August 12, 2010

The New Trend: Man as Trailing Spouse - Part 1

“So, what do you do?”   

When asked this, most people talk about their job – how they spend their waking hours.   It’s a straightforward question, unless you delve to deep.  What does anyone really do?  Often it’s just small talk, but no one wants to get into a metaphysical probe at a clambake.  So I play along. 

“I am a trailing spouse.”

It’s something you don’t often hear a man say, but it’s catching on.  So what is a trailing spouse?  Basically, my wife took a job and I followed her.  She’s the bread winner, and I’m all right with that.  It’s the title that’s never agreed with me.  Trailing.   The adjective makes me think of a short-legged dog, struggling to keep up with its master.  It's the same mental image. And this invariably spawns the next question. 

“So what do you do?” 
Our situation is like a NASCAR team.  While my wife’s out there burning up the tracks, I' behind the scenes, keeping parts stocked and the engine running.  And like a pit crew, the roles are countless:  Husband, chef, maid, butler, travel companion, bug squasher, barista, grocery runner, repair man, listener of grievances…just to name a few.  

Of course, I don’t go through the entire list.  I’m usually interrupted by a sigh, or, if the listener has a decent poker face, a tight-lipped nod.  Man should work; man earns money, I hear telepathically.  But I reject that, at least for right now. 
"This opportunity is too good to pass up.  I’ll quit my job and follow you."

That’s how it began.  The words came easy at the time, as if I were merely stepping out to the corner market.  I’ll pick up a carton of milk…and while I’m at it, I’ll quit my job and move to China with you.  And then reality sunk in.  The decision would rake up every illusion of manliness I had.  Take a look around:  This wasn't in harmony with the concept of “Man as Provider.”  Thinking about it made my stomach knot, but it was exciting.  I wasn't just giving up a job; I was diving into the shallow end of a new life. 

Of course, my wife never asked me to do this, nor did she expect me to.  It’s just one of those things: you fall in love with a person, and the next thing you know, you’re having a Vegas wedding and moving half-way around the world to a communist country.  

There’s no question that I love my wife, but there were other factors at play.  I enjoyed my job as a medical claims adjuster, for instance, and it’s not a bad way to earn a living, but spending nine hours a day in a cubicle just wasn’t my passion.  Oddly enough, I believed in what my wife was doing more.  As a special needs teacher, she seemed to exude purpose, and there is a certain allure to being around someone that knows what they want out of life.  

I’ve didn’t have a clear vision concerning my career, and maybe that’s why I was so willing to abandon ship.  I used to get this restless feeling at work.  “There’s got to be more than this,” I used to say, and when it became too much, I’d sink a bag of weed to the bottom of a shampoo bottle and fly out to Utah, say, and to spend a week wandering the desert alone.  Back then I called it a "Vision Quest," but a more accurate description might be "intellectual restlessness."

In those profound moments under the sun, I saw clearly.  What felt like a hectic work schedule was merely dazzling my brain – like junk food – providing it with no lasting nourishment.  My brain was hungry.  I was grateful for the money, but that underlying sense of tension, like a steadily rising hunger, did not mesh with the nine-to-five frame of mind.  I wanted to – no, I needed to – get away from Big Brother (as my manager called it) if I was going learn more about myself.  

 I’m not saying that the lone desert approach was particularly intelligent, or even original, but experimenting with my surroundings just happened to be my style of approach. I just listened for the call, and when it came, I went to where it needed me to go. 


heartonfire said...

me like, Noahchen!! xo, Tara

John & Ana said...

"I’ll pick up a carton of milk…and while I’m at it, I’ll quit my job and move to China with you."

That OUGHT to feature as a line in a movie one day!

Expatypus said...

In Asia you could define yourself as a "Guy Tai". It's a play on word on the local Tai Tai phenomenon and I fell in love with its quirkiness.

Some have even created a website:

lindsayandjoey said...

I love it Noah!! You are a great, confident writer! -Lindsay

C. Noah Pelletier said...

Thanks for the positive comments.

@ Expatypus, I checked out the site. Interesting stuff. I knew I wasn't the only one out there!

@ Lindsay: Glad you liked it. Hopefully we'll see you guys in Mallorca next year.

Wise Jalapeño said...

I loved your article "Notes from a Trailing Spose" (read on Matador). It really struck a cord since I am also a Trailing Spouse and sometimes (lots of times) have issues with it - I'm equally enthralled/repulsed. I just moved to Syria because my husband got a job here. In case you are interested, I'm documenting my experience at

Anyway, hope you are well and again KUDOS for an awesome article!