Independent Dependent

What do you think of when I say expat? Ambitious? Career focused? A go-getter? Fearless, focused yet adventurous and fun?

What do you think of when I say expat wife? An easy life of G&T’s with the gals post-brunch? Supportive of the spouse whilst also having a hot tennis coach on speed dial? Shopping habits to rival Carrie Bradshaw?

Of course all of the above are complete stereotypes. But there’s a big difference between moving to another country as the expat, and moving to another country as the expat wife. My husband is the expat, the Visa holder, the breadwinner, the alpha male, the one we all rely on for everything. I am just the wife, the dependent. And let me be clear, “dependent” is a hugely belittling term for a woman who up until fairly recently was anything but a dependent. We had a marriage built on independence, we were equals in every way. I drove my own car, I signed my own credit card, and I was able to pay my own phone contract. My name was on the bills alongside my husbands as well as on the tenancy agreement of our home. I had my own bank account in my own name as well as equal access and rights to a joint account. I had a job and a career. I existed as a person beyond the wife and mother. I liked that person, a lot, but she got lost during the move. Really lost. And then unexpectedly this week I found that person hiding at the bottom of a glass of champagne. I didn’t just find her though, I found lots of women just like her. All here as dependents, all fighting very personal battles to readjust their expectation of independence. You see for all that there is on offer here, everything we create for ourselves, nothing can mask the silent feeling of losing yourself. And it is silent because who dare utter the truths of becoming an invisible housewife?

I have busied myself creating a home I have no legal right to stay in without my husbands permission. I have to ask him nicely to sign the paperwork allowing me to have a mobile phone, because it’s in his name, not mine. I’m not allowed my own phone contract here. He also has to pay for it because I’m not allowed my own bank account, such is the life of a dependent. I am no longer the right sort of human for these things. I don’t fulfill criteria. I am not a box ticker.

I feel completely vulnerable, frustrated, isolated, bored and ashamed. I knew I was giving up a lot to move here, but I always thought I was giving up other people, not myself. And I’m ashamed to admit that truth. What would my fiercely independent friends and family think if they knew? Looking past the pretty pool pictures on my instagram account you’ll see the truth- a 28 year old who has absolutely nothing to do all day every day other than entertain young children, plan meals and pick up after the family. Being an expat wife is the most incredibly boring life. I can understand why marriages fall apart under the strain of the situation.

I know what I need to do, I’m already on that road. I need friends, other women who get it, who understand the frustrations and don’t judge the tears when I need to mourn my old life. I need a job to upgrade my dependent status to independent. I need to be my own person again. Except it’s not that easy, none of it is. The women who get it are the same as me, the invisible housewives and girlfriends holding it together to avoid laying guilt at the feet of our (now very) significant other. Most of us are wanting to work, we don’t want to have to ask for pocket money to fund our existence, we don’t want to be dependents. But we are for now at least. And so we seek each other out, requesting to join Facebook groups we’ve been told about by someone in the know, like some sort of secret sorority. And once accepted we realise we are not alone. Far, far from it. We are the oil that keeps the cogs turning in the great expat engine of Singapore. We are needed and we need each other.

The situation may be less than ideal, but the people are pretty damn great. And when everything else feels hideous, it is those people that make life bearable. So this one’s for you ladies, and your champagne fueled defusing sessions. Those expat wives? There’s much more to them than the stereotype suggests. We’re engineers, nutritionists, nurses, accountants, teachers, project managers, we have degrees and skill sets far beyond the old norm of an expat wife. But most of all? We have grit and determination, and we will see this experience through. Not only that, we will make it the best damn experience for ourselves, our families, and our new found friends because will not be defined by our dependent tag. We are 21st century expat wives, the independent dependents.

 

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14 Comments

  1. Grandpa Bear
    September 25, 2016 / 5:18 pm

    Remember – being a “housewife” makes you the Chief Exec/Finance Officer and Head Buyer of a small but growing family business…turnover in excess of…insert figure.

  2. Karis
    September 29, 2016 / 12:39 pm

    Oooooh girl. I get you. I found you through your Instagram because I searched “expat”. That was it. I just married a British man and moved from America to the UK. I’m so thankful to be together and begin this new process of figuring everything out but for now it’s hard and different. I searched expat because I thought “‘man. I need some friends. Some friends that get that just because I’m a housewife for now that wasn’t at all what I imagined myself to be. I used to drive myself places and pay for my own things.” Independent Dependent nails it on the head. It’s hard to feel confident making new friends in a new place when you don’t really feel much like yourself.

    • blog by emily
      September 29, 2016 / 1:22 pm

      Yes!!! It’s the loss of yourself, and trying to hide the fact you’re in mourning for the loss of yourself that has been really draining. How are you finding the UK? It can be tough moving within the UK let alone from abroad so I feel for you, I really do Xx

  3. February 17, 2017 / 10:28 am

    I needed this. Thank you

    • The Expat Mama
      February 18, 2017 / 2:03 am

      Sometimes all we need is to know we’re not alone, which we’re not…

  4. liza
    February 18, 2017 / 12:25 am

    great text. What is difficult sometimes too, is that the husband / partner does not really understand our feelings. I am in the same position as Karis, joining my husband in his home town. He has his friends, family and job when I have to begin from scratch. I feel also affective dependant because I want to be with him as soon as he is not at work, when I should be trying to go out by myself to make new friends and feel less dependant.
    Good luck girls ! It will get easier !

    • The Expat Mama
      February 18, 2017 / 2:01 am

      It’s so tough going – to begin with – and I don’t think the men can truly appreciate the shock of starting again when you have no role of identity to fall back on. It will definitely get easier, all the love for you on your new adventure!

  5. March 12, 2017 / 6:42 am

    Thank you for writing this! It is so important that accompanying partners find their “tribe” abroad. No matter if on facebook or in “real life”: anything that helps us to not feel so lonely and “the only one struggling” is good! – I help accompanying partners voice their needs, make it clear with partners, extended family (because that’s a big one too…: “you shouldn’t complain, you get to live such an exciting life!!!”…). I’m glad I found your blog. – Mine is expatsincebirth.com and UtesInternationalLounge.com – Please let’s connect.

  6. Sancho Panza
    March 14, 2017 / 3:21 am

    Just imagine how it is when you are a dependant male/trailing spouse. No G&T after brunch, no champagne, no shopping, weird looks, uncomfortable conversations, no access to expat wives network….

    • The Expat Mama
      March 14, 2017 / 7:36 am

      I can’t imagine how much more tricky it must be for the tables to be turned. I know I am very lucky to be the woman in this situation as the expat community is very much set up for the trailing spouse to be female, and as such I have been able to find sympathetic shoulders to cry on with absolutely no judgement whatsoever. I don’t think the same can be said for a male trailing spouse, and I’m not even going to pretend to understand as I’d never do those men justice. I’d love to have a guest blog from the male’s perspective though….

  7. Tracy
    March 14, 2017 / 9:52 am

    I looked for the second page on your blog – the “solution”…… It’s not a great feeling, this loss of independence, being wholly dependent on a man who also is not accustomed to “supporting” a stay-at-home wife. I really don’t like this.

    • The Expat Mama
      March 14, 2017 / 11:47 am

      Are you in the same situation? I haven’t found a solution, just an acceptance that this is how this particular chapter of our lives will be. I wrote another post called Independent Dependant Part 2 where I talk about grasping onto the positives, and finding myself a new identity. It’s not a solution by any means, but it’s about the closest I’ve managed. Sending you massive love- you’re definitely not alone

    • laura
      March 20, 2017 / 12:16 am

      Hello Tracy ! Not really a full solution, but I feel more independent now giving French lessons. Maybe you could try to do online tutoring ? I think the solution is to re-invent your independence. Do not try to do the same things you used to do in the past, because you can’t, maybe you are even not allowed. So try to find totally different solutions, and online jobs are what I found.

      I am now French teacher (I am an engineer…) on i talk i, and also I give private lessons at home. I still don’t earn enough money to feel independent, but I feel a lot better. I have not done this, but maybe you could help in association like Red Cross. You would not earn money but relations and this is also so important. Good luck !

      I found this quote that helped me a lot ” Hang on. It gets easier and then it gets okay and then it feels like freedom.” This is very true. 🙂

  8. April 17, 2017 / 8:26 pm

    As an independent dependent for eleven or so years what you say resonates powerfully with me. When I first started out as the person at home some years ago raising our two children, running the household, being denied employment opportunities, etc. etc. I met with significant resistance from women in certain quarters. Things have improved over the years but even so I hope that, wherever you are, you will offer support to the men who are in an identical position to you. Even today, because expat circles tend to be very conservative, it is difficult for men to be included in everyday social gatherings with women (I had a mantra I wanted to say to husbands: your wife is an attractive, bright woman, but I don’t want to sleep with her, I would just like our kids to play together, or, I would just like to be included in a coffee morning). What you describe is a situation that works no matter the gender of the person at home, but for man there is the additional problem of being included in a supportive social circle, one he can contribute to, like a book group.

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