I bet every one of us on this island knows a trailing spouse – someone who came to Trinidad when their partner found work here, or someone who upped sticks and jetted it to be with a partner, who found work outside of our sunny T&T. If you didn’t know one, then you know one now. Yep, I am a trailing spouse. And I have the passport stamps to prove it.
I’m very happy with my choice to move to Trinidad for my husband’s career, but it wasn’t an easy choice to make. I deal with the consequences – good and bad – every day, and I’m reminded of the issues I had to consider before making the big move.
So, what’s a trailing spouse to consider? These were my “Big Four” factors – and the ones that all of the trailing spouses I’ve met have grappled with.
Oh yeah… The job thing
Some very intricate decision-making and negotiating takes place before a big move for a significant other. Can you leave your job to find something similar in a new country? Can you find work there, period, or can you afford to live on one salary if you just can’t find a job – either right away or ever (given visa restrictions) for the duration of the stay? Will this set your career back, and, just as importantly, will you turn into a big, seething ball of resentment, despite trying not to, if your career takes a pause, a hit, or a big derail? The trailing spouse will need a pen, paper, and some serious pros and cons list-making skills to find an acceptable position on this.
The wagging tongues
The decision to follow a significant other will set the tongues wagging. They will wag big time – sometimes loudly, other times insidiously.
Of course, we should be at a level of maturity where these things don’t matter, when other people’s perceptions of us do not affect our decision. But we are not. And no matter how tough we are, the wagging tongues will inevitably register.
If it’s the man putting aside his job for his partner’s career, he’ll be entering some pretty uncharted territory. I haven’t encountered many examples of men who move for their partner’s jobs. Add to that the fact that men are still often judged on their ability to ‘provide’ the cash, and that the wagging tongues might take his decision as a sign of emasculation, and it makes explaining the decision to others exponentially more difficult.
And if it’s the woman making the decision to move for someone else, she may as well put on the apron and get barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen for all the fuss you could hear. People will say she’s hearkening back to ye olde fifties… that she didn’t work so hard to give it all up for someone else… that the feminist movement didn’t take place for her to just follow someone else.
Guilt, baby, guilt – none of which helps with the fact that the soon-to-trail spouse or significant other may be wrestling with these monsters, too. We need to remember that our decision is for us, not for the world, that this is a private and personal choice, and be confident of that – even if others won’t see it that way at first.
The potential, future insanity
… Or who will I talk to when the hubby/ wifey is at work?
We are all social animals, to some extent or another. The trailing spouse needs to remember that.
The working partner will meet lots of new folks on the job, and the trailing spouse will usually meet them, too. However, it helps to meet people on our own – like-minded people who share our interests, or our circumstances.
So back to list making. It’s a good idea to think about our interests (both professional and personal), and check out what the new place has to offer and how we’ll meet people—whether out of shared circumstances or shared interests. Even if it doesn’t happen right away, knowing that there are other people with whom we’d click, makes a big difference in how comfortable we are with undergoing a big move.
Making the decision: What’s in it for ME?
Sure, people will talk, and the trailing spouse’s internal monologue is no different. One day, moving is the best idea EVER, and the next, that move will bring the end of the world. Or, at least that’s how my process goes.
However, it’s our outlook on relocating for our loved one that will make the ultimate difference, and will determine whether this is something we can handle. Positive thinking, people! And that happens when we recognize and rebrand the move, as an opportunity to:
- reassess our own careers, needs, expectations, and how much we actually want to wake up in the morning to do what we do, and be willing to start afresh sometimes
- experience new things outside our comfort zones
- grow as part of a couple… and figure out what the non-negotiables are.
Trust me. The second the move stops being an opportunity and becomes more of a sacrifice than expected, it’s time to stop and reassess that move. Seriously. Stop. RIGHT NOW. It’s a decision, not a martyr’s cross to bear – and then wield in any future disputes as ammo.
And now for some brutal honesty. We have to forget about “meeting halfway”. There’s no halfway in this decision because neither the significant other nor the trailing spouse can ever know how the move will play out! Instead, it’s about outcomes that we can both live with and deal-breakers… and those are the only factors we can possibly predict and bank on.
So this is what we trailing spouses go through. We mull that decision over and over, and discuss it to death, preferably over dinner and drinks. Sushi always leads to good decision-making, in my experience. As do margaritas… but again, that might just be me, too.
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