“You diplomatic spouses have it way better,” a female diplomat once said with a laugh. “You just have to attend the parties and we have to do all the backbreaking work.” It was supposed to be a compliment. She admitted to being jealous of our lifestyle, which seemed so much easier, at least on the surface. I smiled and said something along the lines of how we had our own struggles too. Surely, it was seen as a token move on my part to provide comfort.
I get it. It’s not as tough as it looks on the outside, especially on social media. It’s also quite ungrateful to whine about such a life when so many people would kill for a chance to go see the world, live in a different country every few years, and get to know cultures with such depth. I often try to tell people about the trade-offs of such a life. There are quite a lot, after all.
Loss of identity and a career, having to start from scratch every time you move, your whole life consumed by the career of your partner yet not being officially a part of it, not knowing your place. You also find yourself thousands of miles away from friends and your support system. Making friends as an adult isn’t as easy as when you used to meet someone by the slide or the swing. Yet pity is something people won’t often feel for women like us. We should get over it since we have it better than a lot of people.
“It must be nice to be the spouse. I get jealous of you ladies of leisure having brunch on weekdays,” a man once told my female expat friend at a pre-pandemic event. “You have all this free time!” She gave her a wry smile and said, “Actually, I’m the one who goes to the office and my husband is the stay-at-home dad.” He gave her a heavily surprised, “Oh!”
Men are providers, women are at home. Men who move abroad on their own are adventurous, go-getters. Women who go about this by themselves must be lonely and they deserve it for choosing a career over finding a spouse and having kids. Who will they come home to after a long day in a strange new country?
There’s a lot of bias against women in general and where our place in society is but I can only speak for what my circle and I experience. It used to bother me that people passed so much judgment when most of us have to fight every single day for our place in society and even in the industries we choose. Just a few years shy into a decade of being a portable spouse, and having restarted my life for the third time since then, I now know to pay no mind to such comments.
My first-hand experience dictates that it takes a lot of guts and strength to move abroad as a woman. To say yes to a life of adventure and stepping out of your comfort zone. I’ve met women who are doctors, corporate big wigs, and lawyers who gave up their careers to accompany diplomat husbands, reinventing themselves every single move. They make complete career shifts or choose to raise a family. Some find hobbies that become lifetime passions, like teaching yoga, volunteering. Women who lived cushy lives back home who decided to pursue a career elsewhere because growth back home has plateaued and things were getting too familiar.
Women are strong and highly adaptable.
Men are providers, women are at home. Men who move abroad on their own are adventurous, go-getters. Women who go about this by themselves must be lonely and they deserve it for choosing a career over finding a spouse and having kids.
Just this week, I went to a workout class at Rise Nation in BGC with nine of my female friends. All expat women who found themselves in Manila either for their career or as part of a diplomatic family. It was a tough workout but a whole lot of fun, with lights and music. It’s like being in a club but instead of normal dancing, you’re on a Versa Climber shedding 500 calories in one go.
Every time I stopped to catch my breath (aka a prelude to giving up), I took a look around and saw my friends really going for it and having fun. Before I knew it—I was back into the routine, inspired and energized by what I saw. It dawned on me that in every posting, meeting like-minded women always helped me settle down in a new place faster and get inspired to continue what I do or even try something completely new. Moving abroad forms a special bond among women who have done the same and when we talk about our struggles—the ones that only we can truly get—we also end up cheering each other on.
Not A Daydream, a social enterprise founded by expat women here in the Philippines, recently sent me a shirt that had the words “Women Empower Women” on it. I ended up wearing that shirt to the workout and not one shirt in my closet ever achieved this level of being so appropriate and timely. If there’s one thing I highly recommend, it’s to find and surround yourself with women who get you, women who empower you just by being themselves.
Happy Women’s Month to all!