B*tch, nerd, ice maiden, narcissist. I’ve been called all of the above and take no offence (well, little). I concede that they are all true, at least in part. Another description leaves a sour taste in my mouth however: ‘trailing spouse’.
Google the term and you’ll get ‘trailing spouse depression, trailing spouse issues, trailing spouse unemployment, trailing spouse divorce, unhappy trailing spouse…’
But expat life as a spouse means jet setting to new adventures, parties, not having to work, meeting new people I hear non expats say. For the most part they’re right. Anyone complaining should get a grip, realise how lucky they are, take a reality check on their middle class problems.
True, expat life can be lonely, expensive, stressful, intimidating and tiring. Perhaps the greatest bugbear is a loss of identity. No longer defined by your job, your friends, your style, your attitude, you are an annex of your spouse. You are no longer a person but an extension of someone else, a hanger on, an appendix, a mere extra, a parasite, an insignificant other. ‘Ah so you’re so and so’s wife…’
I never defined myself as a trailing spouse. Indeed my social tentacles reach far and wide, and my other half is often referred to as ‘the husband of…’ And besides I have a job. Or rather ten. Chef, nanny, personal assistant, social secretary, fixer, relocation expert, taxi driver, relationship counsellor, life coach, mum, administrative assistant and now, blogger.
But what do I fill out in the job description box at the doctors? Housewife? Urgh. Mother? umm. Unemployed? Not true. Trailing spouse? Please no.
I did OK at school and in my career but moving abroad I faced a big blank hole on my CV. True, I’ve volunteered, joined the gig economy, freelanced. Tried a bit of this, dabbled at a bit of that.
I’ve turned down offers from my husband’s places of work, stubbornly seeking out a lesser paid, lower status job on my own. In my eyes, companies’ endeavours to assist with spouses’ relocation into a new job should be commended, but open nepotism should not. The furtive looks from my husband’s colleagues, the knowledge that a job had been created out of thin air just to shut me up are enough for me to steer clear.
But hang on, why is the term ‘trailing spouse’ so derogatory anyway? Is it such a crime to support the person you love, to help build a future for your family and to see another side of the world in doing so? Why all the hate, disdain and underestimation for significant others? Melania Trump, Dennis Thatcher, and do you even remember Pierre Curie?
Ahh but then there’s always Michelle Obama. Phew.
Would ‘accompanying spouse’, a term favoured by many global firms be more accurate, more deserving? Quenby Wilcox, Founder of Global Expats, a great website for expats and their families asserts that until expat homemakers are properly appreciated and rewarded socially, legally and financially the term ‘accompanying spouse’ is a pretense.
Most companies are waking up to the reality that an expat won’t stay if their family won’t. Programmes specially developed for significant others have been set up, but often miss the mark. We still feel alienated, unfulfilled, frustrated. One company offered me free beginner language tuition but I already spoke French to degree level. Another wanted to put me forward to a client for potential opening but I couldn’t obtain a work visa. Photo by amenclinics_photos
Some expat spouses get it right however. A friend of mine won a high status job, and hung onto it despite two relocations brought about by her husband’s work. All this on top of a hectic family life with five kids. Another embraced homelife as the right thing for her and her family. ‘This is what I want to do. This makes me happy’.
Is it possible for expat spouses to have it all? Perhaps not, but we can prioritise our own identities while supporting our families, and lay down ground rules while determining our own goals.
Am I being demanding? Selfish? Lazy? I don’t think so but if you disagree you can call me b*tch, but please not trailing spouse.