The truth about publishing a book and why I will rarely write for free any more.

“Write another book,” they say. “Write about repatriation!”.

I can honestly admit I would LOVE to write another book and a Repat Partner’s Survival Guide would absolutely be something I would do. Except for one thing that a lot of people don’t realise.

When you self-publish a book you are lucky to make back the money you pay to produce it. And that’s without the thousands of hours that you really should be paying yourself for the work that’s gone into writing it. Nope there really is very rarely any money to be made in publishing.

A few years ago, before I finished writing my book, I went on a marketing course for self-published authors. It was just one day long and there were about 12 of us in the room, some already published (at least one fairly successfully, if I recall). The rest of us were newbies – still totally unaware of what going-it-alone really meant.

Well while there were no great suprises, one thing that stuck in my head was this: less than 1% of self-published books sell more than 1,000 copies. That’t not very many. And more than two years after I published my book I am not there yet (although creeping closer).

When I decided to publish my book myself, having had quite a few knock-backs from so-called traditional publishers (the book was too niche…nice idea but it wouldn’t be commercially viable etc), the one thing I knew was that I wanted to be proud of the product I put out into the world. And that didn’t just mean the content – while that was my primary concern at the start, I eventually read enough to realise that was the easy bit. I needed it to be written well, edited well, proof-read well and then I needed a great front cover, good formatting, some reviews, some recommendations…the list goes on.

And much of this costs money (I have never and will never pay for reviews, but I did send a few out free of charge for people to review for me). Money that takes a long time and a lot of work to make back.

Every time I sell a book I get around £1 back (ironically I get more back from the sale of a digital copy than a hard copy). I could put the price up and get more back but I have always wanted this to be an accessible product. Thus I have to sell a lot of copies to make back the money I paid to publish it.

So this is where things got hard. The writing of the book and its production were in the end the (relatively) easy part. What I have been doing over the last two years is marketing it.

The first thing I had to think about was who were my audience and how could I reach them? One problem I have had was that most people who needed this book most wouldn’t know they needed it until it was too late. I really wanted to reach expats BEFORE their move rather than months later when they wondered what on earth had just happened to them. I could tell how hard this would be when my reviews often started with “why didn’t I know about this book when I most needed it?”.

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So I did my best – including starting this blog and writing unpaid for other blogs and websites. What I needed was to make people aware that the book existed and where they could buy it so I always made sure to include links to my blogsite.  I did enjoy what I was doing, don’t get me wrong – it is a privilege to be able to write about something you love in exactly the way you want to write it. And I also realised how lucky I was that I was able to do it this way – that I wasn’t worried about paying bills and putting food on the table because my husband had a decent job. I also had the time to do it thanks to our overseas move and a wonderfully flexible remote part-time job.

So I wrote and hustled and sweated and wrote some more and I tried to get the word out there and I counted every sale as a success. Slowly the sales figures went up. Very slowly sometimes.

And then one day something changed. I somehow got a commission to write an article (on expat depression, for the Wall Street Journal) and they paid me! Now I realise how naive this sounds – why wouldn’t they pay me? – but you have to remember that not only had I been writing for free simply to let people know my book existed for quite a long time,  but I had also had my confidence in my own abilities totally knocked since I stopped permanent work in 2006.

You see although even I forget it sometimes, I have not got to where I am through luck. I am a trained journalist who spent years learning how to write. On top of that, I have a lot of life experience – things that went into my book and now go into my articles. But I gave up my job as a diplomat following the birth of my eldest daughter and since then have only ever worked in low-paid, part-time jobs.

After a while you stop believing you are worth anything more. You doubt your abilities and you don’t for a second think you are good enough to earn a decent salary. It is an age-old story of mothers everywhere and I am not going to labour the point here. But it did mean that when someone wanted to pay me for my writing I was overjoyed. (I should add that the editor who helped me get this first assignment was a woman; all through this process I have been helped by other women and I now do my best to pass this on and help other female writers get to where they deserve to be).

Anyway things took off from here. Not in some huge, overwhelming way but in slow, small steps – I started finding out more and more about paying markets where I could sell my writing, I made friends with other writers and exchanged ideas, I joined some wonderful Facebook groups for writers. And slowly I started getting commissions.

It is still early days but even getting the few paid jobs that I have (including with the Washington Post and the UK’s Independent, as well as the Wall Street Jounal) has boosted my confidence. And in the end it has meant that writing the book  and starting the blog was worthwhile – not just because of all the people I have (hopefully) helped with the advice because of where it took me.

So here I am. I doubt writing will ever make me rich and I still have that wonderful part-time job that brings in a small income. But I have finally reached a stage where I can start to believe in myself again, believe that I am worth something, that I do have something to give.

I will still write my blog because I think it is important, and one day maybe I will write that Repat book. But right now I am just loving the fact that people want to pay me for doing what I love most in the world – write.

And I have a final message for all of you out there who feel like I did, that they are worthless and that they will never get back into a role where they feel valued again (either paid or unpaid): don’t give up. It can happen. You are worth it. if I can do it, so can you.

Good luck!

I would love to hear your stories – has anyone else self-published a book? Or got back into the workplace or found a new role after a period of absence?

Photo credit: Appalachian dreamer

 

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Feeling like a nobody.

One of the hardest thing about moving overseas as an expat partner is losing your identity. Okay at the start it’s difficult finding a house, navigating the roads, comforting the homesick children…but once the initial few months have passed and you begin to find yourself back into some sort of a new-normal, you realise something else has changed. Something pretty bloody massive. You are not who you used to be.

Well, you are who you used to be but you would be forgiven for feeling this way because this is how you will be treated from now on. As the sidekick. The uninteresting one. The one to avoid at parties (that is if you are ever actually invited to any). Never mind that you used to be a doctor or a lawyer or a nurse or a teacher or whatever it is that you did back in your home country. And never mind that actually you have a life here too, possibly even a job. As far as many people you meet are concerned you are a nothing. Your status is somewhere lower than the dogs and actually the only use you have is smoothing the way for your partner’s brilliant career.

But don’t judge us because we are not those nobodies. We were and dammit we still are very big somebodies. There is nothing worse than being ignored because you don’t work in the office  of the people you are meeting. Even worse for those of us who USED to work in that office and therefore actually could join in the conversation. As far as those people are concerned your brain is made of cotton wool and you couldn’t possibly have an opinion on anything useful!

This has happened to me here in Pretoria – with a few very honorable exceptions in some of my former colleagues who actually deem me fit to discuss what they do (and no I don’t expect to know everything and yes I realise that even though I have signed the official secrets act that was a long time ago and by now out of date so I don’t expect to be filled in on everything that is going on). As far as most people here are concerned I am fluff. I am my children’s mother, my husband’s wife. I am not a person who needs to be acknowledged.

Added to this sense of frustration is that everything I need to get done has to go through my husband. Want to open a bank account? He needs to get the ball rolling because I don’t work here. Something wrong with the house? Needs to go through his office. Flights home? School bills? Even medical treatment? Yup you guessed it – through his office!

We went to a party the other day thrown by someone fairly high up in diplomatic circles here. We were guests because I am friends with the fairly high up person’s wife. It was so refreshing to be there because of me not because of my husband – refreshing for him as well as me because he didn’t have to feel like he was working. It was a great night, I met some fun people and never once felt like I shouldn’t have been there. I was invited as me, not as the other half of the main man.

It’s frustrating and I know it is felt by many. What to do about it? Well if you are reading this and you know people who are the partners then ask them what they do or did, be interested in them, ask their opinions (some of us even do things like follow the local news and – shock horror – spend quite a lot of time getting to know our host country by interacting in various ways with the locals). Realise that they have a brain and treat them accordingly.

If like me you are the fluffy sidekicks then lets reclaim ourselves, our identities. Perhaps when we meet people and they ask why we are here the first thing we say SHOULDN’T be what our partners do or where they workbut rather why we decided to come with them. I wanted to travel. The opportunity to see more of the world was too much of a temptation to turn down. I decided it would be a good way to get my novel finished and do some more scuba diving.

And then, before they can start looking at you down their noses trying to sum up whether you are worth another three minutes of their time or not, be the first to move. Tell them you need to be somewhere or you’re on your way to the bar for another drink. Smile sweetly and walk away. Leave them wondering.

And always remember, whatever your situation, you are important. You are not a nobody you are a somebody and you always will be. And anyone who judges you because of what you do or don’t “do” isn’t worth another minute of your time anyway.

Here’s to all us expat partners – may we ever realise just how bloody important we are!

The Male Trailing Spouse series – Brian in Iran

Welcome to the latest post in my series on Male Trailing Spouses. I love that I have had such a great variety of men taking part in this series, from so many different places. This week I feature Brian, an Australian who lives in Iran with his Swedish wife and their daughter. Brian’s answers to my questions are extremely insightful and I hope they will help other men in his situation or considering taking the plunge into trailer-dom.

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Hi Brian and welcome to the series! First of all, please could you tell me a little about yourself and your partner/family.

My name is Brian, a native Australian and naturalised Swede. I am trailing spouse of a Swedish diplomat, and we have a 4-year old daughter (dual Australian/Swedish). We are presently posted in Iran. Prior to this we have been posted to China (where we met), Syria, Sweden, Belgium, and Austria. I have also been posted to Thailand, while my wife worked in China.

As a male trailing spouse, how did you feel when you first arrived in your new country?

Every posting is the same, and yet at the same time different, at the start; that is to say there are things you find normal for every arrival, and things you notice are different. It is all about compare and contrast! I don’t think that being newly arrived is much different for male spouses as female. Certainly, however, the spouse’s arrival is very different from the arrival of the posted officer who often immediately has work to preoccupy them

Arrival is always hectic, filled with new people, new places, and new sights and sounds. You need to make a lot of notes, get very familiar with maps of the area, names of places, and where to go for this and that. In hardship postings, that initial difficulty is often greater, and start-up fatigue is more common.

The cycle of postings is clear that, even in difficult places, there is a honeymoon period where things are all new and mostly interesting, and you are striving to make the posting fit you, or the other way around. It is the fast-learning-curve end of the posting.

In difficult places, this is more about acting quickly to create your ‘nest’, and finding any networks for support. It is also about a crash course in taxi-level language, map-reading, shopping guide, eating guide, and finding out what groups, if any, exist for networking and support. And, of course, about settling the child into schooling, with the logistical issues that often brings.

In easy places (admittedly I find it dangerous to call any major international relocation ‘easy’), setting up home and network is less urgent because there are lots of familiarities and less hostility in the context. Exploring and ‘conquering’ the new context is considerably faster in easy posts, but common to both sexes of spouse.

Have you had to give up a job/career and if so how did you feel about this?

Yes. I gave it up at the start so that we could be together. I had a job that was to take me back to Australia after we had really only just met. So I quit that job of more than 12 years and joined the UN to be nearer, and after a year of that, starting a consultancy to focus on freelance contracts around the world. For a lot of reasons, furthering the relationship included, it was an easy decision.

In hindsight, I was young and self-confident enough to take it rather lightly, or at least with more gusto than I perhaps should have. I would not have so easily jumped in (or is it out?) if I had known the trials and tribulations of working when permanently on the move.

There are severely constrained choices confronting the trailing spouse to develop into a location-independent professional. Freelancing is the most obvious fit for spouses. However, this often means being away from home and post for long periods, as well as the vagaries of securing contracts, major financial ups and downs, and little in the way of financial consistency, for example, pension, allowances, and taxation.

A lot also depends on how easily you can service contracts from the posting; some difficult posts, for example, have such lousy communications (both internet and air traffic), that clients drop off quickly when they cannot even get you on the phone. That certainly cools the enthusiasm for consulting work.

Frankly, jobs that are all about working from home are by far the best for all trailing spouses, as long as communications by phone and computer work well.

Have you found it easy to fit in and make friends? Have you met other men accompanying their partners or are you a rare species? If you have met others where and how have you met them?

In Tehran, I am a rare species. The Diplomatic Ladies Group even had to change their name and constitution to allow male members. And still, in the end, being almost the lone male was unsatisfying for several reasons; the group activities were strongly focused on women (perfectly fairly, since women are 99.9% the membership). And it felt like any suggestions I might have to change the group would subvert the real needs and interests of the group.

Being a male trailing spouse makes more difference in difficult posts, or strict Islamic posts, In both of which there are fewer male spouses and fewer contacts with other expatriates and the local population as well. In other difficult postings I have been less of a rare species, and sometimes been able to eke out strong friendships with one or two other male spouses. But being a working spouse, which often demanded travel and long periods away from the post, militated somewhat against forming friendships. In easy postings, it is less necessary to establish a network with other male spouses; friends can be found in many other places.

In both difficult and easy posts, I find it is really important to be a ‘joiner’, at least in the first 6-12 months. Join groups, clubs, meetups etc and also accompany the spouse to events to make acquaintances. Although male diplomats mostly fully ignore male spouses, sometimes you can make a breakthrough through asking questions like “do you play squash?” etc. And sometimes, just sometimes, male diplomats won’t drop your hand before the handshake is done; they might actually want to get to know you even if meeting spouses is not the reason they came to the event.

Do you think it is harder for men than women to accompany their partners abroad – and if so, why?

Yes. There are a number of factors, social, economic, and personal. Male spouses often have indelibly imprinted on them the need to have a job, and provide for the family. That is hard to break and even the staunchest male feminist can have trouble rising above identity issues such as that.

Male spouses are also a fairly rare commodity, even with the egalitarian Swedish foreign service. And this is especially so in hardship places. So making friends for them is overall harder than female spouses who can often engage with a much larger grouping of spouses in every post also looking for doing things together.

Whether we agree with it or not, the simple fact is that many female spouses don’t want to hang out overly much with male spouses and vice versa.

Male spouses are also treated differently by male diplomats: I think the male diplomats don’t quite know what to make of a man who stays home with the children, whether the spouse is working or not. Let’s put it this way, as the male spouse you are not of primary interest to male diplomats for their information needs, which means many do not bother trying to understand out at all. Those who do, however, can often become friends because both sides started with engagement in mind.

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Brian with his daughter, in Australia

If you have children, are you the main carer? And if so how have you found this – are you welcomed by other expat parents or do you feel like a bit of an outsider?

Yes. This has been by far the most beneficial aspect of being a male trailing spouse; being able to build a close relationship with my daughter. I have had the time to be there for her more readily, and have witnessed my wife suffering the “I never get to see her” syndrome of the working parent. I am mostly welcomed by parent’s groups, but it often feels a bit odd as the only Dad in the room. Like it or not, Mums like to hang out with other Mums, not dads. I am also an oddity at school; almost the only father to pick up the children and be in the playground with them; the mothers even (not with bad intentions) exclude me from their social media groups because I am a man. Trailing spouse dads just don’t fit into the vast majority of circles created by spouses who, traditionally, are mostly women.

What would you say to another man considering accompanying their partner overseas?

Consider very carefully your career options. If you are young and successful, don’t be over-confident about finding work wherever you go. You might find something but it may not be meaningful or rewarding and, in many cases, doesn’t even contribute well to paying the bills. Consider your pension; it is never too late for a pension saving but the peaks and troughs of freelancing as a spouse make those savings far, far harder.

What more do you think could be done to help male expat partners?

In my opinion, the posting Ministry should take more responsibility for helping spouses find work. Embassies are a vast web of contacts and networks, and can offer great support to spouses looking for work in a new context, whether that be with other Embassies or international bodies such as the UN. And the posted officer suffers very badly if the spouse is unhappy, and unemployed; there are truly deleterious effects for all involved.

Thanks so much to Brian for this insight into the life of a male trailing spouse – although many of his answers will resonate with women expat partners as well as men. If you haven’t already done so then please check out my other posts in this series HERE and do let me know if you would like to be featured on the blog.

The Male Trailing Spouse series: Ian in Abu Dhabi

Welcome to the second post in my series on male trailing spouses. I have had a feeling for a while that more needs to be done on this subject and was delighted when I was contacted by Eric in Nairobi who was the first to be featured in this series. The reaction to his post was fantastic – it was shared widely and I know from my referrers it reached a whole new audience for me. Today, I feature my second man (and another stay-at-home dad), Ian, who lives in the UAE with his wife and family. Thank you Ian for helping me connect men like you, around the world.

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Welcome Ian and thank you for contributing to my  blog series on male accompanying partners. First of all  could you tell me a little about yourself and your partner/family?

My name is Ian Davies a software developer from the UK. My wife is a Senior Associate with Herbert Smith Freehills. We have an almost three year old son and a four month old daughter and are based in Abu Dhabi (UAE) where we have been for the past four years. This is our first taste of life outside of the UK.

As a male trailing spouse, how did you feel when you first arrived in your new country?

To begin with we were both full of excitement and keen to get on with making the most of my wife’s two year contract. We had quite a large amount of debt before coming here but tax free earnings promised to allow us an opportunity to wipe it all out. I was lucky enough to be given a matching length contract from my employer to continue working remotely so it was pretty much business as usual. Find a house, sort visas, get connected to the internet and find a good takeaway!

Looking back, I was quite lucky in terms of isolation issues. Working from home with only the dog for company was tough to begin with. No contact with anyone all day was an odd wrench that I hadn’t expected. Of course, once my colleagues came online in the UK I wasn’t short of instant messages and emails, but even so, sitting at home on your own for long periods can be hard. However, we were fortunate to have some friends already here and being sporty types we quickly managed to replicate much of our UK social life.

Have you had to give up a job/career and if so how did you feel about this?

Initially, no, but once my wife’s contract ended we decided to move her on to a local, permanent one. The job market here for IT work is not what it is in the UK and with the arrival of our little boy I was faced with the possibility of only earning marginally more than what childcare would cost. The obvious choice was for me to give up work and become a stay at home daddy!

Have you found it easy to fit in and make friends? Have you met other men accompanying their partners or are you a rare species? If you have met others where and how have you met them?

The middle east has a huge expat population so finding like-minded people to socialise with was really quite easy. Although I don’t recall meeting many (if any) other men that had followed their wives.

Do you think it is harder for men than women to accompany their partners abroad – and if so, why?

Yes, definitely! Most expat communities will be predominantly populated by families where the wife has given up work. Perhaps a failing on my part but I have found that groups of ladies are not all that keen on having a man join in.

If you have children, are you the main carer? And if so how have you found this – are you welcomed by other expat parents or do you feel like a bit of an outsider?

I have been my son’s daytime carer since my wife returned to work when he was four months’ old (maternity leave here not being quite as generous as most other countries) and will do the same when our daughter reaches the same age. Having said that, the availability of good nursery care here has relieved the pressure massively; the half day he spends there (7:30am to 2pm) means he is stimulated both physically and mentally in a way that I couldn’t hope to replicate at home.

To be perfectly honest, I have felt very much like an outsider. As far as I know, there are perhaps one or two other stay at home Dads within the social circles that I am part of and I haven’t actually met them. Before my son started nursery I was very concerned about his social skills development as he had only me for company. Even now, after two and a half years of taking him to classes and play groups, we are yet to be invited to a “Play Date”. Only with my wife taking him to these activities while on maternity leave have the invites started.

Have you got any particular stories or incidents to do with being a male TS? Either positive or negative.

Not directly linked to being a male trailing spouse, rather being a male trailing spouse & stay at home Dad. To give some context to the above opinion, I had been attending a play group with my son for several months, I was the only Dad there and while everyone was very friendly, was yet to snare one of these illusive “Play Dates”. One of our friends, who had not been before, asked to come along with her daughter to see how she got on. Within the first half hour she had exchanged numbers with three other mums and had two “Play Date” invites…

What would you say to another man considering accompanying their partner overseas?

I would say “do it” but do so with open eyes and a willingness to “put yourself out there”. Without a job to go to (assuming that a male trailing spouse won’t have one initially) you will not have a ready-made social circle so you’ll have to make a little extra effort. Not so much that it should put you off going though; it’s all part of the experience!

What more do you think could be done to help male expat partners?

I’m not sure that any external influences could have improved my experience, as a trailing spouse of either sex, you get as much out as you put in. Friends, much like dinner, don’t make themselves!

Thank you Ian for being part of my Male Trailing Spouse series and sharing your experiences. I hope by doing so, you have helped others in a similar situation to yourself. I would love to hear more stories like this so if you are a man accompanying your partner abroad, or if you know someone who is, then please do get in touch – either via the comments section below or email me clara@ijbpe.com.

Trailing fools?

Welcome to April 2015’s #TrailingSpouseStories!  This month, we played with April Fools and asked each other “What got you “fooled” into being a trailing spouse?  What myths did you start out with and what did you discover in the process?”  Here is my take on the matter.

As someone who spent my childhood as a trailing daughter, following my parents to Asia and Africa and Europe, and then as someone who took my own posting to Jamaica as an adult, I thought I knew what it would be like. I really thought I understood expat life – I thought it would be easy.

How wrong I was.

I can’t really remember now what my pre-conceived ideas of Islamabad were going to be. I was so caught up in motherhood that I don’t think much else really impinged on my consciousness. I had a toddler and was pregnant with my second when we accepted the posting. The run up to the move was a blur of childbirth, breastfeeding, crying, broken sleep and potty-training. I seriously don’t think I gave much thought to what my life would be like when I got there.

But what the hell did I think I was going to do with myself? We made the huge mistake of arriving during the summer holidays. It was too hot to go out and all the other families bar one were away. Our sea freight was still weeks away from reaching us. We had no car, and even if we had there was nowhere to go. We were trapped. It was a miserable few months and then, just as things started to get easier, we were evacuated.

The second time was better – after all, I had more of an idea of what it was like to not only have yourself to think about as a new expat in town, but two small children as well (which meant no, I couldn’t accept all those social invites…). Plus we were in St Lucia – a beautiful country with enticing beaches and the Caribbean Sea around every corner. But it was still hard – really, really hard. This time I wasn’t so trapped (we hired a car. I used it). But unlike Islamabad, which was bursting at the seams with expats, it was difficult to meet people. Even when the girls finally started at the local preschool, I found it a bit cliquey and unfriendly. I got there in the end, but it just took quite a long time.

And this was me, someone who has lived abroad on and off all my life. Someone who had taken herself off round the world on a solo trip in her late twenties, moved to Jamaica, travelled independently in Egypt, Jordan, Cambodia, Israel, the Philippines….if I found it hard, what of those who had rarely set foot out of their home town, let alone their home country? Who didn’t have the support of a large institution like we did in Pakistan, or the backing of diplomatic immunity, as we did in both places. How were they finding it?

So a germ of an idea started to grow in my head. What they needed, I thought, was some sort of manual. A supportive guide, both practical and emotional, to help them through those difficult, early days in particular. And so the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide was born.

But to return to the original question, was I a fool? Are we all fools? Just because we might find it hard, in some cases harder than we ever expected, does this make us stupid? Well, of course the answer to this is no. We’re not stupid – but in many cases we are under-prepared. So if there is one thing I have learned from these experiences is to do my homework. To try and understand what it will be like, to steal myself for boredom or loneliness or frustration. To know that all of these feelings are normal and that they will pass. To grit my teeth and just get on with getting through the hard times, knowing that it almost certainly will get better.

Foolish? Maybe. But better than blind.

 

To read how others interpreted this month’s trailing spouse link-up theme, please click on the links below:

Didi of D for Delicious says that the trailing spouse life is attractively shiny, yet it is better to know that behind the glitter is a lot of grit.  Read more in #TrailingSpouseStories: Falling for Fool’s Gold? 

Elizabeth Smith of Secrets of A Trailing Spouse says that the reality of life as a trailing spouse does not live up to its image, but is so much better.  Read more in You Could’ve Fooled Me: Common Myths About Trailing Spouses.

Jenny Reyes of MyMommyology asks Are we foolish enough to think that the trailing spouse life gets easier over time?  Read her answer in #TrailingSpouseStories: The Irony of It All.

Shakira Sison chats with Didi of D for Deliciious We chat with Palanca winning essayist and Rappler columnist Shakira Sison to share stories of her foolhardy decision to leave for NYC.  Read more in A Conversation on the LGBT Trailing Spouse Life in NYC with Shakira Sison.

Tala wonders if being a Trailing Spouse was her escapist dream come true, or not?  Read the verdict in Ambition: Expat’s Wife.

Yuliya Khilko of TinyExpats says that quite often it’s not about being ‘fooled’, but about ‘fooling’ yourself.  Read more in Assumptions and speculations – beginning of the trailing spouse journey.

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Being a Woman and a Trailing Spouse: In Honour of the Male Expat Partners.

This month, the month of International Women’s Day, the theme for the #TrailingSpouseStories is how has the trailing spouse experience affected my views of being a woman.

This is a very interesting question, and one I have been pondering since I first received the information about the theme. But it is also one I find very hard to answer. Because in all honesty, I don’t think the trailing spouse experience as such does change how I feel about being a woman. This despite the fact that the vast majority of the accompanying partners are female, the ones that are giving up careers and the financial security that goes with it. That we have a reputation for living the sort of life that our male partners can only dream of – sitting around all day drinking coffee and having our nails done. That some days, it feels like we’ve been shot back in time to the 1950’s. No, it affects my views on a lot of things but not necessarily my views on being a woman. Now let me try and explain why.

While I was writing the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, I realised that I couldn’t ignore one rapidly growing sector of the accompanying partner genre: the male trailing spouse. They may not be who we think of when we imagine the non-working half of a couple moving overseas, but as equality in the work place grows and more and more women have the sort of career it’s not worth financially giving up, they are becoming more common. You might not even know they are there – as birds of a feather like sticking together, so do men and women. Or if you do see them, you might wonder who they are – why is that man bringing his child to school? Is his wife sick?

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If this is the case, I urge you to make the effort and talk to them. While being a trailing spouse is hard for all of us, I personally think it is in many ways harder for the men. Okay, I’m not asking you to get the violins out here – there aren’t many things in life that are harder for men than for women. But finding your way in what is basically a very female world is probably one of them.

In the course of writing the Survival Guide I corresponded with a number of male spouses, and I think most, if not all, of them had managed to integrate in one way or another. They met other men at sporting events or they joined groups of like-minded STUDS (Spouses Travelling Under Duress Successfully – the tongue-in-cheek name of the males TS group set up in Belgium). They threw themselves into more usually female activities like visiting the spa and they gamely attended pre-school groups as the sole man in the room. But it can’t have been easy. Along with the problems all accompanying partners face in their new home – loneliness, culture shock, finding their way around, fears for their own and their family’s security, trying to work out where to buy food for tonight’s meal – they also had to try and adjust to being men in a women’s world.

So when I was asked how being a trailing spouse has affected my views on being a woman, I couldn’t help but think of these men, and think that, in the name of equality (and isn’t this what International Women’s Day is about?), we shouldn’t forget about them. We’re not all women – there are fewer, a lot fewer, men giving up their careers and their financial independence to follow their partners to another country. But they are out there.  And the fact that their numbers are growing is testament to the fact that more women are getting better paid jobs. Plus life is as hard (possibly harder – I know, I know, I am sure some will disagree…) for them as it is for all of us.

In the month of International Women’s Day, this post is dedicated to the Male Trailing Spouses.

Read and explore other stories of fellow trailing spouses in the links below:
  • Didi of D for Delicious shares how the trailing spouse journey has unearthed a lot of questions of what it is to be a modern Filipino woman
  • Elizabeth’s story on how she came to terms on what it means to be a woman as a trailing spouse on The Secrets of a Trailing Spouse
  • On her blog, Tala Ocampo shares how she became a woman in her 1st leg as a trailing spouse in Sri Lanka
  • Yuliya of Tiny Expats on how being strong was easier by having someone else to be strong with

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