The Trailing Wife

Those two idiots moved to Switzerland?
John and Tatiana circa 2003
John and I met a couple last night that met while they were both working for the US Peace Corp many years ago and had moved to Switzerland with their three children three years ago for fun, adventure, for their children to learn a different language and experience a new culture. They moved their family from Minnesota for the experience. Kind of awesome if you ask me. I know a few couples who have schlepped their kids to far flung places for the experience and adventure (Hi Jo!) and because that's where the universe had dragged their families.

Many many years ago when my dad finished his PhD my parents were praying for a job for my dad. They apparently actually said, "Lord, send us to the ends of the earth if you have to." We ended up in Newfoundland. He sent my family to the end of Canada. Where arguably we DID learn a new language (repeat after me, "stay where yer at, I'll come where yer to.")

Little did I know that I was watching my future by watching my parents experience life far away from anything familiar. John and I weren't sent to the ends of the earth but we were sent to a place that everyone assume is Sweden.

The common thread through all of these couple we know (including my parents) is the presence of a trailing spouse. More specifically the trailing wife. We're a small but mighty community of cheerleaders, translators, holder downers of the fort, and occasionally the holder together-ers of everything else in their home away from home while the one that got us here is at work. We give up a lot to follow along  and I dare say we are community of people who are often forgotten about in the grand scheme of being an ex-pat. Behind every person who gets an international job is a spouse who is stuck at the grocery store trying to find the local equivalent to black strap molasses. This isn't a "woe to me" post. Heavens no. This is a tribute post if anything to those who have followed along, given up jobs, communities, friends, education and their kitchen aid mixers to have a most excellent adventure. It's also MY truth.

Right before we left Canada I had an ugly cry in front of my mother sitting on the floor of our almost empty apartment. I was scared. I was worried. I was terrified. I didn't know if I had it in me to do this. I had no idea. It was all so overwhelming and no one could tell me what to expect and there was nothing I could do to prepare myself for being the trailing wife. And my mom simply said, "this is what we do when we love our husbands." It sounds like a pat answer to most. Something you would find on a Hallmark card with orchids and a sunset but she was not only speak the truth. She was speaking HER truth. She's been there. Done that. But she couldn't begin to help me because every trailing spouse experience is different.

Circa 2006
None of us know what we're doing. None of us are "good at" this. None of us have any idea what to expect. None of us can fully explain to other soon to be trailing spouses whats going to happen. None of us find this easy whether this is the first time or the fiftieth. Whether we're child-free or have two childre under the age of 12. Every trailing spouse experience is unique to them. Unique to their marriage. Unique to their situation. Unique to the country they're in. All we can do each other is offer a commonality of experience, a nod when one says, "well you know how it is" and a shoulder to cry on when things get scary or rough or terrifying or confusing.

We landed here with only one of us being able to speak the language and only one of us with a job and unfortunately it wasn't the same person. We each had a favourite coffee mug from home in our suitcases and the day John started his job I got lost on the way to our new apartment to get our keys and do the walk through. I also received delivery of our Ikea chairs and futon BUT didn't have a wrench or a hammer. We had to spend an extra night in the hotel and I had to find out the German word for wrench (in my 27 years of speaking German I had never used the word wrench.) I had no IDEA what I was doing. After everyone left our apartment and it was just me. I cried. I cried because I missed home. I cried because we had a place to live. I cried because it was all real now we weren't on vacation. And I cried because I didn't have my best friend to cry at when the song "For Good" from the musical Wicked came on my iPod. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew how to be a supportive partner but I had NO idea how to be a support trailing partner. But I started to figure this out slowly but surely.

I'm still figuring it out.

Contrary to popular belief it's not all dinner at 6 and laundry being done. It's not all weekend adventures exploring new and interesting places. It's not all locally made wine and chocolate. Hell no. Sometimes it's arguments about me always waiting for John or resentment about taking a back seat to his career. Sometimes it's me giving up on always being the translator and asking the person I'm dealing with to speak English for the love of all that is good and holy because I'm tired. Sometimes it's getting frustrated when John complains about having to refill the water jug or says "it's not like you're doing anything." Sometimes it's heart crushing loneliness because those who "get" you are far away. Sometimes you'll wonder, "what the hell have we done?!"

There is a dark side to this.

Circa 2010
You'll have people who think "writing a book" is code for "I just don't want to get a job." You'll have people who said they would keep in touch but your emails go unanswered. You'll have people who say you forced her husband to get a job in Europe so you could live abroad. You'll have people wonder why you haven't heard about something because they forget your entire grapevine is in Canada. You'll have people who say they know how you feel because they moved once too when really they moved to a new suburb in their city and added 20 minutes to their commute and might have to change doctors to one that is closer to home. You'll have people who will ask you if you're coming home for (insert event here) without realizing it's a $3000 dollar investment. You'll have people who think you'll regret this in 10 years.

This WILL be hard. And "those" people will come out of the woodwork and they will suck. Especially when some of them call themselves your family members. You'll be lonely, homesick, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, out of sorts and afraid. Those moments of doubt will creep in when you least expect it and ruin what you thought was a perfectly good day.

But you'll get through. How? I don' know. You just will. You will figure out a way. Because you have to or being here with your husband will not work if you don't. It helps to remember that in between the anger, the frustration, lonliness, "those people" and their comments are moments of amazingness and adventure that will change you, your partner, your relationship and how you experience the world around you.

You'll learn to okay with silence. To experience rather and take a picture of it. That writing a book isn't code of lazy but code for "I'm following my heart." You'll learn you're a lot stronger and braver than anyone will ever give you credit for and that as long as you and your willing accomplice have each other and snacks EVERYTHING will be okay. Maybe not right away but eventually.


SARcasm said…
I appreciate this post. I won't claim to 'know what you mean' - my trailing spouse experience didn't involve a culture shock or language change, or anything like that - but I do understand leaving family and friends and a career because your husband got a too-good-to-pass-up opportunity, and moving to a city where you know no one. I appreciate your tribute, and the added levels of difficulty you deal with every day. Bless you and your hubby for making ot work. :)
Sarah said…
I have the opposite going on, I have someone who supports the things that I do. This gives such a unique perspective to what those people go through in order to ensure the happiness of the people they love. I love that it isn't a good or bad thing it is just a thing with consequences. Being that crazy person who just barrels through life taking whatever adventure comes my way I am eternally grateful for people like you and Andrew who graciously nod, smile and collect the craziness behind us!
Shannon said…
I love this Jam Buster! I have been meeting with so many couples lately, young and many think they know it all. If only they had the insite of your wonderful sharing of your life adventure. You've got strength in your marriage and you work for it! Miss you and looking forward to the next read as always! Take care of you and John! xoxo Gunna
Jo said…
Well-said, Jam-gal (we always tweak new nicknames out of old ones. Apologies).
Kelly said…
From one 'trailing Hausfrau' to another...I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL! I also moved recently to Europe and boy oh boy is it not easy! Thankfully in our case the spouse with the job also is the one who speaks the language I(also German)...although that means I am alone with 2 small children (under 3) in a country that I don't speak the language and have very few friends...but it's getting better! Thanks for a great post!
Tatiana said…
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of being a trailing hausfrau. It will always get better. And my word the adventure is like nothing else!!
Tatiana said…
Oh Gunna how I miss you!! The one thing that keeps us together as a team during this whole process is something we were told in our pre-marriage counselling is that being married is the hardest thing we've ever done but we just need to go with it because its worth it.
Erin said…
Hear, hear, sister. Hear hear.
I can't begin to understand the language barrier (although sometimes with these accents here, I don't have a freaking clue what they're saying) but I know the frustration you're feeling in other respects. And nobody, other than people who share your situation, get it.
Great post. :)
whay said…
great post! I can relate 100%