So the term ‘trailing spouse’ conjures up quite confronting images, in my mind at least, of a 1950s housewife with perfectly coiffed hair, a face full of dutifully applied make up, beautiful tea dress and heels. She has completed the housework, grocery shopping and has created a delectable three course meal while waiting patiently for her husband to arrive home from his busy day..
Now I realise that many decades ago, the ‘trailing spouse’ was a highly sought after role and a role that required the spouses be assessed for her ability to entertain. Can you imagine?! These days however a ‘trailing spouse’ may also be a man but I will continue to refer to ‘her’ for now. She needed to be very social and adept at serving cocktails and buffet dinners- and her performance sometimes impacted upon her husband’s career opportunities!
Even if one does manage to fill their days with study or social gatherings or outings, there is a nagging feeling of wanting more, of being able to contribute financially of wanting some control in your life. Sometimes I feel like the little women who does nothing of great importance, more like a social butterfly flitting from one coffee morning to the next as my brain turns to mush.
My experience when attending ‘spouse functions’ is that we each introduce ourselves as ‘D’s partner’ or ‘A’s wife’ and quickly follow that up with a summary of a past life. There are so many women who have sacrificed their careers for their partners. Teachers, solicitors, physiotherapists who have impressive CVs. We speak with such affection of old colleagues, hectic work days, balancing work and life commitments and of missing friends and family. We are very aware of the opportunity to ‘see the world’ and realise that ‘we are well taken care of for the most part’ and hate when well-meaning people as ‘So, what do you do all day?’
This loss of identity is difficult to swallow and I must admit to still grappling with it after 9 months at post. My generation benefited from the feminist movement so placing my career on hold and ‘trailing’ after my partner to post is an image and role that I grapple with very much. Post doesn’t recognise the spouse as anything more than an appendage to the staff member; a Barbie doll, ditz with no voice and that’s why I hate the term ‘trailing spouse’.
Sometimes the barriers to overcome to seek employment are just too challenging and many times spouses are not legally allowed to work. Study seems a great option, but then one finds that after the challenges of fulfilling the housewife tasks of grocery shopping (and sitting in traffic jams for hours) in the morning, a spot of housework in the afternoon and preparing tonight’s dinner in the evening, there really is little ‘me’ time for study or the very important exercise! Mental health alert..
There are perks to the lifestyle. We employ a part-time pembantu (maid) and a full-time driver to help out, but even the world of managing local staff brings with it many challenges; that’s for another time. Expat spouses are generally a friendly and supportive bunch and there are established Women’s Associations to join for a sense of community, to volunteer or simply to drop and have a chat over a cuppa. There are opportunities to travel and explore the host country and neighbouring countries for vacation times and mental health breaks.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to start to prep for dinner..