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Home » The Vine

The Vine: April 14, 2010

Submitted by on April 14, 2010 – 8:53 AM53 Comments

Sars, knower of things,

This is a workplace sort of thing, and it’s a wee bit tangle-y.

About eight months ago, there was a managerial shake-up at my store (which is a small cog in a big machine, if you get what I’m saying), which resulted in my store manager being fired, everyone except three of us (myself, the assistant manager, and a part-time manager) quitting, and a new store manager being hired. After about two weeks, the part-time manager quit, which resulted in my being promoted to her position.

By most accounts, I’ve been doing a bang-up job; all of our numbers are up across the board, things are getting done and being organized, I was being talked up all over the place — by both my new manager and the assistant manager. I don’t bitch about the things I’m asked to do, even when I’d like to, I come in extra when they need a spare set of hands or someone calls off sick, I know the merchandise and the customers, and all of the employees seem to like me.

Until about a month and a half ago, that is. Around then, something — and I have no idea what — changed. My manager and I started butting heads over small things, which I always yield on once she makes what she wants clear.

I wasn’t told that I would no longer be making up the schedule — it was merely done, without my knowledge, and wrong, and at least a month ahead of time so that no one can request time off unless they’ve asked for it far in advance. Nothing I do is right anymore — if I put out new stock (where it’s supposed to go, according to the floorplan), I’ll come in the next day and it’s moved somewhere else; there are detailed notes telling me to do things that 1. I already know to do and 2. know how to do, since I’ve been doing this job for seven months.

About a month before things turned…strange, we had another change in staff, on a smaller scale, where my manager hired two people to replace two OTHER people she’d hired who hadn’t worked out. One of the new people that was hired has become a friend — we share a sense of humor, as well as several interests, and she knows what she’s doing at work. She was quickly promoted to the same level I’m at, which is good — we needed another manager, and she’s good at what we do.

She has also become my manager’s new confidante, which is a role she doesn’t particularly want. She hears, from what she’s told me, all sorts of things that managers shouldn’t share with other people at work. My manager evidently asks about what I do and say frequently, criticizes what I do, complains about what I as well as the assistant manager do and don’t do. She also plans to get rid of all of the part-time workers we have now for no reason other than she’s decided they just won’t suit.

There’s been talk of firing me (which is the first I’ve heard that I’ve been doing anything wrong at all), as well as cutting my hours (which, from the looks of the schedule, will happen next week) because my sales have been low. We don’t work on commission, and…they haven’t been low at all, actually.

Most of the problem here is hearsay, and I know I should talk to my manager about it to clear the air. But I don’t want to get the other girl in trouble, and I also don’t know that any good will come of it. One of the stores next door to us (which caters to a similar demographic) has been hiring for a full-time assistant manager — my manager went there to ask them if anyone from our store had applied there, and then asked if they could forward any applications they rejected to her.

Her behavior, to me, smacks of paranoia — like she’s worried I’ll steal her job. I know for a fact that she takes credit for many of the things I do, and has been saying nasty things about me to the other employees. It feels like I’m trapped — I need the money, and I like my job except for this one thing. But I can’t go to work now without feeling like everything I do is under a magnifying lens, and that no matter what I do, I’m going to get in trouble for it.

I’ve enrolled in school (which already feels like giving up — I’d wanted to transfer stores and maybe get a promotion at some point), so I don’t know that there’s any point in doing anything but muddling through until I’m done with school.

The question is this: Should I just keep my head down, do my work, and keep chanting “just a few more months”? Should I say something to my manager about what I have heard/am feeling? Or find another job and get the heck out of Dodge?

The Shopgirl with the Brown Hair

Dear Shopgirl,

I agree with you that this is probably a competition issue with your manager. I also agree that there isn’t a lot you can do about it. I mean, there is, but the effort-to-benefit ratio is not good.

You can address the issue of your hours without compromising your source close to the manager, though, and you should. Ask for 10 minutes in private with the manager; before you do this, arm yourself with proof that your numbers have not fallen off. Then ask the manager, earnestly and with painstaking politeness, why she’s cut your hours; you need the money, and you’ve done your job to the best of your ability, as [x numbers] show, but if there are areas in which you need improvement, you really hope she’ll let you know how you can get there so that you can resume your usual schedule. Take out a piece of paper and a pen, ask what you can do better, and just sit there.

It can work, that strategy. Sometimes, a superior just hates your face for no good reason, and a focused but pleasant convo about your duties and performance can make a superior like that realize that she needs to put her personal feelings or threatened issues aside.

Can. Probably won’t. What probably will happen instead: she’ll avoid eye contact; make a not-credible excuse about trying something new with the hours blocks blah blah “just hang in there”; and seize on the first interruption, no matter how minor, to end the meeting.

She doesn’t like you, which is okay; she’s letting that crimp your income, which isn’t. Call corporate and get a transfer; find another, similar job in the sector; go next door and apply for that job, even if you don’t want it, just to twit her. Yes, we all have to suck it up when it comes to personality conflicts, but she’s an insecure liar who’s cutting your hours, so what are you sucking it up for, is the thing.

See if you can’t gently shame her into backing off for a bit. If that doesn’t work, leave. The issue is the income; if she’s affecting yours, you’ll have to move on.

Hi Sarah —

I need some advice on how to think about a problem, I think. My husband has been accepted into the Foreign Service and is waiting for a job offer from the State Department. I have been cautiously supportive of this process; in fact, I applied as well last summer at the same time he did, but did not make it through one of the earlier stages of the process. The Foreign Service hiring process is notoriously long and difficult, and I suppose at some level during the whole thing I took a “cross that bridge when you get there” attitude toward how I felt about being a Foreign Service officer’s spouse (a “trailing spouse” in FSO lingo. GAG).

So, the bridge is waiting to be crossed, now that he could get an offer to go Washington to begin training for his first post really at any time. And I have no idea how I feel about it. Sometimes it seems exciting: travel! New, exotic places! Built-in community around the various embassies and consulates! Sometimes it seems super-scary: non-US living conditions! Not being able to speak the language! Having to move every 2-3 years! Sometimes I think it’s a great life to give our children (who are 3 and 1), and sometimes I think they will hate us for not letting them be more rooted.

Majorly, there is also the fact that most trailing spouses (…barf) aren’t employed, or very employable. The stats are that only something like 30% of Foreign Service spouses who want to be employed actually are. I’ve looked into it, and the choices generally aren’t good. Most jobs available in the consulates are administrative in nature — filing and that sort of thing. And working outside the consulate requires navigating that country’s work rules, some of which are prohibitive.

I’m a lawyer, and proud of what I’ve accomplished in my field, and would never be thinking of giving it up now if it weren’t for this. It’s not a particularly portable career. There are some few opportunities for professionals, mostly at NGOs and that sort of thing, within the diplomatic community, but they are few and far between and hotly contested. Should we do this, I will certainly try for something like that, but the odds are very much not in my favor, so I feel I need to make my peace with not being employed before we go, in order to go with my whole heart behind my husband.

Only I can’t seem to do that. I’ve never wanted to stay home with my kids; as wonderful as they are, I need more mental challenge in my life than looking after toddlers can bring (please, commenters, do not take that as any kind of slam against at-home parents. I personally am just not built for it). And I look at the Foreign Service life without a job of my own and I see loneliness and isolation.

A lot of current FSOs that my husband corresponds with have some variation of, “Can you find a hobby?” as the answer for the question of how a spouse should occupy him- or herself. I have hobbies, but I don’t feel like that would sufficiently contribute to the household. I would feel like a lazy dilettante who is mostly doing those things to stay occupied. I’m worried about being isolated and I worry about feeling trapped. And I worry about losing the career I’ve worked so hard to build; it isn’t easy to re-enter the law world after time away, assuming my husband doesn’t want to make a lifetime career of this.

There are a few other factors too, like the fact that my husband hates where we currently live (I am willing to move domestically), he knows I’ve always regretted not traveling more and that I wish I had a more adventurous spirit, and since we’ve been a couple, where we live has been driven entirely by his career, that he has recently left (involuntarily). I moved with him with full buy-in on all the moves; it’s not like I had no say in the matter. But at a certain point, it starts to feel like my life doesn’t matter. I’m feeling absolutely no self-determination, no ability to articulate what I want and be able to make it happen.

I’m also pretty happy where we are living now; after 3 years here, I’ve finally started to develop the community that I’ve been working so hard to build. I have a circle of friends, a church community in which I am active, my daughter has a preschool that we like, etc.

Finally, the Foreign Service has been my husband’s dream since college. I didn’t know that until recently, but apparently he’s always wanted to do this. If I put my foot down and said, “I’m not going,” he wouldn’t go either. I just don’t know if I can do that to him, though.

We’ve talked about it to death (I’ve made all these points to him previously), and now he’s starting to make “jokes” like, when I tell him I love him, he’ll say, “Love me enough to quit your career and come be a stay-at-home mom to the kids in Lithuania?” He laughs like it’s truly a joke (and it wouldn’t be out of character for him to mean it genuinely as a joke), but I’m wondering if it’s more a reflection of how he really feels. And I don’t know how to respond, other than to tell him that I don’t think it’s funny.

So, at long last, my question to you is, how can I change my thinking about this in order to make a decision I can live with? How can I make myself okay with what he’s asking of me? How can I reclaim a sense of agency for myself, even or especially if we do this? I guess I don’t even know what the question is, but I need some fresh eyes on the problem (my therapist is less helpful in this than I thought she’d be). Thanks for your time; love your work.

Too Troubled to Come Up with a Clever Nom de Vine

Dear Nom,

“Finally, the Foreign Service has been my husband’s dream since college. I didn’t know that until recently, but apparently he’s always wanted to do this.”

I’m going to have to call bullshit on this. I’m willing to bet he made that revelation during a discussion or argument about the decision, in order to guilt you into backing down. I’m not saying he hasn’t wanted to do it for a long time, and I’m not saying he deployed “but it’s my dreeeeeam!” on purpose.

But he hasn’t acted on that dream until now, and now, he has a family, and that changes the landscape for him whether he likes it or not, because the family has dreams too. Moving the kids around at their current ages isn’t really a big deal (well, logistically it is, but less so emotionally), but good luck selling them on it in ten years.

Becoming a parent does not mean giving up on your dreams or ambitions, of course. That breed of martyrdom is unnecessary, and does not actually help children from what I’ve seen. But when you have kids, you make some choices, not just about them but about yourself, your lifestyle, your career. You’re not quite as free to move about or change things up as you once were. I’m not advocating that parents put one zombie foot in front of the other in pursuit of picket-fence stability until everyone’s 18, obviously, but the time to pursue a dream job that entails frequent travel and possible relocation to not-so-safe places is perhaps before you have two toddlers…who will be 90% of your spouse’s social life, a state of affairs your spouse is on record as not caring for.

The thing is, your husband knows all that. He knows what you want, and he knows it’s not listening to language tapes and trying to fill your days with crafts. Nothing against crafts, but it’s different when you functionally have no choice. But he wants to go, and he doesn’t want it to be true that someone is going to have to be unhappy in order for that to happen. He makes jokes so that he can head you off from saying, “I want this for you, but I really don’t want any of what it involves for me,” because if everyone’s chuckling ruefully, he doesn’t have to be the bad guy for going after what he wants.

That doesn’t make him a bad guy, but he needs to get real about what it means for you. It sounds like you’ve resigned yourself to going, which is perfectly valid, but I don’t think blowing up on him about it, demanding that he accept your emotional reality, is the worst thing in the world. You’ve had reasoned, I-statements discussions about it, you’ve expressed your support — but you don’t want to go and you already feel resentment building, and you need to get that out, as-is, now, and deal with it. Next time he makes a crack about it, crack back. “No, I’m not sure I do love you enough. …Yeah, not laughing now, are you. Because having to choose between your happiness and my own ISN’T FUNNY. I love you, but I resent it, especially because your happiness is probably going to win — AGAIN! I’ve moved for you before — acknowledge me in a serious way, THIS IS MY LIFE TOO!” Door slam!

No, it doesn’t solve anything, but if he thinks those jokes will go over any better if he’s assigned to Islamabad, he’s high. He can want what he wants, but that has its price and it’s you who will pay much of it, and you can do that for him, but he has to stop pretending it isn’t so.

Once the dust settles on that, have a more reasoned talk about what’s going to happen if you’re really, genuinely miserable overseas. Talk about exit strategies, end dates. Make it clear that you will make your best go of it for a while, without guilt or emotional blackmail for a few years, but if you can’t find work and can’t make friends, the two of you will have to reassess as a family. Draw up a contract if you have to: “We will reconvene on this matter in 18 months, and if I have begun putting ouzo in my morning coffee, you will quit.” I think the idea that this is The Rest Of Your Life is making you claustrophobic, understandably, and having an escape hatch on paper might really help you both.

I’ve recommended before that people with social anxiety narrate social situations to themselves in the manner of a nature show, to relieve pressure and give the difficulty a narrative structure. You might try a variation on that: start a journal or a blog, a memoir of your first year or two years. Call it “Adventures of a Trailing Spouse,” and then have some visual pun on “trail” and fart fumes or something. Make it a story for the ages; count on a grand unifying theory.

And keep an eye on the difference between “This will be GREAT! [clenched teeth]” and “This will be hard, but I will be great in there somehow.” Give yourself permission not to love it, or to pretend you do. Realize that, some days, you will think you made a huge mistake, and other days, you will run into the arms of it laughing.

Get angry. Then get a plan. You can do this.

So, I have a roommate and a cat problem. I moved in with my roomie knowing she had two cats. I don’t love cats, but I grew up with them so I’m used to them, their habits, and their smells. We made it very clear that they were her cats. She would buy food, clean the cat box, all of it. I’d help out when she’s gone or busy, but I was under the impression that wouldn’t happen very often.

As it turns out, I despise her cats. My cats growing up had always been really well trained, so I didn’t worry about them being where they shouldn’t too often. They were also declawed, which these cats aren’t, so I wasn’t prepared for the damage they would wreak on everything. But I’m sucking it up, because I agreed to live here and knew there were cats.

The real problem is that my roommate isn’t taking care of them. She’s off at her boyfriend’s every other week, so I am left taking care of them half the time. And when she is home? She doesn’t clean the cat box more than once a week. With two cats. They pee and poop everywhere and I spend more time than I ever wanted scrubbing the carpets.

Last weekend was the last straw. My mom was in town, we’d rented a chick flick and planned to cook dinner and have a mom/daughter night. We had to flee because the smell was so bad. I cleaned it and aired out the apartment while we went out for dinner, but I’ve had enough. She had various health issues and keeps saying she doesn’t feel well enough to do it. I don’t want to be grinchy but there is a reason I don’t own animals of my own. I don’t like caring for them and I know I wouldn’t be responsible enough to do it.

Is it fair of me to suggest she give them to her parents until she’s able to care for them? Or, alternately, I’m willing to take care of them if she takes over more of the rent/bills. So I guess, how do I bring this up to her? And what are some reasonable options for me to give her?

Pissed About Piss

Dear Pissy,

Document everything you do and have done for/about the cats. Document everything they do. Bring the documentation to your roommate and remind her that you agreed: these are her cats, and you will no longer deal with them except in an emergency. Extended visits to her boyfriend’s do not qualify.

Furthermore, the cats are creating an unpleasant living environment for you. You’re sorry she isn’t well, but if she can’t take care of the cats for that reason, she ought to consider rehoming them with her parents. Either way, you need to see a stench reduction in two weeks or you will arrange to live elsewhere.

If you want your roommate to deal with them, make her deal with them. Stop cleaning up after them. Bar them from your part of the living space; decline to clean up their messes. This will drive you crazy for several days, but right now, this is the message your roommate gets: “You have to take care of the cats yourself — except I already did it.”

Let them do their business in her room; see if that doesn’t focus her attention. If it doesn’t, or if she responds to the filth by spending even more time at her boyfriend’s house, move out, but if you don’t want to care for cats that aren’t yours, you have to stop teaching your roommate that you’ll just do it anyway. Get some incense, lock your bedroom, and force the issue.




  • MM says:

    Re: Nom. I have a friend whose spouse was an FSO, granted pre-kids (for the most part), but my friend did a PhD while the FSO was working, and generally lived in the same place, but would sometimes have to be away to do research. They only did 2 overseas postings before ending up in DC, so it’s a thought.

    Is there any way for you to re-take the FSO exam/would Hubby’s FSO status help you in any way? Also, is there anything you’d like to do in terms of graduate school/work/research (LLM/JSD/Masters type degree in host country?)

    I’m not discounting anything Sars said, and it sounds like you need to have a serious talk and really assert your concerns and interests about the importance of your career in family decisions, but at the same time, if you are game for living abroad/travel/adventure, this may be an opportunity, as well, and there may be ways for you to make it a positive experience for yourself. I’m a lawyer and I get that it is hard to get back into things if you’re gone, but people do, and there aren’t a lot of chances to do something this different, and as long as it’s interesting enough, and you’re otherwise a good candidate, this could be a positive (unless you’re partner track at a big corporate firm, but in that case, you wouldn’t have time to write here.)

  • Morgan says:

    Nom – my cousin got a job in Indonesia and took his wife and two young kids. (Industry, not government.) And she loves it over there. She’s managed to effortlessly find a community of other expats, and so has the social network or friends and playmates for the kids which can be hard to develop back home. There? Everyone is in the same boat, and thus apparently very friendly. The rest of it I have no advice for, but the community you are very likely to find could be very, very helpful, should you together decide to take the plunge.

  • Jennifer says:

    Nom: While I agree with Sars to a degree, I wonder when it is that you said all this to your husband. Was it when the Foreign Service job went from possibility to reality? Or have you been saying this over the years? Because if it’s the latter, while I understand that you have this stockpile of sacrifices you’ve made in his favor, if you never made it clear at the time what a sacrifice it was to you, then…it’s not entirely his fault that he didn’t know. Again, I don’t know the situation. But, to quote Dr. Phil, you teach people how to treat you, and if the pattern both of you have established in your relationship is that his career comes first, it’s going to take some time to re-jigger that set-up.

    That said, I absolutely agree that you need to sit him down and set out some gruond rules going forward. You don’t love it, but you’ll live with it–for a time. And if things go pear-shaped in a major way, here’s our exit plan and he’ll live with it.

  • Katherine says:

    “This will be hard, but I will be great in there somehow.” That is such a perfect phrase for so many situations. It’s going on my fridge as a reminder. Thanks!

  • Dickens says:

    To Nom:

    I’m a librarian for a giant global law firm (offices in 30+ countries). We have a number of attorneys who work in a support capacity – drafting precedents, creating training programs, organizing electronic materials on the intranet, etc…who also work remotely (as do I – my boss is in Chicago, my employees are in Manila, I’m in California). I know that this is fairly common in law firms with a global presence and depending on your field of specialization, this might be an option for you. The pay is not what you’d get as a practicing attorney, but you’d keep your hand in the career that you’ve worked so hard for and have regular contact with adults.

  • Bopper says:

    I had a suitemate in college that had finches (birds). Like you the problem was that she was always at her boyfriends. We kept putting a towel over the cage to keep them quiet. The worst was when they died and then she got more!

  • Vicky Lee says:


    Both you an the boss seem to have bonded to New Kid. it makes me think the boss is not the only one who’s threatened by your place in the food chain. As I’m always on the lookout for ways to avoid work drama, my sensors went off when you said your problems started around the same time as your new work friend/boss’s confidante started.

    I think Sars is right– talk to the boss about the work… and keep it always about the work. And do look for new opportunities. It doesn’t sound like the most promising place for advancement when people are gunning for you.

  • F. McGee says:


    I was in a similar situation, though we weren’t married yet and didn’t have kids. It broke my heart when he chose the job over me, but I made that the choice when he broke the agreement (he’d do his “adrenaline-boosting tour” my final year of school, and then he’d take posts I could go with him to – he didn’t, choosing to go to Kabul next). I met a lot of other trailing spouses during that time. A lot of them had to give up amazing jobs. I don’t know if I have anything helpful to say, except that my ex now hates the State Department, it wasn’t what he thought it’d be, and he’s leaving. People don’t necessarily stay in it for life. I’m not advocating any particular course of action, just saying that he might not like it as much as he thinks he will, either. Good luck.

  • queenjawa says:

    I hear Too Troubled. In 2003 my husband wanted to follow his dream and move to Japan to sing in barbershop quartet (not. kidding.)He made it clear that he wouldn’t go without me but desperately wanted to go. If I said no, I’d be to blame for him missing out on the opportunity. What made it easier to go was exactly what Sars suggested — an exit strategy spelling out how long we’d stay. We went and despite a huge number of sacrifices and compromises made by me regarding lodging, work, food, etc., it was great. At the deadline, I was ready to stay longer and he was ready to come home. Go figure.

  • Diane says:

    Nom, if it helps concerning your kids, my father was in the air force for 42 years and I loved it! I truly believe that it is the reason I didn’t give in to my crippling shyness. I loved moving every few years and being able to try out a new place and travel. And if we didn’t like somewhere…well that didn’t happen often but if it did it was only a few years before we were on to somewhere better. I had a few situations where I was unhappy at school but again, in a situation like that the school gets cleaned out every summer and at least one mean girl will get posted out. It was hard but it was absolutely 100% worth it and I am very grateful to be lucky enough to have the experiences I had. This sounds hokey, but it made me a better person in a lot of ways.

    I should say that my parents made sure to present it all as an adventure and fun and totally normal. That was just the way we lived. Good luck with your decision.

  • Jen S says:

    Shopgirl, God, I feel ya. I worked for a Tshirt touristy type store that was an outlet of a national chain (based on the opposite coast.) Everything was wonderful until our beloved manager quit to take a job at another store.

    Since the Managers (based on the opposite coast)insisted they do the hiring for a new store manager, this new woman just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Things seemed all right at first, but her hinky decision making and memory gaps (merchandise we’d never stocked before would arrive, and it would turn out she’d ordered it but claimed not to), along with her bizarre temper, made work a misery until one of us found her hidden bottle stashed in her trash can. Oh, yes.

    Well, we reported it to Management On Opposite Coast, who said that since she was hired on a 90 day trial basis they couldn’t do anything until the 90 days were up or she could sue (What? I mean, what the hell is a TRIAL PERIOD for if not this kind of situation?) Things came to a head when her daughter’s school called us looking for her, saying her daughter hadn’t turned up. When I went to tell her about the call she flipped out at me, yelling about how she couldn’t deal with all this. The entire staff (three people, but still) walked off the job that minute. MOOC’s reaction? Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

    Now, I’ve gone into this to outline my point, which is there are two types of power at play here. There’s the type your manager is employing, which is fear based, unprofessional, and will probably come back to bite her in the ass. She’s trying to cling to her job by making you look bad at yours, and meanwhile making you feel crazed and insecure (you think she doesn’t know you’re buddies with New Girl? She knows and is feeding her this gossip so you’ll hear it and get ever more wigged out.)

    However, you have power here as well. As Sars pointed out, even in this recession there are other jobs. Apply for them. Outline your duties and successes, and cc them to the next layer of mangement whenever you get jabbed and organize a meeting with her. And hunt down the people who left during the shakeup and see what they’re doing (if any of them are in comparable jobs they may be able to recommend you to their new companies.) Make your power as a valuable employee, one who’d be hard to replace felt, and the dissonance coming from manager will be harsher to the higher-ups ears.

  • dk says:


    My parents moved us to Thailand when my brothers and I were 8, 12 and 15. Speaking for the kids – living overseas is awesome. It gave us wonderful experiences, introduced to tons of new friends, and broadened our horizons and global view in ways that simply cannot happen without that lived experience. I am absolutely grateful to my parents for making that decision for us.

    Speaking for my parents, however. Their return to the States has been really rough on my mom. My dad is a quiet, stay-at-home kind of guy, so he’s happy to be in the house and read his books. My mom is much more vibrant and outgoing, and she’s really suffered moving back here because she has to make friends, come back into the workforce, etc, without the connections that adults who have been here all along have.

    We went overseas for my dad’s job, and my mom got a job (she was a teacher at the international school) once we were there. She has earned a PhD since her return, so she’s very qualified for the job market now, but I know that she’s really missed out on social and family connections after not living in this country for almost 20 years.

    She’s prone to depression, and I think that’s hindering her as well. But I think that preparing for your return and being aware of what might happen after you get back is just as important as preparing for being over there. It’s doable, but it will be hard to return. Of course, there was no internet when we were over there, so that will certainly make maintaining relationships more easy!

  • Anne says:

    I just wanted to say, I think that reply to Nom is the best advice for someone feeling trapped that I’ve ever seen.

  • Elle says:

    Nom, I am not American so I don’t know the specifics of the job your husband would take, but it seems to me you are overlooking a possibility: interacting with the culture you’re in. You are lucky enough to be an English native speaker, which means you will be able to communicate with many people in even the remotest of countries. I can understand it would be hard to find paid work, but would volunteering be out of the question? I’m sure your expertise would be appreciated in many contexts. I have found, both from my own experience and from watching others, that it is ultimately your decision whether you become the stereotypical trailing wife, shutting yourself up in the expat community and getting bored, or opt for going out and making contact with locals other than your cleaners, drivers and cooks.

    As you applied yourself, I assume that there was at least an initial interest in the job on your part as well. Could it be that your uncertainties are a way to channel the disappointment of not having done as well as your husband? this is what would happen to me, I can assure you.

  • Lindsay says:


    I don’t think you need to give up the lawyerin’. Working remotely for a law firm is a great idea. Even if you don’t sign with a particular firm, you can easily become a provider of legal services on

  • Melanie says:

    Nom – I understand your compunction about being a trailing spouse. I lived in Germany without a work visa and not being employed really sucks when you are used to having a job and feeling productive. That being said, with your background in law I think there is a lot of things you could do no matter where you end up as long as you have access to the internet. The first thing that comes to mind is offering free legal advice to people who can’t afford to see a lawyer. I don’t know what avenues you could go through, but I bet if you contacted a public defender’s office they could give you some ideas where to start. Or maybe you could contact one of your local papers and try to do a column remotely. Just a couple thoughts. Living abroad is pretty fun. Coming home is even more fun. Good luck!

  • Leigh says:

    I just wanted to say that (in addition to Sarah’s good advice) I thought MM’s idea of taking the opportunity to do some extra schooling is a great one. I also thought of looking into the possibility of pro bono/volunteer work related to your career, which could also be worthwhile on a resume later, and while not necessarily “contributing to the household” directly in a monetary sense, could be a more fulfilling and worthwhile way to spend your time than on hobbies. It also COULD end up contributing monetarily in a larger sense, if it gives you experience that makes you an attractive candidate for an awesome job later. Good luck!

  • Jane says:

    Nom–I’m in hearty agreement with what Sars says, especially the end date, and I think you’ll get some good ideas in the comments on ways to contribute other than getting really good at knitting. I don’t know what kind of law you practice in, but I wonder if you’d have an interest in working pro bono for a local advocacy group for a cause you find meaningful where you’re stationed? I suspect that attorney training in general will be incredibly useful even if you’re not schooled in the laws of that particular country. And I do think it’s important to mention that there’s starting to be a pattern here of the marriage following him, and that that’s not the theory of your partnership, so let’s be clear on this.

    Shopgirl–nothing profound, save that retail can often suck, but I have to say I wonder a little about your work friend; I’m not sure she’s doing you a favor by telling you stuff that you can’t really fix and that just makes the situation tenser.

  • Jennifer M. says:

    @Nom – The State Dept and various other forms of US gov’t overseas work have been in my family for generations including myself. And you are absolutely right, it can be a very hard choice and lifestyle and it merits a very serious and open discussion between you and your husband before you can go. But if you do move overseas, you can make it work. One successful couple that I know had a very firm deal in place for the past 15: 3 years for his career, followed by 3 for hers (occasionally renegotiated along the way). He was able to take multiple overseas tours in various locales, she was able to get very good jobs in her chosen field in the US in “her” years and did a lot of freelance while at post. Would you be interested in teaching law? There might be adjunct positions available if there is an American University at your post (one of my colleagues was a prof at the American University of Cairo for years while the colleague was on assignment). As another commenter stated, government service doesn’t have to be a life long commitment; one tour of stamping visas may be all your husband can take and then you move back to the US. Yes 3 years may seem like a long time, but it doesn’t have to be a lifetime. Good luck!

  • GracieGirl says:

    Oh, Pissy, I have been through a similar situation and I feel for you. About a week after I moved in with my first post-college roommate, she took advantage of my out-of-state vacation and adopted herself a dog. She hadn’t asked me and I didn’t particularly want a dog, but she promised that she would do all the work and I’d never have to worry about it. Except, of course, it didn’t quite work that way because the dog was still living in common space. Excitable doesn’t come close to describing his temperament – the dog was a holy terror. He’d jump on guests, tear things up, and spin through the house like the freakin’ Tasmanian Devil. The dog wasn’t housebroken and in all the time that she had him, she never succeeded in getting him trained. We had messes all over, all the time, many of which I ended up cleaning. When she first got him, Roomie and I were on different schedules – I worked days, she nights. Before leaving, she’d put him in his crate in our basement, but of course the dog could hear me when I came home and he’d set to barking and howling and whining and generally making a racket, begging to be let out. I could either leave him in there and listen to him all night or I could let him out and deal with the tornado. Also, despite her initial promise that I would never have to do anything pet-related, there were times when she’d call and ask me to take the dog out for a walk. And, because I’m soft-hearted enough to not want to punish him for my roommate’s sins, I’d do it.

    Lucky for me, she tired of the responsibility after about six months and took him back to the pound. Unlucky for me, her next foray into pet ownership involved hamsters. Don’t even get me started about the hamsters.

  • @Nom — Your letter really resonated with me, because I’m also in a tricky two-career situation with my marriage. In our case, we are both academics, and right now we’re making a long-distance situation work. But the likelihood is that, at some point, one of us will have to make a major career sacrifice to become the “trailing spouse” (they use that term in academia too, and it gives me similar icks).

    I don’t blame you for feeling weird about your husband “joking” about whether or not you love him enough to become a stay-at-home mom in Lithuania. Whether or not you’re OK with that situation has nothing to do with how much you do or don’t love him, and even if he’s just kidding, he really needs to stop framing it that way.

    A lot of other commenters have given great advice on how you can continue to be productive overseas, on how you might be able to use the experience to your advantage, and I think there’s every chance that the experience will turn out to be amazing for you and your family. But I also think you’ll feel much better about the whole thing if your husband acknowledges that this is scary for you and that you’re making a big career sacrifice to do this, and if you do what Sars suggests and agree that you’ll reassess if you try your best and still find that you are truly miserable as an FSO’s trailing spouse. You guys are partners, and you should feel like your happiness and career ambitions are just as important as his — and right now I get the sense that’s exactly what you’re *not* feeling. I’ve felt that too, and it’s horrible, but talking it out with my husband and getting him to acknowledge my feelings and my fears really did help.

    Good luck. And if you’re out here reading this, please tell us what’s been happening since you wrote the letter!

  • cayenne says:

    I went pretty far in the hiring process for the Canadian Foreign Service (though did not get hired, to the intense relief of my mother, who had nightmares of seeing her then-blonde Jewish daughter stationed in Tehran or Riyadh, get poisoned by fugu in Tokyo [cos she knew I’d hunt that shit down as soon as I got off the plane], or kidnapped by revolutionaries in in Colombia), and at the interview, we had a chance to ask questions of the current FS officers interviewing us. Interesting responses, and notably, only 1 officer had served more than 10 years – and she was divorced.

    Re marriages: they commented that if married to another FS officer, there were no guarantees you’d be posted together anyway (so one could be in Beijing & the other in Ouagadougou), and non-FS spouses adapted better if they had a “portable” career, e.g. nurse, teacher, journalist, househusband, artist, etc. To which we all said: duh.

    While lawyer might not seem to be portable due to local civil procedure, jurisdiction, & visa issues, I think there are a few things you could do as a volunteer (or even possibly paid) depending on your specialty. Corporate? Advise or consult for a village-building or women-empowering non-profit or NGO re exporting local products to the US. Immigration? Advise people on US entry/visa requirements. Constitutional? Teach law or civics at the local university or American or British Embassy School. There are options, but you will need to think creatively to find them, and I’d expect that finding a unique and novel use of your talents will be immensely satisfying to you.

  • Linda says:

    I like Sarah’s advice to Nom, too. I do think I agree with those who have noted that once you take a “cross that bridge when we come to it,” then you’re also participating in not dealing with the problem, so now you’re in this much more urgent situation where he’s, like, waiting for the job call, partly because you chose not to deal with these reservations sooner even though you knew you had them. I realize this sounds like “Step one: Get in your time machine…,” but I’m just saying, the fact that you feel really stuck is only partly your husband’s fault for not hearing you. I’m a little sympathetic to the fact that your husband didn’t realize you were so hesitant about the Foreign Service, given that you applied yourself.

    I have to admit I took the joking differently than some have — to me, the “Enough to become a Lithuanian stay-at-home mom?” jokes, although they’re striking in a sour way, sound to me like he’s trying to give you chances to say you’re not ready. Or at least to acknowledge that he knows you have doubts and that you’re scared. Where you seem to see jokes about “This is a test of love,” I see sort of dark-humored jokes about “Are you really ready for this?” He knows you’re scared; that’s a start.

    I do tend to sympathize with some of your concerns — interrupting your own career is a major sacrifice — more than others — I think you would make friends, and I think you could learn a great deal. I don’t think you should EVER feel, no matter what you do, like you are “not contributing to the household.” You are contributing by being there; that is part of your contribution. So if you volunteer or study instead of having a paying job, it’s not like the family doesn’t have your support. You’re in a foreign country with your family to support your family having a happy life; that IS supporting the family. Many people devote large amounts of their lives to things other than paid work; it’s certainly not necessarily a population of “lazy dilettantes.”

    I’d say talk to your husband, and broaden your horizons a little bit about what constitutes making good use of what might wind up being your time in a foreign country.

  • Nom: I recommend reading “Third culture Kids” re: the impact of that kind of lifestyle on your kids (I’m one of them…)

    Some love it, some don’t but there are definitely things you can do to make the experience a really positive one for your kids. I wish my parents would have been able to read the book when we came “home” to Canada; it would have made the extreme culture shock I experienced more bearable.

  • Jane says:

    Oh, Elle, that’s a really good observation. Nom, maybe it’s worth thinking about the possibility that you’re also mourning the death of a bit a dream of your own, even if not a lifelong one–you and your husband excitingly employed in the Foreign Office together, equals at work and home. The trailing spouse issue is challenging enough to deal with on its own; if there’s an undercurrent of “But this wasn’t how it was supposed to be!” it’s worth dragging that out and crying for it so you can deal fairly with what is.

  • Nope says:

    I was recently at dinner with a professor who said that he was at his wit’s end, verging on the point of not taking female graduate students anymore. Why bother, he asked, when their husbands won’t move to support their careers? He’d trained a bunch of women, then watched them have to turn down tenure track jobs because their husbands wouldn’t move. “Wives move for husbands. Husbands don’t move for wives.”

    When your husband makes jokes about whether you love him enough to move to Lithuania, is there a piece of you that knows that he wouldn’t do it for you? Besides the fact that the joke is manipulative, is it also assuming that the sacrifice is one directional?

    (I’m not usually this pessimistic, nor biased against husbands, but it was a striking conversation to have with a feminist professor who was frustrated with the dynamic.)

  • evil fizz says:

    I’m an Army JAG officer, married to a civilian, and we have a daughter, who’s now 9 months old. We’ll be moving next summer to a destination of the Army’s choosing. And while most of those postings are going to be domestic, a lot of them are not places you’d go without someone giving you orders. (Look at Leesville, Louisiana on a map and you’ll see what I mean.)

    My husband and I never had a fight about my accepting a commission, but it’s a fraught subject and I can see how stressed he gets when I mention places like Fort Sill (75 miles southwest of Oklahoma City). I suspect, Nom, that you and my husband feel similiarly: paid employment is important to you. That sense of contribution in a quantified sense means something, and you’re deeply ambivalent about giving up feels like any shot at it. Also, working online can be a great option, but it doesn’t give you a chance to chat with other people face to face or have co-workers to bounce things off of or to go grab a sandwich with. Yes, those things can sound little, but they’re important.

    In our situation, we’ve agreed that I am not going to retire from the Army because my husband’s career can only take so many knocks associated with “Why did you leave your last position? I notice you haven’t been anywhere for more than two and a half years and all of these places are curiously near military installations…” Also, moving is hellish, even when you have people who pack for you.

    Those compromises are in of themselves stressful, but it’s okay to say “I love you enough to come to a country that two-thirds of Americans don’t know exists where I get stuck integrating us into a place where we don’t speak the language and I have no meaningful employment prospects, but then you have to understand that you’ve used up my entire loving compassion quotient for the next five years and then we’re regrouping and finding some place where I can have a job in my field.”

    Good luck!

  • meltina says:

    @ shopgirl,

    It’s high time you left. It sounds like the atmosphere is turning poisonous for you, and if you’re in school and other people are not, that will also enter in the equation.

    How do I know? I was you (down to the brown hair) 15 years ago. Loved my store job and its flexibility (I could cut back hours when I was in school, and go to near full time in the summers), not so much the petty politics. At first it wasn’t that bad. I had a manager that I was simpatico with, and liked most of my co-workers. The manager went on maternity leave, and then transfered to another store. I didn’t get along with the new manager all that well after a while, and there was a lot of gossiping and whatnot.

    I didn’t want to make waves, and besides the job was a paycheck while I was going to school. Fast forward a year, and I was quitting my job, very happily telling the few co-workers I had left from the beginning of my retail career (who hated our new manager more than I did) that if I never worked retail again, it would be too soon (and also that I saw the writing on the wall, and that the store was probably going to end up being closed anyway – it did, a year later). I found myself a job near school. After the fact, I couldn’t believe how long I had put up with the job.

  • Maren says:

    #1: Find a new job; #2: Don’t go; #3: Move out.

    #1 and 3 feel like they boil down to the basic problem in most advice-seeking letters — “How can I get someone else to do what I want them to do?” The first letter-writer doesn’t really have any control over her boss, so I say go, rather than try to make her change. The third letter-writer doesn’t appear to have too much invested in the roommate situation (not BFFs or living in a fabulous rent-controlled loft), so finding a new one seems like the easy choice over trying to wait it out over a stinky litter box.

    And for #2… well, as someone still trying to get my legal career off the ground, the idea of giving up an established attorney position that you like to do something you really don’t want to do breaks my heart, whether or not it’s your husband’s dream. It’s a lot to ask.

  • Bev says:

    For NOM:
    I know a few FSOs and former FSOs. Most thought it was their dream job; even those who still are FSOs don’t describe the day-to day work that may. Maybe my friends are atypical, but it seems to me there is a very real chance that after being stationed overseas once, your husband will not be as enchanted by the idea as he is now. It seems that many new FSOs imagine a Paris posting; almost no one gets that. By the same token, you might find it better than you thought it would be.

    I promise that I am not suggesting that you just give up your wants, needs, career and tag along ( trailing spouse: GAG gag gag), but I am suggesting that both you and your husband have images of the future that are just that- images. Either of you might change your minds radically once overseas.

  • ferretrick says:

    @Shopgirl – I find it interesting that things turned “strange” after this other girl was hired and promoted to being equivalent with you. You say she tells you all sorts of things the manager told her in confidence-one rule of life: If someone has plenty of gossip FOR you, they have plenty of gossip ABOUT you. I’m highly suspicious that the manager is not your only problem here. Watch your back around her “confidante” who is supposedly your “friend” and be very non-commital about manager. And it may be less aggro to just find another job. Some battles just aren’t worth it.

    “Finally, the Foreign Service has been my husband’s dream since college. I didn’t know that until recently, but apparently he’s always wanted to do this.”

    Just like Sars, this sentence jumped out at me as BS, but I wasn’t sure which side it was on. Certainly possible its on his part, but could it have been on yours as well? Did he really never mention this before and maybe you dismissed it or didn’t pay attention. I don’t mean that you consciously chose to ignore him, but is it possible he mentioned it in abstract terms, or talked about a desire to live abroad, and you didn’t think he was serious, when in fact he was?

    And actually, Sars, my sister moved when her son was 3, and he had a very hard time. Cried for weeks afterword, kept asking when they would go home, could not understand what “New House” meant, where his “old house went to,” etc. Later on they were told by their pediatrician that 3 is about the worst age to move a child-they are aware enough of their world by then to know that BIG CHANGE has happened, but not old enough to understand it and it can be very traumatic and frightening for them. Not that I’m saying you don’t move because its hard on the 3 year old, they’ll recover eventually. But have a talk with your pediatrician or other child expert about ways to make it as easy on your child as possible.

  • Hollie says:

    Shopgirl, like several others here, I found myself in a similar situation at one point. Turned out that it was due to the fact that with the shifting and reorganizing that they also started considering wages and decided it was more economical to push some of us out in order to bring in newer, cheaper people. You sound like you’re not taking it personally, which is so important – just don’t get to the point that you start doing that, “Maybe there IS something wrong with me…” thing, because, at the risk of sounding all paranoid, there may be a number of hidden agendas at work.

    Nom, again, I’ve been in similar situations, and I think Sarah’s advice is great. It is, to an extent, a glass half full/half empty sort of thing, but as others have mentioned, I think the big stumbling block at this point is really that you don’t feel appreciated. Not to go all Dr. Phil, but he often says about affairs that people don’t move on until they get that their spouses *really* get how crappy it was, really understand. I think that’s why the joking really annoys you and that you’ll begin to feel a little better when you get some sense that your husband gets that this is not a joke, that it’s a big deal to you, when you feel like he’s really made an effort to put himself in your position and sees that it might not be as enviable as he’d like to convince himself that it is. The two-career marriage is tough and tends to involve a lot of sacrifice, sometimes seemingly one-sided, and just as you give yourself little pep talks to encourage you to continue being the supportive spouse, he’s probably giving himself little “it’s not that bad” talks to ward off any potential guilt. You need to acknowledge that you don’t always feel that supportive and he needs to get that he might owe you a little guilt.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @rick: Every kid is different, but talking to a ped or a child psychologist is a great idea regardless. Parenting magazines frequently also have articles about how to talk to your kids about/phrase tough subjects so that they have an age-appropriate and non-scary grasp.

    The adults I know who had AF childhoods, or moved a lot because of their parents’ work, tend to use phrasings like “in retrospect, it was good because it forced me to adapt to” such-and-so, or “I’m glad I had to figure out how to make friends fast.” Some, like some of the commenters here, embraced it; I don’t think it bothered my aunt overly. But my mother is still kind of bent that she had to move for her senior year, and I really don’t blame her.

    But my grandfather’s handling of these transitions likely did not help. “We’re due in Fairfax 1 August; pack it up, let’s go” is maybe not the way to redirect the family’s focus onto the adventure of the thing, so again, talking to people with some experience with the frequent-moves lifestyle, or to a social worker or something, would help to avoid the kids feeling like they’re being shoved off the high dive over and over.

  • Grainger says:

    @Sars: Actually, that sounds like a lot of bullying-rationalization. “It made me get tough.” “It made me realize that words are just words.” “It helped me prepare for the real world.” (said while he shifts around nervously, refuses to make eye contact, and instinctively flinches when you reach out to pick up your drink.)

  • Sarah says:

    @Nom. This sucks. For some reason that I don’t fully understand, law degrees are not as portable as it feels like they should be (speaking as someone doing an within US relocation with a law degree). My thoughts are: (1) like Sars said, make a plan with the husband; (2) think about other things you like to do, and consider those (i.e. running at Etsy shop, teaching law, whatever); and (3) look into maybe working remotely for your existing employer. If you don’t have a lot of court appearances, is there a way they could have you work on projects from anywhere? (I feel like this SHOULD BE possible, as so much of what lawyers do is sitting at a computer and maybe using the phone).

  • iiii says:

    Next time he asks, “Love me enough to quit your career and come be a stay-at-home mom to the kids in Lithuania?” come back with, “Love me enough to quit your career and be a stay-at-home dad in Hometown?” in exactly the tone he’s used. Maybe that’ll help him get just how much he’s asking of you.

    Have you considered going long-distance for a couple years? He goes and does his thing in Tashkent or wherever, you stay in the home you love and do your thing. There are airplanes and telephones, and the web is world-wide. Pick a re-evaluation date. If the shine wears off by then and he’s ready to come home, he’ll have a home to come to. If you catch international fever while visiting his posting, you can join him there with a happy heart. If the situation is still conflicted, you’l both have more information with which to resolve it.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    He goes and does his thing in Tashkent or wherever, you stay in the home you love and do your thing.

    I’m not sure how viable an option that is with two teeny kids, particularly if part of the issue is that she wants to keep working. He can’t just go “do his thing,” is what I feel like he may not be getting — that the price for that now that he has small children is much different.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    @Nope: This HORRIFIES me:

    I was recently at dinner with a professor who said that he was at his wit’s end, verging on the point of not taking female graduate students anymore. Why bother, he asked, when their husbands won’t move to support their careers? He’d trained a bunch of women, then watched them have to turn down tenure track jobs because their husbands wouldn’t move. “Wives move for husbands. Husbands don’t move for wives.”

    What the he11? What is with the assumption here, first of all, that ALL female graduate students are going to BE married? And second of all, what’s with the assumption that they would STAY married under the circumstances outlined?

    I’m BOGGLING that that professor would actually consider himself a feminist.

    @iiii: THANK YOU. I was also thinking, “Love me enough to quit your career and be a stay-at-home dad in Hometown?” I’m particularly angry at Mr. This-Has-Always-Been-My-Dream – why didn’t THAT come up, somehow, before Nom had two children that needed to be factored into the stay here/move there dynamics?

    And I, too, think part of Nom’s unhappiness may stem from the belief that her husband takes for granted that the compromises will always be made BY HER so that HE can be happy … because it certainly sounds as if that’s what he thinks, and, moreover, that he believes that is the natural order of things.

  • e says:

    I got to this line in Nom’s letter: “I’m worried about being isolated and I worry about feeling trapped,” and thought, “Write a book.” So if you do go, I want to second Sars’ advice of “start a journal or a blog, a memoir of your first year or two years.” (Along with the exit plan, of course.)

    Some of the best books I’ve read have been written by people in similar situations, with and without kids. I heartily recommend The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost (or the follow up book, Getting Stoned With Savages, for Part Two: Now With More Infant), and The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah (father of two) as two examples off the top of my head. They’re generally classified as travelogues, but they’re more like live-ologues – the authors weren’t just passing through seeing the sights; they were part of their respective communities, learning about their neighbors, the history of the regions, the beliefs and traditions of the people.

    That sort of writing sort of forces the author to really get hip-deep in the local culture, and your fellow ex-pats would likely be eager to help contribute “remember the time…” or “how about that one guy who…” or “have you been to the…” type stories, the sharing of which could help solidify friendships and connections. Furthermore, if you make sure the book/journal celebrates/honors the culture of whatever community you’re in (as opposed to a “Foreigners! They’re so weird!” type approach), it’d be a Good Thing from a global community standpoint, too.

    I’d also like to thank Elle for putting something in perspective for me personally with this sentence: “You are lucky enough to be an English native speaker, which means you will be able to communicate with many people in even the remotest of countries.” I have no gift for languages and struggle to express even the simplest thoughts in Spanish, a language I’ve been more or less surrounded by for about 20 years (I live on the US/Mexico border). I get frustrated that despite trying to study and practice, I still can’t grasp another language, but now that I think of it, I guess if I have to be monolingual, English probably IS the the best language to be monolingual in!

    Also I second her, and anyone else’s, suggestions of volunteering. Helps fill in the blanks on a resume, and can be spun to focus on “I’m such an admirable person” instead of “It was the only option at the time.”

  • Nom says:

    Nom here. I’d like to thank Sarah for her excellent and compassionate advice, and all the commenters for your great suggestions and empathy.

    @Linda and others who thought I kind of made my bed by taking a “cross that bridge when you get there” attitude: I own that. I was certainly not as emphatic about my doubts when we started. But, in my defense, things have changed for me since we applied a year ago. When we applied, we applied together, which is a whole different kettle of fish than the situation we find ourselves in now. Plus, there are many exit points in the process, and it didn’t seem to make emotional sense to spin into a tizzy about something that may never happen. Finally, and most importantly, I’ve gotten A LOT happier in my life where we are. The change from a year ago to now is dramatic- for whatever reason, friends, family, community all kind of clicked into place and I’m vastly happier now than I was then. That makes moving away significantly less appealing. I’m willing to move domestically because there are other places in the country we could go where I already have similar networks (…thanks to the other moves we’ve made. We’ve lived in 4 places in the 10 years we’ve been together, on both coasts).

    Also, it’s not like we haven’t talked about this at every stage of the process. Husband knows that I’m at best ambivalent about a life abroad anyway; applying for the Foreign Service is something I NEVER would have undertaken without him pushing me.

    @rick: Husband has a history of living abroad. He lived in Japan for 5 years before I met him, studied abroad while in law school after I met him, and he’s always talked about travel. But travel to me always meant vacation or sabbatical; I thought he was done with the overseas life. The backup on the Foreign Service dream thing is that he applied in college and made it through to the interview, and didn’t go because he already had his position in Japan. He told me that he didn’t realize how much he regretted not going until he applied this time. I had not even known that he had applied previously until he applied this time.

    We’ve continued to talk about it since I wrote, and we’re no closer to making a decision. I think something that this column helped me crystallize in my thinking is that I’m having to consider what my life is if I say yes, but he’s not considering what his life is if I say no, because he’s pretty convinced that he just needs to keep bugging me about it and I’ll eventually come around. There’s definitely a feeling of being taken for granted, that he’s not acknowledging what he’s asking of me, and that I’ve been the one making the sacrifices our entire lives together. They’ve all been done willingly, and I’m NOT trying to play the “I only agreed because you pestered me” card. It’s just that he doesn’t seem to see that they were sacrifices all the same.

    Sarah (the commenter, not Sarah the site author) makes a great point that a law degree isn’t as portable as you’d think it might be, but you guys have made a bunch of great suggestions for alternatives. I am positive I could cobble together something that would be interesting and challenging and probably even paid; if that were my lot, I’d manage to find something to do that would make me feel useful. I’m just resentful that he’s asking me to undertake a life in which he gets his dream and I have to cobble. That’s the part I’m having trouble with, I think.

    Anyway, not to write another novella, but I really appreciate everyone’s thoughts and advice. This has been the rockiest our generally really happy marriage has ever been, and it scares and saddens me.

  • Anlyn says:


    Would it help to print out your comment, and show it to your husband? Do you think that might him to understand? Especially this line:

    “I think something that this column helped me crystallize in my thinking is that I’m having to consider what my life is if I say yes, but he’s not considering what his life is if I say no, because he’s pretty convinced that he just needs to keep bugging me about it and I’ll eventually come around.”

    It seems like you’ve articulated it to us pretty well, but I’ve often found that when I’m trying to explain your feelings to someone, it’s easier to write it down. Maybe because I have to take the time to really work through what I’m trying to say. Perhaps if you showed your husband your comment, it would help crystallize it in HIS thinking, that you’re really, really not happy with his attitude in all this.

    Good luck.

  • Anlyn says:

    That was supposed to be “explain MY feelings to someone”. I’d never try to explain yours to anyone. :P

  • sj says:

    @nom: plenty of good avice already, but FWIW.

    My fiance was a “diplobrat” in his early years; I have several friends in the foreign service now, both married with kids (both in the service), and single; and the wife of one of my father’s good friends is a current amabassador- they’ve been in the service for decades. I’ve seen all the stages.

    My fiance didn’t really love the moving around through elementary school. It gave him perspective though and the ability to speak 3 languages. His mother- the trailing spouse- speaks even more and so was able to find work as an interpreter. But eventually it took their toll on all of them and the marriage ended in divorce.

    The ambassador’s children loved moving around during the early years in the service, they have friends all over the world. But as they got older, they ended up putting the girls in boarding school for HS. The husband ended up getting into the FS eventually- he was the trailing spouse- but once his wife became an ambassador he wasn’t allowed to serve in the same posting as her anymore (since he’d have been an underling to his wife) – so they are on separate postings and haven’t lived full time together in a good 5 years. But they all love their life.

    As for my friends who are there now: they had to start out with hardship postings. Islamabad and Baghdad are very real possibilities- that’s where they went. But the next posts for them were Rio and Nassau, which are awesome

  • Belinda Gomez says:

    I think that in today’s economy, a decent job with the federal government isn’t to be sneezed at. Even lawyers get fired. Unless the LW’s a partner in a law firm, she’s got no job security.

    While being a trailing spouse might seem dull, I’m willing to bet there’s a blog or a book in the experience. Or free-lance writing.

    Being a long-distance couple with two very small kids is a recipe for divorce.

    I think the LW’s more afraid of the unknown than she cares to admit. Yes, learning another language as an adult is hard, but it’s good for your brain. You’re really not going to be isolated if you learn the language.

  • Mary says:

    I was recently at dinner with a professor who said that he was at his wit’s end, verging on the point of not taking female graduate students anymore. Why bother, he asked, when their husbands won’t move to support their careers? He’d trained a bunch of women, then watched them have to turn down tenure track jobs because their husbands wouldn’t move. “Wives move for husbands. Husbands don’t move for wives.”

    And he didn’t think, oh, maybe there’s something wrong with the career path we’ve set up in this field, which seems to be set up for men in a way that excludes lots of talented women? Maybe, whoops, we’re losing lots of good people and we need to re-think the way we hire junior academic staff and the demands we make on them?

    Gah! I work in this area in the UK, and the problems are different-but-similar. In the sciences there are actually a lot of projects looking at how you retain women as researchers at post-doc level – are there similar things in the US? The thought that someone could note the pattern of highly-trained, highly-qualified, talented women are dropping out of a field and just think, “Oh, what a shame, there’s obviously a problem here but CLEARLY there is nothing we could possibly do to change it” – I mean, if you’re senior enough to have trained multiple students who’ve been offered tenure-track jobs but you’re not going to look for solutions, you’re pretty much part of the problem.

    I really feel for you, Nom – not that you have to carry the Entire Weight Of The Feminist Movement on your shoulders personally, of course, but it sounds like some of this stuff is feeding into the dynamic between you, and it really sucks. I’ve seen a couple of my friends break-up because of male partners who genuinely believed they wanted to be in a fully equal partnership with a highly-skilled professional female partner, but took it for granted that their partner would make sacrifices in order that they could further their careers. It just sucks.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Shopgirl, I suggest you set up that “friend” – tell a juicy little white lie and see if it comes out your boss’ mouth ten minutes later. I’ll bet it does.

    Nom, would he do it for you? If you can honestly say yes, I think you have to look at this as a family adventure & go with an open heart. If the answer is no, then stay where you’re happy.

    Pissy, Sars is right. Miss Absentee needs to deal with the family members she adopted. Poor kitties, I hope they end up in a loving home. And I hope she never has children she tires of…

  • L. says:

    Nom: both of my husband’s parents are career State Dept., and my husband grew up all over the world until he started going to boarding school in the US for high school. There were certainly a lot of great things about his exotic upbringing, but it’s not without problems. His mom went along as a trailing spouse (ick) for the first few years and taught English, then took the foreign service exam when my husband was about 4 and headed off on her own postings, not in the same place (which is very common, btw). Their marriage has lots of other problems, but I think that was the breaking point. 30 years later, they aren’t divorced, but, frankly, things would be a lot more normal if they were. It’s a complete nightmare of a relationship held together by guilt and latent Catholicism. She’s still in the FS, but he’s retired and living in the US. As far as the effect on my husband, other than being lonely from time to time (which can happen stateside, obvs) and having the occasional weird hole in his pop culture knowledge, he’s no worse for the wear of being a diplobrat. My in-laws are another story, though.

    I’m also a lawyer, and I agree with the commenter who said that an American law degree isn’t as portable as people think it will be. Obviously, you could find *something* to do, but if I were in your shoes, I’d be completely resentful of having to give up/postpone my career to put some random thing together that I didn’t actually want to do, just so my husband could live out his “dream.” Are you sure he’s not just looking for novelty for novelty’s sake?

    I know this is super negative and not at all seize-the-opportunity-and-wrestle-it-into-something-awesome like Sars was, but I’d vote against going, personally. If you think you can get excited about it, though, for your own reasons — go for it.

  • Emily says:

    Nom —

    To me the stand out sentence in your letter was: “And I look at the Foreign Service life without a job of my own and I see loneliness and isolation.” As much as the people who have responded here want to encourage you that you can still pursue your career while abroad, the statistics don’t lie, and frankly, many of those 30% of foreign service spouses who are employed are likely underemployed. I have a very good friend from college, who is fantastically talented, who is a trailing spouse, and the career piece has been a constant, frustrating, unresolved struggle.

    At some point, if you continue sacrificing to meet his career needs, you need to ask yourself what this says about a) how much you truly believe the two of you are equal partners in your marriage and b) whether you can live with the answer.

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    @Nope, @La BellaDonna, @Mary: It doesn’t help that professors like this might be assuming that all of their students WANT tenure-track jobs and that those who would prefer non-tenure-track positions and/or have a vested interest in staying local (whether or not those decisions are related to a spouse, and whether or not spouse=husband) are not “real researchers.” Yes, that’s something a professor actually said to me. No, I did not punch him, but I should have. Ugh. I’m trying to “be the change I want to see” in the system. We’ll see how that goes.

  • Nope says:

    What the he11? What is with the assumption here, first of all, that ALL female graduate students are going to BE married? And second of all, what’s with the assumption that they would STAY married under the circumstances outlined?

    It is horrifying, and he is appalled at the phenomenon. But he got to his conclusion from watching the women he accepted into the department and graduated with Ph.D.’s, get tenure track jobs and turn them down because their husbands won’t move. He’s seen it enough to despair of the situation. So what should he do? Keep training women who don’t work in their field? He can’t inquire about their marital status when they apply. He doesn’t expect them to divorce. He wishes the situation were different, but that’s not what he’s seeing. That’s not what we’re seeing in this very letter.

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