regrets, no questions and no looking back. Once I made the announcement I was moving to Mérida, people I hadn’t heard from in years suddenly wanted to get together before I left. I even had some Facebook “friends” I had never met request to see me.

My third social experiment involved inviting people to connect before I moved.

My theory: people say they want to get together but can’t, won’t or are unable to make the commitment or take the time to do so. I invited people to get together through a variety of methods including personal emails, social media invitations, text messages and newsletter announcements. A total of 6,500 invites were sent out. Less than 1% responded resulting in only 4 face to face meetings. At first, my feelings were hurt. Then I realized everyone is busy with their own lives and that is ok. What is not ok and most bothersome is this: people say they want to get together but at the end of the day they won't do it. What they say they want and what they actually do are two different things.

The outcome of this last experiment was something I experienced for many years. It was also one of the reasons I knew I had to make a HUGE change in my life. I wanted hard evidence through numbers to prove I was right.

I asked myself once again, “What do you want? What are you willing to do to get it?”

The answer to the first question was obvious. I wanted to move to Mérida as soon as possible. There is only one acceptable, universal answer to the second question. I am willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

I established a timeline for the move of Christmas Day. What a wonderful present for myself to begin a new life on a day of giving and receiving. My intention was to bring my sons with me to celebrate. I wanted to introduce them to the place where I found joy and peace. Unfortunately, these plans did not work out however I knew I had to stick to my timeline.

I had 90 days to get all my affairs in order, sell my house and my things, sub-lease my car and move. Sometimes it is better when you don’t have too much time to overthink decisions. I knew what my heart wanted. I wanted to be in Mérida, and I made it happen.

In just under three weeks, I feel a significant shift within my soul and spirit.

I am more alive here than I’ve been in a very long time. There is something different about the energy here. I am starting to realize why the Mayans felt so drawn to this magical and mystical location. It is full of wonder and surprises. It is a slower pace where people are more intent on getting together than they are spending time on their cell phone or social media.

Extensive travel and living in other countries taught me the importance of learning about other cultures. The ability to chat with a variety of people and travelers from all over the world helps me stay socially engaged. I love people and connecting with them through sharing stories and experiences is important.

People here are approachable, friendly and curious.

They want to know about me as much as I want to know about them. I am slowly building a new life step by step through patience and an open-heart while exploring and experiencing new things. There is something beautiful happening every day in the White City of Mérida. The wonderful people here contribute to that beauty.

Three social experiments helped me move to Mérida and find sobremesa so I could reconnect with myself and connect with others. This is what I’ve been missing for a very, very long time. Even though I am here by myself, I do not feel alone at all.