Apparently, I’m what’s known in expat circles as ‘the trailing spouse’. When I first heard this (and saw it printed on documents) I’ll be honest, I was a tad put out.
The image this term conjures up is of a forlorn figure, following passively behind their leader. Think Linus: Charlie Brown’s downtrodden best friend and henpecked brother of Lucy - always two steps behind, clutching his security blanket. It has connotations of weariness and of being dragged along like a lazy Labrador. It’s not how I see myself, nor (thankfully) how my husband sees me. I wonder how many expat partners are miffed at being labeled like this? Shouldn’t we be given a bit more credit for the part we’re playing? Often we’re not the ones clutching the security blanket - we ARE the security blanket!
This term can apply to either gender, but you’d have thought that whoever came up with this could’ve come up with something a bit more inspiring. How about ‘support partner’, ‘back-up comrade’, ‘globetrotting sidekick’. You get the picture. Instead, I feel relegated to second place - I’m Robin to my husband’s Batman, when in truth, I’m also wearing a pretty impressive utility belt!
The problem with titles, including job titles, is that we are defined and judged by them, and when they sound less than inspiring, we may be at risk of being assumed to be the same - ask any office worker, or stay at home parent (I’ve been both).
Perhaps the problem is, I’m still a bit raw from losing my job title - I worked hard to earn it and was always proud to share with others that I was a teacher. Over the years I’ve had a number of different titles: undergraduate, editorial assistant, freelance writer, stay-at-home mum, pastor, teacher. But the first big change in title came when I got married 22 years ago and I became a ‘Mrs’. It’s by my marital status that I’m once again defined.
The title ‘trailing spouse’ also highlights my current lack of clear purpose. It makes me seem like a burden rather than what I have actually been in the first months of moving here: my husband’s hero (his words, not mine). But, now, as we head towards the end of our fourth month here, there’s some truth in the fact that I am ‘trailing’ behind. Now that Husband is settled at work, Son#2 is settled at school and we’ve made a home, my work here is done - or at least established and ongoing... so now what?
As a teacher, I had a purpose, it was obvious and tangible. Each class I taught had a goal and came with responsibilities. These are the things I need to find again if I’m ever going to feel as fulfilled as I was as a teacher, only I may not be able to find them in a classroom without retraining. The qualifications I have, like many of our English idioms, just don’t translate. So now, I’m looking back over all my past titles and considering my options. I’m re-evaluating what floats my boat and what causes me to sink and I’ll be honest, I feel like I’m a bit up a creek without a paddle!
But what feels even stranger is that I’ve had to apply for a work permit - I’m waiting for someone to give me permission to work. Up until now, I simply took it for granted that I could either work or not work. I had a choice, now I don’t, and just like the title I’ve been given, I don’t like it.
Despite the undignified title I’ve been labelled with, I’m proud to be here with my husband. I didn’t ‘trail’, I came willingly with an open mind and a spirit of adventure. I took a risk, jumped into the unknown, bit the bullet. I made sacrifices so that I could do something extraordinary. Whilst I may feel a bit lost right now, I know that there’s a purpose to it all - I just need to find it, and to do that, you have to be brave and use all the tools in your utility belt, because finding your new path and purpose is scary. Now I’d call that blazing, not trailing.