What do you think of when I say expat? Ambitious? Career focused? A go-getter? Fearless, focused, yet adventurous and fun?
What do you think of when I say expat wife? An easy life of G&Ts with the gals post-brunch? Supportive of the spouse whilst also having a hot tennis coach on speed dial? Shopping habits to rival Carrie Bradshaw?
Of course all of the above are complete stereotypes. But there's a big difference between moving to another country as the expat, and moving to another country as the expat wife. My husband is the expat, the Visa holder, the breadwinner, the alpha male, the one we all rely on for everything. I am just the wife, the dependent. And let me be clear, "dependent" is a hugely belittling term for a woman who up until fairly recently was anything but a dependent. We had a marriage built on independence, we were equals in every way. I drove my own car, I signed my own credit card, and I was able to pay my own phone contract. My name was on the bills alongside my husband's as well as on the legal documents of our home with equal responsibility, and legal rights. I had my own bank account in my own name as well as equal access and rights to a joint account. I had a job and a career. I existed as a person beyond the wife and mother. I liked that person, a lot, but she got lost during the move. Really lost. And then in a rare moment of child-free socialising in this city I now call home I found her hiding at the bottom of a glass of champagne. I didn't just find her though, I found lots of women just like her. All here as dependents, all fighting very personal battles to readjust their expectation of independence. You see for all that there is on offer here, everything we create for ourselves, nothing can mask the silent feeling of losing yourself. And it is silent because who dares utter the truths of becoming an invisible housewife?
I have busied myself creating a home I have no legal right to stay in without my husband's permission. I have to ask him nicely to sign the paperwork allowing me to have a mobile phone contract, because it's in his name, not mine. He also has to pay for it because I'm not technically allowed my own bank account, such is the life of a dependent. I am no longer the right sort of human for these things. I don't fulfill criteria. I am not a box ticker.
At times I feel completely vulnerable, frustrated, isolated, bored and ashamed. I knew I was giving up a lot to move here, but I always thought I was giving up other people, not myself. And I'm ashamed to admit that truth. What would my fiercely independent friends and family think if they knew? I know what I need to do of course, and I'm already on to it. I need friends, other women who get it, who understand the frustrations and don't judge the tears when I need to mourn my old life. I need a job to upgrade my dependent status to independent. I need to be my own person again. Except it's not that easy, none of it is. The women who get it are the same as me, the invisible housewives and girlfriends holding it together to avoid laying guilt at the feet of our (now very) significant other. Most of us are wanting to work, we don't want to have to ask for pocket money to fund our existence, we don't want to be dependents. But we are for now at least. And so we seek each other out, requesting to join Facebook groups we've been told about by someone in the know, like some sort of secret sorority. And once accepted we realise we are not alone. Far, far from it. We are the oil that keeps the cogs turning in the great expat engine of Singapore. We are needed and we need each other.
The situation may be less than ideal, but the people are pretty damn great. And when everything else feels hideous, it is those people that make life bearable. So this one's for you ladies, and your champagne fueled defusing sessions. Those expat wives? There's much more to them than the stereotype suggests. We're engineers, nutritionists, nurses, accountants, teachers, project managers, we have degrees and skill sets far beyond the old norm of an expat wife. But most of all? We have grit and determination, and we will see this experience through. Not only that, we will make it the best damn experience for ourselves, our families, and our new found friends because will not be defined by our dependent tag. We are 21st century expat wives, the independent dependents.
Adapted from an original blog post featured on The Expat Mama