Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why does the trailing/ following/ accompanying/ traveling situation even need a name?

Alanpaul*, from the comments of Traveling Spouse!:

I don't see why we can't just say husband or wife. If one spouse works and the other does not in an on-expat setting, they don't need to be differentiated to this degree. 

"Trailing spouse" is absolutely a horrid term.  I've just already renamed my blog twice, and it took me a long time on the internet to even find that one term, so horrid as it is, it's a keyword beacon for other frustrated souls.

I think there's more problems in not naming it.  Before I came across these terms, I felt very alone that had all these thoughts/feelings about my identity if I leave my job/town and go somewhere with my spouse once he gets his post-doc job.  Once I found the term "trailing spouse", even after recoiling at the name, it felt good to know that I wasn't imagining things.  Like when I found out "lie bumps" were just inflamed taste buds, not tongue cancer.

If there's not a word for it, and it's mostly women who are in this position then we're implicitly saying that it's just a normal female role.  "Why give it a name? Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" And even though the "you" in this situation could be male or female, if it was mostly men, there'd be less demeaning name.

Betty Friedan opened the door for a more comprehensive vocabulary about these issues in The Feminine Mystique, where she wrote about "The Problem That Has No Name" (women's ennui with traditional feminine roles).  Hello Feminism!  I can't imagine what it felt like to read those words back in the 60s.  As a twenty-something in 2010, I am conscious of the long road we still have to travel as women, but cannot even pretend to know what it was like for my grandmothers, or my mother.  And I thank them for saving me from those experiences.  And so, when I hear that differentiation isn't necessary, I would rather err on the side of too many names than not enough.

I hope this post doesn't come off as too aggressive, but I am a fan of words, and an obnoxious baby feminist to boot. I'm sure reading one or two posts made that last point obvious.  I still can't believe anyone is even reading this.

*I've linked to a post he wrote about his work/life/marriage situation.  Good to hear from a male perspective on this!  He is now on my blog roll! (and I know he's just thrilled).


  1. Agreed. It's like the first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one. At least in academia (don't know about the expat situation) traveling spouses are viewed and treated in a certain way, and the situation comes with a lot of issues that aren't part of a marriage which doesn't involve frequent changes of location.

    Speaking of which, is there a literature or blog network of armed service spouses who deal with this? I imagine they have to move for partners' jobs frequently as well, but there's probably a different culture around it because it's an expected part of an armed service career.

  2. I'm afraid to be put in a "professor's wife" box, or judged unfairly if I get a job at the University in the process of them hiring my spouse. Before someone says, "Don't let yourself be put in a box!", I know that. But the reality is that I will suddenly be the object of negativity from directions I've never felt it. I'm a human sack of bones and blood, and that stuff affects me. And as a woman who (in a younger time) said she'd never get married and travel the world writing poetry and sloughing off lovers with an alarming frequency, being in a position where my talent is second-guessed because of my spouse's position sounds HORRIBLE.

    It is really hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I'll never be somewhere because of myself, but because my spouse got a job there. I'm feeling a lot better about this than I have in the past, but I am not in charge of my direction right now, and that affects me.

    As for military spouses, geez, I can't imagine, I'm having trouble finding websites that don't look horrible and covered in spam. Maybe I'm being a web design snob. I should do a post about military/academic/expat spouse support sites. I'll do some research into those sites.

    Sorry if I'm unusually maudlin today. I just had a talk with my mother in law where she told me about being in my same situation, and it was taking a lot not to cry.

  3. Just found this... Happy to be on your blog roll.

    I found your site by just googling around "trailing spouse" because I am thinking about writing a story on the movement if I can use that word started on a Facebook page to band the term... But your kicker is just priceless:

    A support blog for those who chose to follow... then started to freak the fuck out.

  4. There's a movement to ban "trailing spouse"? I can get behind that.


  6. And while I'm at it, please visit my Facebook Fan Page for my book and "like" it:


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