The Lame Labels We Give Expat Spouses

January 4, 2016

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to labels we give expats – women or men – who courageously decide to put their jobs or lives on hold to support their spouse’s work assignment in a different city: trailing spouse, expat wife, accompanying partner – and I gotta say, they all suck. I can say that because I am one.

Not only is the lameness of these labels inaccurate (as if I trail behind my husband while he walks masculinely ahead of me), it also doesn’t do any bit of justice for what, we, spouses actually do.

Lame Name

Many times we relocate to a place with strange faces and foreign languages. Many times we are packing lives and children into a handful of bags and trying to unpack an entire home from those suitcases. Many times we are the cushion — NO — the boxing bag that absorbs the blow for everyone else. We navigate, we explore, we dive into discomfort because the other option is to sink and while we come out stronger for it, labeling us as people who follow or tag along diminishes what we are. Let’s take a look at some…

Originally published here on Matador Network

Expat Wife

Unless Julianna Margulies is playing me – this is silly. Just like “The Good Wife” is intended to be an ironic title for Alicia Lockhart’s badass character, I’m much more than an expat wife. Besides first being a woman, I’m a mother, a writer, a daughter, a friend, a college graduate, a teacher, an event planner… a lot of things not just a wife. Why not an expat mother or an expat friend or expat person? Why an expat wife? Why must we be boiled down to a label that binds us to someone else, namely our husbands. Don’t get me wrong. I love being Husband’s wife, I just don’t want to be solely known as that.

Trailing Spouse

For some reason, when I hear this term I imagine myself as orphan Oliver asking for “some mo’, sir.” Hanging my head, shuffling my feet behind spouse, falling behind. Believe me…I’m not the type. I don’t trail. I lead. And I’m sure many “trailing spouses” head the pack, lead the way, command the charge. Many of us have degrees and Masters and PhDs. Many of us left jobs behind to support our spouse, not to trail them. Many of us would leave you trailing in the dust.

Expat Labels

Accompanying Partner / Spouse

Here’s the definition for accompanying:


1. go somewhere with (someone) as a companion or escort.
“the two sisters were to accompany us to New York”
synonyms: go with, travel with, keep someone company, tag along with, hang out with…

2. be present or occur at the same time as (something else).
“the illness is often accompanied by nausea”
synonyms: occur with, co-occur with, coexist with, go with, go together with, go hand in hand with, appear with, be attended by…

Of all of these labels, this is the worst. I am not a companion (which makes me sound like a pet) or an escort (which makes me sound, well…I won’t go there). I also resent being compared to someone that is just present at the same time as my spouse. And while I’m on it, would the non-accompanying spouse really like this one either? Husband walks into a party and someone says, “Oh, I see you brought your escort.” Does he need someone to bring him to the dance? Can he not company himself? Yep, the worst.

STARS (Spouses that are Trailing and Relocating Successfully)

Oh good Laaaawd. I def just threw up on myself. Besides the über, gooey, cheesiness of it…it’s also patronizing. Do I also get a gold sticker because I’m doing such a super job? How about a pat on the head? That was sarcasm. Don’t even think about patting my head if you want your hand back and while we’re at it, lose the STAR talk too. Really.

Relocation Family Manager

Seriously?! You don’t have to make me sound fancier than I am either. Guh. I won’t even go there…


So What Should I Call You?

Here’s the simple answer. I don’t know. I think it makes me quite courageous to not attach what I do with who I am, to not hide behind titles or labels or office desks. So call me that if you want — courageous. Does it matter if I’m not working in the traditional sense or that my job of blocking blows and navigating new territory is free of charge? Ok, then call me Blow Cushioner in Charge of Navigating New Territory. But really, the bigger question is, why do I need to be called anything other than what I am? Like my spouse, I also moved abroad. If he is an expat, I am an expat. Not trailing, not accompanying. Just an expat. Try calling me that. If all else fails, Jen has worked just fine for years.

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Photo Credits:
Frederick Ranninger – Travelers
Sushiesque – Lame

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