Welcome to a new series of posts – the Male Trailing Spouse series. For a while now I have been thinking I would like to do more about male partners. I feel I didn’t really do this subject justice in the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, and this feeling was reinforced when I arrived here in Pretoria to find the place stuffed with men accompanying their working partners. I have yet to get to the bottom of why there seem to be so many male expat spouses here but it has given me the impetus to get on with this new series. And then the final shove that I needed came in the shape of Eric.
Eric contacted me through my Facebook page to say thank you for writing the book and in particular for the (half) chapter on Male trailing spouses. I immediately thought of my idea for doing more on the blog about men like him and asked him to get involved. I was very happy when he accepted the offer and allowed me to start this new series. I wanted to know what life was like for the typical (if such a think exists!) male expat partner, whether there were any particular difficulties they faced that were different from their female equivalents, what advice they would give to others thinking of doing the same thing….So here we are – what is life like for a man accompanying his wife in Nairobi?
Welcome Eric and thank you for being my first
victim subject of this new blog series. First of all could you tell me a little about yourself and your partner/family?
My name is Eric Camp and I am from the US. My wife is a FSO (Foreign Service Officer) with USAID. We have an 11-month old son. We are based in Nairobi, Kenya and it is our first posting. I am an oil and gas attorney and work remotely for my Texas-based law firm.
As a male trailing spouse, how did you feel when you first arrived in your new posting?
I don’t know that my initial reactions were all that different as a male trailing spouse than those of a female trailing spouse. At first I felt a little overwhelmed – which was probably to be expected moving to Africa for the first time. The initial goal was to set up my home office as soon as possible – buying office equipment and setting up the internet was no easy task but we had it done in the first couple of weeks.
I remember feeling very isolated – especially that first month before we had a car. We lived in an apartment building typically used for singles so there weren’t any other spouses – men or women – to get to know. And our social sponsor was a single guy that worked at the Embassy – so that wasn’t much help to me during the day.
I found myself walking to Westgate Mall (very close to our apartment) during most days to work from different coffee shops and just be around other people – even if I didn’t know them. Plus I liked the convenience of being able to take care of a lot of errands in one place.
Thankfully we moved into a housing compound a couple of months into our posting that had quite a few trailing spouses – men and women – and many that worked from home, like me. That move helped a lot with the isolation.
Have you found it easy to fit in and make friends? Have you met other men accompanying their partners or are you a rare species? If you have met others where and how have you met them?
I’ve found it fairly easy to fit in and make friends. On the one hand there is a very large US Embassy community here and you instantly have things in common with a lot of folks. But then on the other hand, working remotely can be isolating – especially from other trailing spouses that may not be working. I’ve found that I seem to bond more with trailing spouses that work remotely, like me – perhaps because we have more in common even if we’re working in completely different fields.
I have met other men accompanying their partners but we are still a rare species – unfortunately even more so in Nairobi today than in 2013 when we arrived. I’ve met other male trailing spouses either because they live in my neighbourhood or because my wife learns of a female colleague of hers that has a husband in Kenya – and then my wife would suggest meeting the husband, particularly if she knew the husband worked from home.
Do you think it is harder for men than women to accompany their partners abroad – and if so, why?
I want to say that I believe it is difficult for any spouse, regardless of sex, to accompany their partner abroad. Whether it is harder for men than women to accompany their partners, I don’t know – but I do think men face some different challenges.
While progress is being made in this area, there are still far fewer male trailing spouses than female trailing spouses. While abroad, the Embassy spouse goes to the office and gets to interact in person with colleagues / friends all day. Of course, most of this time is spent working – but some is also spent socializing, etc. The trailing spouse, however, typically doesn’t have as much daily interaction with colleagues / friends – unless that spouse happens to also work at the Embassy. Accordingly, trailing spouses then look within their trailing spouse community for friends. Friendships are often formed based off of common interests – and while there are many commonalities between trailing spouses of all sexes, the reality is that male trailing spouses typically have more in common with other male trailing spouses, and vice versa. So I believe that it can be harder for male trailing spouses to form close friendships than for female trailing spouses – primarily because there are so many fewer male trailing spouses.
This historical disparity is also evident in community organizations – often used for networking, etc. Historically, the man was the working expat and the woman was the trailing spouse and so the trailing spouses would set up their own groups for networking, socializing, etc. – such as the American Women’s Association, etc. No such organizations usually exist, however, for the male trailing partner because that person is a pretty new concept.
If you have children, are you the main carer? And if so how have you found this – are you welcomed by other expat parents or do you feel like a bit of an outsider?
I would have to say that our nanny is the primary carer of our son. I am, of course, at home with him most of the day but typically I am working and he is with the nanny. If something comes up, I take care of it but I would say that my wife and I equally share parenting duties when he is not with the nanny. That will likely change as he gets older and starts going to school.
I found that I have been accepted and welcomed by other expat parents.
Have you got any particular stories or incidents to do with being a male TS?
My first story is about our first year in Kenya. Each week the Embassy sends out a newsletter to the community about upcoming events, etc. At the time, the wife of the Deputy Chief of Mission would host a monthly “tea” for Embassy spouses at her home. I was excited to attend because I wanted to get to know other spouses. My only problem with the event was that each week it was advertised in the newsletter – the entire advertisement (a whole half page) was in pink! I still attended a couple of the teas but I think that the ad being in pink probably discouraged other male trailing spouses from attending.
My second story just happened last month when the wife of one of the Embassy leaders hosted a welcome brunch for all new spouses. The event was co-sponsored by the American Women’s Association and the advertisement said nothing about husbands being welcome to attend. I did not go and later learned that of the 20+ attendees, there was one man.
What would you say to another man considering accompanying their partner overseas?
I’ve had this conversation before with other men. Get used to the perception within the community that you and your job are not as “important” as the Embassy spouse. Find other male trailing spouse friends as quickly as possible. Take it upon yourself to do that because the Embassy will not do it for you.
What more do you think could be done to help male expat partners?
- Scheduling a get-to-know-you event for only male expat partners.
- Developing an email list-serve of male expat partners.
- Giving families with male expat partners the opportunity to serve as social sponsors for families with male expat partners.
- If there’s a spouse committee (or something similar), have at least one male expat partner on that committee.
Thank you to Eric for his nsight and advice. Please let me know in the comments section below what you think – is life different for male trailing spouses than for women? Do you think organisations need to do more to the men? Or should we all be treated the same, regardless of our sex?
And if YOU are a male trailing spouse and would like to feature in this series please let me know either in the comments below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!