“We love the things we love for what they are.”
I like to think I’ve grown up over the past few years and I like to credit the changes (hopefully for the better) to those around me. I’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s impacted my life more than my friend, travel buddy, and DKMV co-founder- Zoran Pavlovic.
Zoran and I met at Creighton and while we were friends during college we didn’t really become close until we backpacked Europe together in 2014. How that all came about is a story unto itself, but the short version is while I was living in the Czech Republic, Zoran messaged me, told me he had an extra ticket for Tomorrowland (bucket list item for me) that he’d give me – for free (that’s the kind of guy he is). It wasn’t a hard sell. He also mentioned he was spending the 6 weeks prior backpacking Europe with an Australian named Philippe and told me I was welcome to join (another enthusiastic yes).
Honestly looking back, meeting up with them in Berlin was a decision that not only changed my life, but the lives of everyone we’ve met and brought together since (looking at you DKMV). I can trace so many amazing memories, friendships, and life-altering moments directly to my friendship with Zoran.
But this post isn’t about Zoran and me.
It’s about Zoran and Priya.
Last month, Zoran and Priya, two of my best friends in the world, got married and it was magical. People from all over the world (a testament to Zoran and Priya as people) flew into Aspen to see them officially named husband and wife.
But here’s the thing, there were a lot of people, after all, it was an Indian wedding and Z and Priya are pretty popular. For example, Zoran had 13 groomsmen. 13. That’s a big number.
When he asked the groomsmen group chat who wanted to give a speech at the wedding I didn’t volunteer knowing there were plenty of people willing and able. If Zoran wanted me to give a speech he would have asked me directly right? I mean, I thought we were close, but maybe he’s close with everyone. Why give a speech when I knew Neil, Sam, or Saad could do it better?
Only after multiple people pulled me aside noting surprise that I hadn’t said anything (Zoran included), did I realize I fucked up. I should have said a few words at the very least, after all these are two of my favorite people in the world. Instead of missing the opportunity completely I decided to turn my what-could-have-been speech into a blog. It won’t be as good as Saad’s powerpoint presentation, but better late than never, right? Plus, I like to think of myself more as a writer than speech giver anyway.
Below, you’ll find the speech I would have tried to give if I’d had the nerve to stand up in front of 250+ people and talk about Zoran, Priya, their love, and what it’s meant to me.
One quick note, it seems to me that a lot of people who give speeches, especially at weddings, try to be funny. Let me save you some time, I’m not that funny. The below speech isn’t intended to be funny because to me, Zoran and Priya’s relationship isn’t funny – it’s something to aspire to.
“I want to thank everyone for making the trip to Aspen this weekend, it’s cool to see so many people come out in support of Z and Priya. My name is Todd and I’m a friend of the couple’s. I went to college with Zoran, but we became ‘ride or die’ close during the summer of 2014 which coincidentally is the same summer I met Priya for the first time.
Zoran and I were wrapping up our backpacking trip at Tomorrowland (a music festival in Boom, Belgium). It was the first full day of the festival and Z comes up to me and says, “When we leave camp I need to stop by and give something to Priya.” Like any curious friend I ask, “Who’s Priya?” And he says, “Oh, just some girl in my med school class.”
As we’re leaving the campground I see Zoran talking to a girl in a wheelchair. Not a normal sight to see at a music festival (a girl in a wheelchair, not Zoran talking to a girl). I walk up to him and he introduces me to Priya Patel. Turns out Priya had broken her ankle while she was GLACIER CLIMBING IN SWITZERLAND. Super casual injury, right? I remember thinking, “Who is this chick?!”
I spent a few more months in Europe, but on my way back to Nebraska, Zoran invited me to stay with him in Orlando for a week. In typical Zoran fashion, he threw a house party for my US homecoming. By that time Zoran and Priya were officially together. I remember talking to her that night and thinking, “What an amazing girl…what is she doing with Zoran?” We hit it off, exchanged numbers, and she’s been in my phone as “Bestie Priya” ever since.
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool stuff and most of it was with Zoran and Priya by my side. We’ve gone to Burning Man (twice), hiked in the Grand Tetons, bathed elephants in Thailand, and explored the ruins of Angkor Wat.
I’ll admit when Priya first started joining Z and my adventures I was a little concerned. When he asked me if he could bring her on our boys trip to Southeast Asia I thought about saying no. I thought having a girl in the group would slow us down. I thought having Priya there would change Zoran.
And truth be told, it did. Somehow she made the best person I know, better.
Priya found a way to enhance all the things Zoran already did. I thought he was patient before, but since they’ve been together he’s the model of patience. I thought he was the most intelligent person I knew, but in the past 4 years he’s become even smarter. I thought he was cultured, but now he is constantly teaching me about Indian culture. I thought he was well traveled, but now they’ve crossed off places I’ve never even heard of.
So to Priya, I say, thank you. To Zoran, I say, keep it up.
I’m a pretty independent person, that’s what traveling alone for 4 years will do to you. I like to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I like to go at my own pace, which tends to be faster than most people’s. I believe people are adults, and as adults, they are capable and don’t need a babysitter (a belief the bride and I share). For a really long time, I thought my way was right and everyone else was wrong.
I thought relationships held you back and love was for suckers. My hopeless romantic side liked the thought of love but not the reality of what I thought it did to people.
I’d seen so many people throughout my life go from fun and adventurous to boring and secluded simply by “gaining” a significant other. I promised I’d never let that happen to me. I wanted to keep seeing the world, doing cool shit, meeting people and I didn’t believe that was possible once you entered into a serious relationship.
Enter Zoran and Priya.
I remember the exact moment they started changing my thoughts on love and relationships.
We were at Burning Man in 2016. It was the morning after a crazy night, where I ended up out on my own adventure (something that happens all too frequently), and we were sitting around swapping stories. I finished telling everyone about my night and meeting these random people from the other side of the world but there wasn’t anyone in the group that could appreciate it with me. Then Zoran and Priya start talking about their night, they’re finishing each other sentences and the more they talk the more excited they both get reliving it together. You could tell whatever they had done the night before was amazing for both of them simply because they were experiencing it together.
I remember thinking “hmm, that’s pretty cool, maybe relationships aren’t so bad”. Without even knowing it, they had planted the seed…
A few months after Burning Man, we spent a month backpacking around Southeast Asia. This was the boys trip that Zoran had decided to bring Priya on and looking back I can’t imagine the trip without her. We spent most of the trip referring to ourselves as “Patel’s Boys”. Truth be told, she has a more cautious nature than the rest of us which is exactly what we needed to ensure we all came back (mostly) safe and sound. The one night Priya went to bed early, I ended up in a Thai Emergency Room. It was then I knew Priya was a must have for all future trips. Not for Zoran’s sake, but for my safety.
After that trip, Zoran and Priya had plans to fly home, graduate med school, and then take off for another trip to the Balkans and Yacht week (what a low key couple of months huh?). I remember asking Zoran if Priya was cool with all the traveling and constantly being on the go and he looked at me and said: “yeah man, these trips were her idea.”
That was when the light bulb clicked.
The right person doesn’t limit your life they enhance it.
The person you fall for has the potential to make everything better than it would be alone. They give you someone to share each experience with. They push you to be better and do more. They keep you honest and humble (or at least try to). They catch you when you fall and drag you along until you get it figured out.
Real love doesn’t limit it adds.
That’s what I’ve gotten to witness first hand these past few years by being friends with Zoran and Priya. I’ve gotten to see them at some high points and some low ones. I’ve gotten to watch them grow together, not just as individuals, but as a pair. I’ve gotten to listen as they make plans to take over the world.
They’ve shown me love isn’t something to hide from, but aspire to.
I hope one day I can pay back the favor and teach them something even half as important. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be a part of the couple’s special day who taught me what love looks like.
Lastly, I want to thank Zoran and Priya for letting me be their third wheel for the last five years. I know I’m not always the easiest person to deal with, but you two have enriched my life more than you can ever know. I look forward to a lifetime of adventure with you two and seeing what your futures hold.