Follow Me: I am a Trailing Spouse

Nasrine Shah Abushakra, Ph.D.

I am a following a spouse, a trailing wife, and an expiate partner.  I had a flourishing career in the United States, where I am from; in fact I was even offered a tenure track at University of Michigan before the age of 35! Which is quite remarkable, I am told.  Most of the cohort that I started my Ivy tower journey on are now tenured at places such at Tuffs, Harvard, Stanford and of course Ross School of Business, a top tier business school at University of Michigan, a place where I would have held office hours.  Instead, I followed my heart, rare for an academic in the hard sciences to do, but I did it.  I remember both the Dean of my department to the highest level of the university administrators convincing me to stay. “Why did you spend 14 years of your life to get to this point to simply dismantle it like this?” That question was posed to me, and to this day it haunts me.  At times awake in the bewitching hours covered in a sweat, with that question echoing in the bowels of the core of my soul.

However, I am a rare breed, but one that is beginning to emerge more profoundly in a global arena.   In the U.S. we’re lovingly referrer to as “Soccer Moms” however, my breed IS different.  Mainly, because not only am I a following spouse my partner is not here with me in this foreign land, in fact like so many husband’s in Dubai, and other heavily dense expiate cities such as (Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico and endless others) partners move to an exotic land where their spouses travels close to a ½ of the time or even more.  I have a dear friend whose husband travels every week and is home only on weekends, yet another friend whose husband travels every 2 weeks for a week and then there is myself.  My husband travels every three and often times two weeks for anywhere from four days to over a week.

I am always playing head game in my mind. “Ahhhh, I get the whole bed to myself” I will have more “me” time, I say to myself.  I am lucky he is traveling after all he is doing it for our family.  Sometimes he travels to places that I am not so sure are safe, again my mind plays with me, the reality of maybe becoming a widow disturbs me, he assures me, like so many husband do in the arena of our expiate existence.  “Nasrine it’s the same danger posed to me as walking around parts of D.C. at night, stop worrying!”  My husband is always reassuring me.

I am blessed by what I loving refer to as my Dubai Diva Power Posse in place.  Woman, mothers and wives that are just like me, we meet for coffee, lunch, dinner and have “girls night out” we have become family that moves like a sisterhood of intense support.  All of our husband’s are in roles that are gigantic, in the overall relationship of the East and the West.  We’re kind of like military wives but we’re not in our home nation, we’re on foreign ground.  Hence we don’t have that support from our local communities, our families and dearest friends are back home.  Throw in some culture shock, intense homesickness, consent jet lag, feelings of concentrated longing, something that mocks daja vu intertwined with a dream-like state and that is what us trailing spouses are steering.  Many of us with small children, a household to run, staff to manage (in a foreign language) and hoping to fuel our own dreams in an unfamiliar land that is not our own with the full understanding that we could be on a plane tomorrow to some other city!

It’s a lifestyle that is NOT for everyone!

“I feel like a single parent but without my family and lifelong friends for support, and I don’t even know how to navigate this city,” my friend was sobbing.  I took her hand, because that is all I could do.  I kissed it and held her tight “I AM your family and I understand” I said.  “My children cry for their dad and then I feel tremendous guilt and what do I do, I fold! I know this is not right but I can’t help it, I know that I shouldn’t but I do it!  I am so angry! I was a lawyer back home, about to make partner, my mom helped out and now, I have given my husband to the peace process!” She was becoming hysterical.  But I too, have been battling the same demons since 2005.  My cheeks turned red as I did what I could to hold back my tears.  I heard the echo of my own child screaming for her father, tears running down her face.  The powerful roar of my toddler daughter yearning for her father, beckons me often.  All this while I am doing my best researching organic kale in the heat of the desert and calling a friend back home to congratulate her on her recent tenure at Yale, I know this frustration all to well.

My phone rings.  She looked at me with a smile “Is it him?” my eyes were now also full of tears, “Yes, it is, excuse me for a second” I stand up and head for a quite area of the café.

This is the way many of expiate trailing spouses exist.  We do it all and then some while our husband’s work, work and work.  Yes, many of us are economically comfortable, is it worth is?  I am not sure?  There are so many benefits to this global lifestyle, and I have a bird’s eye view of the world, but I am tried of flying at times.  Am I grateful for this life, yes, I created it.  DO I regret it, never, is it a challenge, yes it is.  Have I finally learned how to navigate it, yes!

I am now an expert, and now I even know how to be of support to others that are on this international journey with me!  We are the women all over the world that are global citizens in every sense of the word, and what we do each and everyday is remarkable!  I am both honored and humbled to be a part of this cohort!

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7 Responses to Follow Me: I am a Trailing Spouse

  1. Sue Ann Gleason June 9, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    It takes great courage to use that knowledge and all the expertise you acquired in your Ivy Tower journey with a different “intention” in a different context and, in your case Nasrine, a different country. I hear your angst. I also see your pride in your beloved and the joy you share with your beautiful daughter. I am in awe of YOU and all that YOU embody as a wife and a mother.

    I am seeing the lines of “accomplishment” softening as women step into their power without labels like tenure and associate. Or “partner.” I love the word entrepreneur. It holds so much more wonder and curiosity. I am on my second career. I wondered what I would do without the “identity” I claimed in my former life. Part of that identity slipped away and some of it is illuminated in my new career, but what remains the same is ME, beautiful, glorious me. And for that I’m grateful. And for you I am grateful. Beautiful, glorious YOU!

    Thank you for another heartfelt post.

  2. Kimby June 9, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Nasrine, I don’t have any experience in global “away-ness,” but as a former trucker (and trucker’s wife), your concerns echoed in my heart… the unpredictable absences, managing family life on your own (much of the time), wondering about your husband’s safety, and yes, even the widow question. Having the whole bed to yourself ain’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes!

    Yet, there’s an undercurrent of strength in what you’ve written — a strength that was developed in part because you HAD to, and partly because you LEARNED to (for yourself, and now for others) — but, most of all, you CHOSE to, and therein lies the key to your context. You did it! You’re doing it! You’re helping others do it! Bless your wide-open global heart!

  3. Denise June 10, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    As a woman who has chosen, I repeat, chosen to put my children and spouse first, I can so relate to this. I often think about what I have given up and what I might have become but then I look at their faces and know that if given the opportunity I would put them first again.

    I love the community of women your building in your home away from home. I love that your sharing your story. Thanks

  4. Tracey Ceurvels June 11, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    I love being a witness to your journey, from tenure track professor to where you now stand. And from my vantage point, where you are now is your strongest position thus far. You are a mom, an entrepreneur, a woman living between to countries and among many cultures. You are taking your gifts and strengths and sharing your wisdom. Your journey has led to this point, and it will no doubt continue to flourish. You may wake up wondering what could have been, but you are standing, among loved ones, in your own power, not a university, and that’s incredibly admirable.

  5. Maj Jensen June 13, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Thank you for being so raw and truthful. You come across as so strong in your vulnerability. My family and I often talk about how great it would be to move to a different country for a period of time. The adventure, new cultures and new perspectives on life seem so exciting. Your post serves as such a great reminder that no matter where we are and choose to be, there will always be things we miss out on. Home or away :) I guess it’s all about striking a balance between allowing ourselves to be happy where we are and allowing ourselves to dream of more.
    This is my first visit to your blog and I can’t wait to read more from you.

    • roberto March 27, 2013 at 6:49 am #

      Salam~a~lekum, ma hada?
      What a profoundly perplexing group of feelings you experience!
      Got to hear more catharsis or ambivalence?

      Your approach is exactly what I now can imagine from a non~social scientist.
      Keep this up.

  6. Joseph November 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star. ~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

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