I despise the term “trailing spouse” and yet even I begrudgingly use it as lame shorthand way of explaining my situation abroad. “Trailing spouse” makes me feel like an uncooperative cat on a lead. But even with that baggage, it’s still a step above the clubby, musty term “expat wife.” Using either, however, causes me to noticeably wince.
Are there alternatives?
My husband recently forwarded an email to me from the powers that be at his company. In it, I was referred to as a “stakeholder at home.” While graciously admitting that I like the way it recognizes my personal stake in the matter of our corporate relocation (and conceding that it is miles above “bitch in the house”), it still makes me want to punch someone in the mug.
At the recent Families in Global Transition conference, the keynote speaker, Dr. Rey Leki, called for the term “spartner” to replace “trailing spouse.” I can’t, however, puzzle out what “spartner” is supposed to summarize. Supporting partner? Sympathetic partner? Sidecar partner? Superhero partner?
As a person who moved abroad in 2005 because I wanted an international adventure, I don’t much like being summed up and fenced in by any of these terms. I have worked abroad. I am studying abroad. I am raising little Third Culture Kids abroad. I am not a “trailing spouse” that gets moved about like a gin and tonic swigging end table.
Let’s consider the following “trailing spouse” alternatives:
1. Conjurer of Worlds. Reminds me of the flexibility required to build (and re-build) an international life. Applies especially well to situations in which one unearths the only birthday cake mix in Zhuhai, China or discovers a fresh career path. I also like the sorcery vibe.
2. Willing Wanderer. Hints at the lack of choice one might have in some relocation decisions, while admitting that this odd journey can still be terribly amusing.
3. Corporate-Funded Adventurer. Gives a nod to the financial backing for many international lives abroad. At the same time, it makes one sound like a tool.
4. Expat. Sweet, simple, easily understandable. “Expat” is to “trailing spouse” what “Ms.” is to “Mrs.” After all, why should anyone’s international identity relate exclusively to his or her marital status?
5. In the end, I might personally lobby for “Internationalist.” I like the vagueness. I like the Cold War, “cloak and dagger” feeling. I like that one could use it forever and not just while actually living abroad.