The term Trailing Spouse is commonly applied to someone who joins their partner in a move abroad without having secured suitable employment in the new location. Expats frequently refer to “Trailing Spouse Syndrome”, which is a state of stress and discontent that can occur when the trailing spouse feels unfulfilled and lacking in direction. Whilst some individuals may feel excited at the prospect of swapping busy, successful careers for a relaxing life in the sun, many of them find that the reality is somewhat different, and they can begin to feel bored and withdrawn.
I read this paragraph today while on one of my interminable trawls though the internet in search of helpful articles for those circumnavigating the world slowly. Boy, did I laugh. It was the way they used the line “swapping a busy, successful career for a life in the sun” in close proximity to “bored and withdrawn”. What a miserable, ungrateful bunch we sound.
Now to be fair, everywhere I lived has had sun, so I can’t argue with that bit. Kenya had sun, so much so that we had a number of catastrophic droughts while we were there. However, it became apparent that the relaxing bit was probably not going to happen when on pre-assignment briefing, the words “be aware” were repeated often, usually in the context of avoiding everything from carjackings to robberies to animal attacks.
This was reiterated when I was ushered in for my ceremonial visit to the Other Half’s new workplace. The HR manager, on discovering my aversion to being car-jacked, was quick to reassure me. Apparently, the man in the cubby next to us had been car-jacked only the previous week; he was locked into the boot of his car and driven around for two hours, but was released unharmed at the end. So I needn’t worry: “All’s well that ends well”, and what more could I want? As for the children, the school bus had an armed escort, and they regularly did “Duck and Cover” drills in case of invasion, so no problems there. And the nest of cobras found behind the bookshelf in the kindergarten classroom was dealt with after a school wide evacuation. I may have wanted to withdraw at times, but I was most definitely not bored..
So here is my own definition of a Trailing Spouse, with a respectful nod to those I have met along the way.
The term Trailing Spouse is commonly applied to those misguided individuals who believed it when they were told that they would have a new adventure with their partner and family, in exotic locations. The term partner is then promptly abandoned, as once the landing gear hits the tarmac, the Other Half is immediately consumed by their new role, and so unavailable for consultation, unpacking, medical emergencies or transportation. At this point, the TS is left with the task of establishing a home, contracting utility supplies, finding schooling, establishing medical care, purchasing necessary supplies, comforting hysterical children and removing ticks from the pets, all without a single word of Urdu / Swahili / Mandarin / Finnish, and no support network. They endeavor to remain sane, cheerful, appropriately dressed and smiling in the face of constant social gaffes, in an unfamiliar culture and against a backdrop envious comments from ill-informed individuals who assume all you do all day is go out for lunch. They have the ability to conjure birthday cakes, a social network and security forces out of thin air, and are excellent in a crisis, many of which are as a result of misguided attempts to ‘get a life’. They may have moved around the world, or around the corner, but they are they hit the ground running when they would often rather hit the road home. They are both women and men, from all races and religions, and appear in all corners of the world offering help, humor and interim household supplies. THEY are the Trailing Spouses.