Though Alex and I both moved here together to attend school, my education ended before his, and my current visa situation (read: pending) means I can’t work. So, by technical definitions, I’m a “trailing spouse.” Rewind six years, fresh out of college, if you told me that’s where I’d be doing when I was 28 I would likely had laughed, in part, because at that time I didn’t believe in marriage. But also, I hadn’t at that point really traveled, the thought of living abroad seemed so remote I couldn’t apply it to my own life. But here we are. And it’s fantastic, and challenging, and the best thing we’ve ever done.
A common question I’m asked is, what do you do all day? It’s a simple question, and yet, I can’t come up with a summarized concise way to explain my life. First, it depends. I travel a lot, visiting home or friends, so I’m rarely in Dublin more than 6 weeks at a time (this winter for example I’m here for seven before heading stateside for a month). This makes feeling settled in Dublin a challenge, I consider finding volunteer work (which in Dublin is surprisingly difficult), or joining classes, but I’m often not here long enough. So while Dublin most certainly feels like home, I feel like I live a bit on the periphery, most of my interaction with locals is the checkout person at my local grocery store. Though even with school, we’ve both had Irish acquaintances, but never friends. This is common, apparently, we’ve found though Irish people are extremely friendly they usually don’t want to be your friend (they already have a huge network of people, it’s a small close-knit country). This is not universally true, of course, but for many of us, it’s held true. All of our friends are North Americans, despite our best efforts.
So, when not traveling, what do I do? I’ve found my days fill up easily, I’m never bored, and have even complained I didn’t have enough time in day to accomplish everything I wanted. Essentially, I take care of our lives. Alex’s schedule is tough, his day is usually 7am-10pm with breaks to eat, occasionally he’ll take a few hours off on Saturday night. He’s home for varying hours, but when he is, he’s studying. Life of a med student. So, in order for our brief free time together to not be filled with chores and errands, I pretty much do 90% of the life-maintaining work. The fact that I can do this, and actually enjoy it means our quality of life is higher. The time we have together is easy, and we can do whatever we please, simply enjoying each others company, the logistics of our life well under control.
My weekday looks something like this:
8am: Breakfast, read, peruse internet, answer emails.
9am: Morning yoga, and if I’m feeling ambitious, meditation.
10am: Daily tasks (cleaning, organizing, whatnot)
1:00pm: Run errands, grocery shop. *As a side note, this is really a poor choice, Irish lunch is at 1pm, so all of Dublin is out, making running errands occasionally rage inducing. I should change this.*
4:00pm: Free time/prep dinner
6:00pm: Dinner, because we’re old.
7:00pm-until Bed: Reading, researching, writing, etc.
Weekends: whatever we feel like, which for Alex usually means study, or meet up with friends. And probably exercise.
It’s pretty amazing, I have to say. I do wish I had more of a connection to my community, and it’s entirely my own fault that I don’t. But because I leave so often, I just don’t get around to it. So, sometimes I feel like I’m not fully utilizing my time abroad. But as an introvert, the way I spend my time makes me very happy. Though it’s a routine, I’m OK with it, since it isn’t permanent. If this is how the rest of my life was going to look, I might have a problem with it. But because it’s a few months, it’s great. Our apartment is always clean, I get to cook elaborate meals, and have plenty of time to take care of myself by sleeping and exercising enough. Those simple pleasures seem extraordinarily extravagant in modern society, especially as an American. And we are so incredibly lucky we can do this, that it’s even an option that I stay here. I’m constantly grateful for that, for our families that make it a reality. And it’s an interesting paradox. Because I don’t work, we spend a lot less money now than when I was in school. I’m able to clean, plan meals so that we don’t have to eat out or buy lunch if we don’t want too, I have time to research and try to fix things myself instead of just paying someone else. I love feeling capable of taking care of our lives. I feel fulfilled by this, for the time being. There’s a real end-date to this life (mid June, 2016). So it’s hard to look too far into the future. We don’t know where we’ll be living, or what our lives might look like. And while we wonder, and try to plan for our future as much as we can, there’s so much up in the air, it’s difficult to consider life much further than a few months ahead. It’s an odd state to be in, but one that for now, works tremendously well for both of us.
It’s a team effort. If you know me well, you know how strongly I feel about egalitarian relationships (aka: I’m a feminist, obviously). So, you might wonder how I feel about this hugely un-equal domestic existence I’ve fallen into. First, it’s temporary, but even if it wasn’t, it would be fine. Yes, I do 95% of the housework. But I’m 100% OK with it. I married a doctor. I was under no illusion about his time commitment to work. But Alex and I are a team, he’s off securing our future, I’m here taking care of our present, and when he is home, he does all he can in that area as well. It feels very equal, and we both appreciate the heck out of what the other does, and the sacrifices the other makes. We’re lucky that this arrangement makes us both happy, and that we are able to improve each others lives in this way. I don’t know how it’ll work in the future, what my professional life will look like, but for now, we’re happy and it works. And that is something. That really, is everything. So it can be challenging, living in a constant state of unknown, or feeling generally disconnected to the place we call home. Though it can feel isolating and occasionally lonely, it’s a good life. It’s simple in the best ways. I’ve also gotten over caring in the slightest what other’s think of our lives, and I generally am able to not compare our lives to rest of our age cohorts. Besides, they are so different, there isn’t much to compare. Perhaps this is an age thing, approaching 30, or perhaps it is learned. But as a (very competitive) person who used to constantly compare my milestones and achievements to others, the relief of not doing so is immense, and contributes greatly to my sense of fulfillment in life.
And that, in short-ish form is my life as a trailing-spouse, a situation I never thought I’d land in, but am immensely grateful for everyday.