A (not so) fond goodbye to the “Trailing Spouse”

Dear Mr Author of the Urban Dictionary.

I’d like to bring to your urgent attention some inaccuracies of the description currently used to describe a person who accompanies his or her life partner to another city for work. You see Mr Author Sir, its simply not accurate to call us “the trailing spouse” – could there ever be a worse descriptor? Perhaps my new life in a city where my language comes fourth to three others is making me something of a grammar snob? Perhaps…but I think not.  I think it’s time we let go of this description Mr Author Sir and found our way to something a whole lot more appropriate.

I’d like to give you some alternatives to your current inaccurate identifier, some that bring it into, well, let’s just say bring it somewhat closer to the century we find ourselves in today.

Let’s start with “spouse”: a spouse by its simple definition is a “significant other” in a relationship,  a partner, an equal.  The very act of moving to another country or city or continent requires exactly that: a partnership decision.  Two adults, side by side, chest out, hands held, facing a wholly uncertain future, together. Bravely. Both leading. Neither trailing. So perhaps let’s go with “partner” rather?

There are a few other facts to take into account:

We have a life!

Yes, a life.  A successful career in our home country, a network, a brand, a profession, a legacy we leave behind.  In our partnership, we looked at the opportunity presented and decided, not flippantly, not in a little lambesque skipping behind Mary kind of fashion…but deliberately – that this move is a good one. Not just for the partner with the work opportunity, but for the family as a whole; and for each of the individuals within it.  We agreed that we would all dive headfirst into this new opportunity.  And, although we may not launch into our career from day one, we will take some time to reflect, observe, investigate, explore, assimilate and then, when the opportunity presents, write the new chapters of our career books in this new land and create our new brand and legacy. Not trailing.

We are pathfinding

Pathfinding! What a wonderful image.  Forging through the overgrowth, hacking a new path, a new way, a new adventure to be found on the other side, at the top of the mountain, beyond the jungle.  It’s that! We have to start at the beginning, finding our way.  New transport, new road rules, new language, new produce, new customs, new time zones, new people, new politics…new – well new absolutely everything! And with all due respect to our partners who’ve come for new work opportunities, there’s something somewhat safer in that path isn’t there? And we do it, not just for ourselves, but for our families too.  Finding the hidden gems, and secret successes whilst they go about schooling and working. And just like the jungle-hacking type of pathfinding, the expat type is somewhat painful. Physically.  Mentally. Emotionally.  Overwhelmingly exhausting.  But we do it. We are forging a way into our future.  Not trailing.

We are the rock

As our families stumble through new school experiences and our partners find their way in new teams and cultures, we are the stable foundation in our homes. We’re keep it together, we smilingly face the teenage rage, the new work exasperation, the venting so necessary for them to stay strong.  We find the new base, new providers, get connected – we even reluctantly assemble the furniture. We courageously hold it together, when it’s the hardest thing on earth to do – because we must be strong.  Not trailing.

So you see, Mr Urban Dictionary Author Sir, we are not “The Trailing Spouse”.  I totally understand that you are entitled to your wrong opinion, but in this instance lets go with the facts as I’ve laid them out for you.  And if you are not yet sold, well, then let’s just stick with my opinion on this matter, and rename ourselves “The Pathfinding Partner”, it fits so much better don’t you think?

Yours adventuringly

The Pathfinding Partner – Brussels


PS:  This pathfinding partner is forging a path and writing a new chapter in Belgium, if you have something exciting you’d like to do together, I’d love to hear more!




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