Not that you probably would. If you are like I was before we moved here, you’ve never heard the term. Until now, that is. But while many people who follow a loved one abroad hate the term, I decided to embrace it. Here’s why.
Most people who the moniker would apply to recoil at the mention of it. Having had the same reaction the first time I read it, mere days after we landed in Prague, I get it. It feels offensive to be defined in terms of your relationship to your significant other. Even more so if you have recently left a high-powered career so that your husband* can further his career in another country.
But while I understand why the term makes people uncomfortable, I’m okay with it. Sure, I looked for a better term, but I never found one.
- Accompanying spouse? I really don’t see the difference.
- Roving partner? I’ll admit “partner” has some advantages over “spouse,” but the adjective “roving” implies directionless and that’s not very empowering.
- “STARS” (Spouses Traveling and Relocating Successfully)? Oh, please. I gagged the first time I read that one.
“Trailing spouse” on the other hand, feels right to me, even if it can make me a little uncomfortable. Sure, I’m more than my husband’s spouse, but I am his spouse. And there’s no question that I “trailed” him here. As much as I wanted this move, we would not be in Prague if it was not for his job, if he hadn’t been offered this opportunity. That would be true even if I was currently working outside the home since my right to be here is derivative of his. (Indeed, the Czech government won’t even give me a work visa until we’ve been here a year out of fear that my husband might quit his good paying job and we’ll become wards of the state as soon as I get a job with a (too small to support our family) local salary.)
To be honest, when I read a complaint from someone who doesn’t want to be called a trailing spouse, I wonder if they just don’t understand how lucky they are. Not that this life is perfect (we’ll get to that in a second) but it’s pretty darn sweet. I mean, I live within walking distance of a CASTLE. (Sure, our place in Seattle was really nice, but there was no castle nearby.) There are dozens of “trip of a lifetime” destinations within a few hours of us. And our son is growing up trilingual—albeit with a third language that NOBODY outside of the Czech Republic speaks, but still. Oh, and since I can’t work, I can spend lots of time with my toddler son and even develop some hobbies—something I never had time for when I worked as a lawyer.
What’s more, so many of the challenges that come from living here are directly the result of the fact that it’s my husband’s employment, not mine, that brought us. Does it irritate me to no end that I am not an owner on our bank account? Absolutely. Do I wish that I could go to an office everyday where my coworkers spoke English instead of trying to find my way around a grocery store where everything is written in Czech? Yup. (Actually, I’m kidding. I do 90% of my grocery shopping online (thank you, Google Translate!) and the other 10% at the farmer’s market. But that’s partially because going to the grocery store was so frustrating.) And did it bother me all those months when the landlord’s agent refused to contact me to schedule maintenance visits—even though I was the one who had to be home for them AND my husband asked her to—because I wasn’t on the lease? Definitely—although that turned out to be more about her own ridiculousness than anything else.
I’m sure plenty of feathers have been ruffled by this perspective, and I’ve probably disappointed some with my not very feminist views. But while I don’t think this (or any other) label is complete, that doesn’t make it less accurate. So in the absence of a better alternative, I’m going to stick with it.
*Although a “trailing spouse” could be male, historically (and in my personal experience) it is almost always the female partner in a heterosexual relationship. So for simplicity, and because it reflects my own reality, this post refers to the “trailing spouse” as a female, but that certainly does not mean that it cannot apply to males.
Photo Credit: Lumina / Stocksy.com (both)