Monday, December 29, 2008

DSJ's Cautionary Tale

Disaffected Scanner Jockey, a former diplomatic spouse, offers a "Cautionary Tale" about being a "trailing spouse." It should be required reading for anyone considering joining the Foreign Service and their spouses.

A Cautionary Tale


The Foreign Service doesn’t create new problems. It takes the flaws and marital issues you already have and blows them wide open. I believe my divorce would have happened with or without the added stress of living overseas. It just happened a whole lot quicker than it would have back home. This is actually a very lucky thing, as both of us were young enough to pick up and start over.

The couples I see with the most success are the ones with an escape clause. Before they even fill out their first form, they sit down and say, “We’ll give it a fair shot for two years, if either of us is unhappy we’ll go home.” Truth is, life as an FS spouse can be stifling. There aren’t a whole lot of outlets or opportunities, just the endless rounds of Embassy life. So don’t enter into a Foreign Service marriage unless you’ve got a commitment that you can go home if you aren't happy.

And, yes, being a Foreign Service spouse can be intellecually and emotionally stifling. Your sense of self is under near-constant attack.


And, once you get on that plane, your career is over. Some people enjoy the Embassy hobby-jobs set aside for them, some enjoy the extra family time, some work a miracle and get a job with an overseas corporation. The people who do maintain their careers will blather about how you have to be up to the challenge, flexible and so on. (These people are even more annoying than they sound.) But, really, you’re never going to get to the corner office. A few weeks ago, I calculated that my Foreign Service sojourn probably cost me at least $50,000 lost income potential. Money well spent, but it takes a long time to dig out of a career hiatus.

You can read the entire post here. I recommend it.

She couldn't be more right. I am in the service because it is so hard to be a trailing spouse. The situation is even harder for a "member of household," since because we aren't "eligible family members," we generally don't get even the paultry jobs (DSJ calls them "hobby-jobs") offered to spouses. The simple fact for an FS spouse is that unless you want to be a stay at home mom or dad, your chances for personal fullfillment are slim. (Even internet businesses are seldom a possibility because you can't use the APO for shipping or receiving and overseas shipping is impossibly expensive.)

So, as those of you who have been reading this for a while know, I quit archaeology, a career I loved, rather than face either a career apart or no career at all. I have mixed feelings about the choice, though I think it was ultimately for the best. But not everyone can or should make that choice. Some people can be perfectly happy with the life of a "trailing spouse." And not being able to is not, as DSJ says, a personality flaw. People should have reasonable expectations of what they will face in the foreign service and the what the choices are they will have to make.

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