Monday, June 24, 2013

I’m an independent woman. Just ask my husband.

In 2010, when we moved to  Istanbul, it was first time in 18 years I didn’t have a job. I have been working at least part-time since I was 15. In college, I juggled three jobs for awhile. From 2005-2010, I worked 60+ hours a week in the restaurant business.

Needless to say when I found myself “unemployed” in my new expat life, I struggled. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I hadn’t had much free time for several years. What does one do, I thought.

Well, I signed up for every expat group and organization possible in Istanbul. I grabbed my camera and wandered around the streets. I started this blog. I started teaching baking classes. Later, I took Turkish lessons. I became the busiest, unemployed woman I knew.

Last year, I was baking every week for a coffee shop in Sultanahmet. I was a co-coordinator of PAWI. I was even more active than before until this spring when my husband dropped a bombshell on me. We would be moving earlier than we had anticipated. I was devastated, but we made the decision TOGETHER that we’d rather stay abroad than move back to the U.S. right now.

For a couple weeks, I was in denial about moving. Then, I realized I better start researching about my new country – Poland.

As I researched other expat blogs and searches regarding moving abroad to another expat posting, I stumbled upon the term “The Trailing Spouse.” There are even Twitter hashtags and workshops geared towards the trailing spouse.

I pictured myself as a lost puppy dog, tugging onto the shirt tails of my husband’s dress shirt in my mouth and lagging behind him. I was not amused. WTH? This is B.S.!
Not exactly the image I had in mind, but close.

I asked my husband if this is what he thought of me as I pantomimed my dog trailing image to him.

He knew the correct answer.

Shortly after we moved to Warsaw, my husband and I met some work acquaintances for a drink. One of these men asked how I liked being the “trailing spouse” so far. I tried my best to smile and said it was great, and that we had just found an apartment. Change of subject.

Inside, I was cringing. I wish I had a punching bag to take out my anger. Actually, I wanted to punch this guy.

My husband could tell that I was putting on a good front, but inside I was furious.

Unfortunately, I’m sure this incident won’t be the last time that I hear this offensive term. Maybe some expat wives are okay with it, but I’m certainly not. (One of the blogs I follow recently wrote about this topic too: I am an Expat by 4 kids, 20 suitcases & a beagle.)

I’m not a trailing spouse.

Yes, I’m a wife, but my identity is as a pastry chef.

I’m still figuring out my new life here in Warsaw. I joined the International Women’s Group of Warsaw and already have been recruited as the newsletter editor. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I start teaching my baking classes, which is something I really enjoy. I love teaching people how to take such simple ingredients and turn them into something delicious.

We’d also like to start a family.

Until then, the only trailing you’ll be seeing is when we go hiking on the trails in the nearby Polish forests.

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Anonymous said...

You are certainly not any trailing spouse. I have never heard of the term but any spouse that thinks its ok to call themselves by this need to think about respecting themselves.

I am sure what ever path you take in your new home you will be successful and will put that man back in his place when he realizes you are no "trailing spouse"

Kerry x

Joy said...

@Kerry, thanks for your encouragement! I completely agree! Luckily, my husband and I make decisions TOGETHER and right now it's one that means we stay abroad & tackle new adventures. No trailing!

Julie said...

I have had that term used to describe me too... but it doesn't. End of story. I wish I was one of those people who could come up with witty rejoinders that not only point out how offensive the comment is, but also change the attitude of the speaker. We all have to work hard to rise above value judgements. Don't let the turkeys get you down!

Joy said...

@Julie, great comments! Yeah, I wish I could have responded with what was really on my mind to this guy. ;-) Oh well, next time I'll be sure to point out how offensive it is.

Anonymous said...

Joy - not to diminish or make light of how it makes you feel; but I think the best way to handle this type of comment is to decide *not* to be offended. You don't even need a fancy rejoinder! You are an awesome woman in your own right, making decisions about life together with your husband. You are a fortunate woman loving life and making the most of every opportunity! In fact, I guess that could be your response!

Mary B said...

I would agree with Karen. You don't need to dignify that offensive term with any comment or rejoinder. You know who you are and what you do; I secretly envy your experiences and wish I had them at your age. Keep on doing what you do well : explore, bake, teach, photograph and learn all you can in each country you live. When the kids come along, you'll have a full time job raising them in addition to all your other talents. You go, girl!

jaz@octoberfarm said...

i can't wait to see what you end up doing in poland. how long do you think you will be there? starting a family? that is very exciting news!!!

BacktoBodrum said...

I've never heard the term before but think you should ignore it. You are a very different type of "spouse" . Not trailing , more "flowering, fertile and fruitful" Bursting out with new ideas. Sounds much better.

Joy said...

@Karen, I appreciate your comments. :-) But it was hard to ignore this guy.

@Mary, thanks for the positive encouragement! I'm sure I'll figure out my foothold here soon, and I'll always be a baker and a writer. It must be in my blood!

@Joyce, Probably here for 3 years again. Let's hope the family thing happens for us - we've encountered some issues, but keeping our fingers crossed!

@Annie, I love your description - "flowering, fertile and fruitful!" That's perfect!

Liz Cameron said...

Oh my goodness - pardon my French but F*** the "trailing spouse" moniker. The response from your husband's male colleague is more about gender stereotyping - and it is so frustrating to run into that. I am confident you will find your way via your identity as a pastry chef and I would add - a writer, an active community member and a global citizen!!!

Joy said...

@Liz, LMAO! That's kinda what I thought too! ;-) Why there even needs to be a label I don't know!

Nevra Lizna Ahmet said...

You are anything but a trailing spouse! 'Not trailing , more "flowering, fertile and fruitful" Bursting out with new ideas. Sounds much better. ' <- This is exactly how I'd describe you, well said, BacktoBodrum. :D I've learnt so much from you as a woman, your inspiring creativity being just one factor :) sakin vazgecme canim! don't give up <3 Can't wait to learn about Poland through your eyes! You always make the most of it, never stop xoxo

Joy said...

@Nevra, thanks so much for the compliments! How sweet of you! So I guess my new motto should be: "bloom where you are planted." ;-)

Adventures of the Repatriate said...

Enjoy Poland! I was in Krakow a year ago and fell in love with the city. Plenty of great food and drinks to blog about!

Joy said...

@Adventures in Repatriation, thanks for stopping by! We've been to Krakow twice already, and it is lovely! Yes, there's certainly plenty to discover and blog about. :-)Hope you'll stop by again.

Unknown said...

Loved your post! I'm researching a business idea to provide "trailing spouses" virtual jobs. The goal is to give them flexible work they can accomplish from anywhere. Do you think this would appeal to the "trailing spouse" community?

julianaloh @bilbaobab said...

This is inspiring! thank you for sharing this post. I've taken the plunge and given up "my identity" and life to join my soon-to-be husband on our adventures together. 18 months in, I'm still struggling socially working from home and creating projects and trying to find foothold. Stories like yours are incredibly inspiring and I hope to get

Joy said...

Of course, virtual jobs or ones such as consulting, writing or editing which can be done via Skype and online are perfect ones for expats!

Joy said...

Cześć! Trust me, i know it's not always easy when you "give up" your career. I still struggle with not working in restaurants full time like i used to esp. When i see the successes of my chef friends back in US. That's why i do the cooking classes for other expats and foreigners. It still keeps me in the game and I love teaching others how to bake!

Find something you enjoy and pursue it! Being an expat requires great adaptation and flexibility. :-) It does get easier and think of all the travel opportunities you have abroad!