Monday, February 7, 2011

Guest Post: Freeze-dried

Freeze-Dried is a female grad student on-her-way-out-of-the-twenties. She's into SF/F, food, hugs and some (albeit very little) exercise. She is Mostly Harmless and can be reached at

Dear A.b.,

Ever since you’ve invited me to do a guest post in this space, I’ve been wondering about what I can say as a traveling spouse that you haven’t already – incredibly honestly and eloquently – addressed.  And I’m convinced that I can’t do an abstract idea-post related to being a traveling spouse*. My solution, forgive my indulgence, is to focus on me.

A couple of years ago, I decided to follow my partner, (not just because it is the right thing to do**), but because I wanted to***. At the time, although I was in a job that I thoroughly enjoyed, I hadn’t really begun to think of it as a career. After an initial wave of uncomfortable dependence (that passed with support from the spouse), I eventually maneuvered my way into my first unplanned “home-maker” year. I learnt to cook. I also learnt how not to trip over one’s laundry, and how to fold clothes (no, it is an ancient art, really) and sometime down that road, found out that I really wanted to find a career in the academe.

But more recently - sometime over the Christmas break, actually - I discovered that a lot of who I am has come to be built around one relationship. To most people that meet me now, I’m a spouse before I’m a person, much more in fact than P is. This is significantly different from our pre-travelling situation. Back then (it does feel like ages ago), I was an individual / a woman before anything else. I suspect a lot of this difference has to do with having chosen a dependent life.

Between commuting to work, hanging out with P and getting stuff done for school, for want of both time and interest, I do very little else. Consequently, new people meet me as a role rather than as a person. On the other hand, P, given the nature of his job and of our situation still has a more independent life than me. For instance, he meets people at his workplace as a so-and-so-specialist and the dynamics of a job allow for development of (a certain kind of) familiarity, while grad school can be very immersive and isolating.
Anyway, people meet P as an individual / a man before meeting him as a spouse.

[Okay, now is a good time for that interjection: P works his job (although he’d rather be pursuing his art), so that we can have the life that we do. For this, he has my highest respect. I must clarify that this post should in no way suggest that he is insensitive or otherwise oblivious to my concerns.]

Meet my freaking-the-fuck-out moment: In my own mind, I have become a spouse who is incidentally, doing other things.

Self, meet Insecurity. Insecurity, meet Self.

For me, this realization has been attended by some seriously debilitating angst, helplessness, and – surprise, surprise, possessiveness – the kind that has, in the past, made me run in the opposite direction. Coming to terms with this idea (that despite all the things I do, even I think of myself as a spouse first) hasn’t been easy. It means un-learning some things and re-learning some others. It means walking out of this comfort zone of a secure and familiar identity (that I didn't even realize I was building) and learning to be at home with the unknown. And perhaps most scarily, it means having to do this – being a traveling spouse – without losing myself.

A dear friend (who re-appeared quite of the blue to buoy me through this very personal crisis) said, “Being possessive is okay. But what matters is what you do when they’re around and what you do with yourself when they are not.” All suggestiveness aside, that’s my new goal. Yes, with the traveling spouse deal as it is, I don’t necessarily know how, if at all, I can have a completely independent identity without going back to a non-nomadic lifestyle. Hell, I don’t even know how I’m going to work at this.

But, I’m determined to atleast try.

*’cause almost everything about being one is so personal, init?
**Which is an expectation where I come from
*** A complete distrust of long-distance relationships may also have had something to do with this decision.



  1. Wow. I read this post nodding along as Freeze-dried PERFECTLY described my own experiences living in a foreign country with a significant other. We weren't married and both of us were working, but I took a job at his ESL school after he'd already been there a while and built relationships with all of our coworkers and most of the greater expat community. I felt like I got introduced as The Girlfriend to EVERYONE. On my first day of class, I'd barely gotten through roll call before even the students were screaming, "You're so-and-so's GIRLFRIEND, aren't you?"

    So, I spent my first year there having an on-again, off-again identity crisis and desperately wanting someone to just introduce me as "this is my friend..."

    My saving grace was a couple of odd jobs I took that didn't involve my boyfriend. I started doing text book voice recording and teaching an ESL class at a medical school across town. No one in those two environments had even met my boyfriend, and it felt like I'd carved out a little niche of the city where people knew me in a completely me-fueled context. And even better, they seemed to like the 100%-me-propelled me. I was honestly more interested in the extra self-worth I was getting out of it than the extra money.

    I don't know if that was even tangentially related to this blog, and apologies if not... This just really resonated with me, and thanks for posting it!

  2. I am so happy to have my first guest post!

    And Anonymous, I am recruiting you next.

  3. Reminds me of a childish pact a friend and I once made. That we would never, ever get a "dependent visa" of any sort! (Luckily, for my ego, I've managed to get my own).

    The occasional resentment I feel as a traveling spouse seems to stem more from imagined opportunities lost than actual changes made. I mean, sure, I could have done anything I wanted to if I hadn't moved. But how much would I have really achieved?

    The what if game is such a slippery slope. It's been my personal, little, dragon for almost three years now.

    @Freeze Dried: So this is where you've been hiding today!

  4. @Simply Bored: All my what-ifs started before I even started dating my spouse. I gave up a chance for a job out of the country because I was a little depressed post-graduation and just plain scared. My decisions have been just that-- mine.

    I also admitted to myself that I didn't start grad school (not because I didn't know how long we'd still be here) because I didn't want to go to grad school. That felt good and bad at the same time.

    So many little dragons here!

  5. Great post, Freeze-dried, and thanks for hosting, ab.

    I don't want to presume that everyone commenting here is a woman, but I have to ask, is part of being viewed as "just the spouse" gendered? I'm a female academic with a male traveling partner, and except for my professors, I don't think my partner is viewed by anyone we know as "the spouse." My partner may feel differently; it may also be because we're not married. But it seems much easier for people to put women into the "wife first" box.

  6. Part of why I started this blog is because I am pretty sure that's how I'll be viewed whenever we move. I'll be seen as the woman who (so normally) moved for his job, and was doing nothing so important that she couldn't up and move away from it. I know better than to keep going in that scenario, though. I really don't think these issues can be separated from gender, as that's where they start.

    I would LOVE to hear more from you on this, Eileen, since you have the opposite situation.

  7. @a. b.
    Ah, I have plenty of my own running-away tales to tell. But they wouldn't relevant on a traveling spouse blog.

    Closer to the theme of this blog, having followed my husband through grad school and now his post doc (and somehow managed to fit in my own Masters program and PhD apps), there have been just about enough forks in the road to make me wonder. What if?

    We're at approximately the same place as you guys. Waiting to hear back from schools he's applied to. Where he goes determines where I go and maybe I can find something stable to do at last... All sorts of serious things I carefully avoid blogging about :)

  8. You've been with him grad school and first postdoc??? You are the only person I've found so far that has done that (that comments on my blog, at least). How long was the postdoc? How hard was it to acclimate, if it involved a move)? Did it seem better for your spouse than grad school, or was it just more torture? I have a million questions.

  9. I'll be happy to answer as many as I can. Freeze Dried can help you find me.

  10. @Anonymous commenter - thank you for reading. I'm glad the post resonated with you.

    @a.b.:Thank you for hosting me! I will put you through to Simbly bored on email.

    @Eileen: I'm tempted to say yes, the gendered aspect plays a significant role. But, I haven't thought that one all the way through.

    @Simbly Bored: Yes, so many dragons. I have to say though, I wouldn't call what I feel resentment. Like I've said in the post, my dragons are all about insecurity and comfort.

    a.b. and Simbly Bored - you guys are right about the questions and the idea that my decisions are all mine. But that doesn't (for me) change the challenge of having to factor in more things that I have in the past.


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