Why being “settled” is bittersweet

Trailing Spouse Syndrome

A few days ago the final pieces of rental furniture were delivered to our apartment. This afternoon I’ll make a copy of our keys and finish setting up the guest room. And that’s it, those are the final tasks on my checklist.

It’s bittersweet, to be settled. Because that means it’s here, the hardest part for the trailing spouse.

The months leading up to moving are a sprint of preparation. Every moment is filled with details and to-dos. You’re packing in quality time with family and friends. You squeeze in one last dinner at your favorite restaurant.

Then you arrive and are occupied with house-hunting and jumping through bureaucratic hoops. You blow out the 120V lightbulbs and short the vacuum, then spend three days figuring out where to buy replacement bulbs and a new vacuum that isn’t too expensive because who knows where you’ll be living next. Everything is unpacking and cleaning and sorting and endless shopping lists.

But the real hard part isn’t the rush or the in-betweens. It’s the quiet. It’s sliding your fingers over your things in your place and realizing there’s nothing left that needs doing. 

For a few days, you revel in the calm and let your adrenal glands recover. But those empty spaces are hungry. That’s when the shaky identity crisis—also known as trailing spouse syndrome—comes and knocks the wind out of you.

I am not so sure about sharing how hard this transition is. I’m reluctant because I know there are people out there who will roll their eyes and think, “You live in an incredible city and you don’t work. What’s so hard about your life?”

Well, this post isn’t for those people.

This post is for all of you who have felt flustered and defensive when people ask, in that squinty-eyed way, what you do all day.

It’s for the person who has felt sheepish at all the money it takes to set up another home because it’s just one more reminder that you depend on your partner 100% when it comes to finances.

This post is for anyone who feels like they have to hold back when they want to confide in their friends back home. Because these friends have jobs and busy lives and you know, real responsibilities so in comparison, your struggle seems silly.

It’s for anyone who’s felt the bit of embarrassment at having to ask their partner for a ride to the big box store in the suburbs because you’re not on the car lease and you’d like to buy more than four rolls of toilet paper at once.

This post is for the person who has felt they absolutely cannot make one more decision about furniture or yogurt brands or cable providers. Who may go crazy if they inadvertently order a gross lunch again, or are misunderstood again, or get looked at strangely, again.

I know what it’s like to have an opportunity that a lot of people would love and yet struggle to find your feet. It’s bizarre and you feel like you can’t talk about it.

You’re not alone. There are enough studies and articles out there about how hard it is for accompanying partners to legitimize your feelings. Don’t worry about what people may say or think because they haven’t walked in your shoes. And surely, absolutely, don’t apologize for how you feel. I’ve been there. Your struggle is valid.

I started this post with the intention of speaking about how important it is not to linger in this place. But today, I think we should just acknowledge what most of us deny at company cocktail hours or while skyping with family—the simple fact that it exists.

12 thoughts on “Why being “settled” is bittersweet

    1. Oh, that would be awesome! Which part of France are you in, again? Maybe if we’re ever in your neighborhood we could meet for coffee or dinner. It would be so cool to say hello!

  1. Danielle you are so incredibly brave and I admire you! I can see how God is using the incredible blessing of living abroad to stretch and grow you. :)

  2. I truly think that there should be someone to which one could confide in. Holding back emotions and feelings is not healthy. Finding one or two people that are not judgemental would be a good thing to have while being abroad. Someone to help keep you in check

    1. Oh absolutely! I would go crazy without the handful of people in my life (you’re one of them!) who know all the stuff I’m going through. I think what I was trying to get at here is that people, for the most part, don’t understand that there are some very un-glamorous parts to moving and living abroad. Thank you so much for your comment :-)

    1. :-D Speaking of going “back”, please keep checking in! I want to hear about how your repatriation goes.

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