Loneliess as an Expat Wife
As I sit down to write this post, I can’t help but wonder if theres anyone out there that this will actually resonate with. As each year passes more and more women out there build their careers, from their homes or their workspaces, more and more women have absolutely flourishing work and family lives, I cant help but feel a little self conscious, perhaps a little dated. Hello I’m Siri, and I’m a housewife from 1958.
I got married, and now I live far away from friends and family, and I have neither a job, nor a family yet (we’ve only been married three months, and planning a family in Iraq isn’t exactly the dream), nor a single friend in a city where there are few and far between foreigners, if any at all. Perhaps in another time, perhaps my grandmothers time, I would be the norm: uprooted by marriage, at home managing the house, building a totally new life from scratch around my husbands world. But nowadays I seem a bit of an anomaly. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a fair few people look at me as though I’m a bit mad. And those people are my friends. I don’t think I’d chose to do it myself, seems to be the polite refrain.
But it is what it is. I may have a unique ‘problem’ but I would like to think that there are other women out there, maybe not loud and proud and making the headlines, but other women who find themselves in a life they really do feel very lucky to have, but that is nevertheless a lot smaller than the one they left behind.
And a lot lonelier.
Loneliness is the ultimate bad word isn’t it. You don’t want to say it. You don’t want it to be associated with you. In the age of body positivity and mental health awareness, loneliness is still, at least from where I’m standing (and I’ll bet that on this I’m not the only one!), the ultimate shame. Lonely people are just a bit sad aren’t they?
As much as we like to think we’ve shed all our high school clique biases, they still seem to rear their ugly head when it comes to the subject of loneliness. I’d rather be a lot of things than lonely, cringe. Loneliness is something that brings up images of little old ladies in nursing homes, rejection, a feeling of defeat and despondency that few other feelings really match.
That’s all complete nonsense of course.
I can’t say loneliness is something I personally experience much of before moving out to Iraq. I’ve always been lucky to live at home with my family, my parents and siblings, to have my childhood friends around, to have family visit every few months. There was always someone there. I had never, ever lived alone. And I have a hard time shutting up sometimes, so conversation was never lacking from my day. I can honestly say I’ve never gone a single day without talking to someone. I would wager I’ve never gone five hours without talking out loud to someone.
I was warned of course that moving out to Northern Iraq would be lonely for me, given that husband works very, very hard, six days a week. But brazenly, as many a hopeful bride to be, I didn’t really take that advice to heart. How could I? I had had no previous experience of loneliness to draw from. I wasn’t quite sure what the word meant.
Three months on, I feel like I am a little closer to knowing what the word means now.
And don’t get my wrong, I don’t have it half bad compared to a lot of people other there. I have a lovely attentive husband come home to me at the end of the day, and you know theres Skype and Whatsapp Video and what not, and life if much easier these days, its true. I cant imagine the way someone who is truly lonely feels, and I find myself having so, so much more compassion for someone in that position, here, from my position of privilege.
But still. Its lonely out here people!
And being flung into the deep end, I’ve had no other option but to suck it up and learn to deal with it on the go. These are some of the tactics I’ve been turning to. They’re not perfect. But they’ve been helping. And every little bit helps.
Get interested in something, anything, or better yet, lots of things
Remember when you were a kid and you always had a hobby? Or an obsession rather? Every year, or few months there was something you were known for being into. And not in the vain of, she’s really really into her Instagram account. Having a lot of free open hours to yourself, without the distraction of coffee dates and catch ups with friends, gives you just the right mix of free space and boredom that we thrived on as children. It can be a bit difficult at first to really purposefully cultivate interests simply for the sake of pursuing those interests, but it does get strangely addictive after awhile. And it’s a tool that’ll serve you really, really well in the long run. Bored in line at the airport? You have those gazillion articles you’ve bookmarked that you want to devour on said subject. In-between jobs? Those obsessive interests really take the edge off. And the truth is, you jus never know where one of these developed interests may take you, so get started today. Like, now. Google is your new best friend.
Always, always have someone talking at you in the background (yes, seriously)
Talking at you, not talking to you. Skype sessions with loved ones back home or around the globe are great, but they’re not super practical to become reliant on. People have really busy lives, by and large, and it’s likely that everyone back home is still very much stuck into theirs, and so a weekly Skype session may be all they can afford, if that. And thats alright, because if you were back home, that would probably be true for you too. No, I feel like the real difference comes from someone talking at you. Background noise, that you can tune in and out of (I’m looking at you This Morning), makes such an unbelievable difference in a house thats empty save for yourself. The sound of other human voices, particularly those that remind you of places you’re more comfortable with and cultures you get, not only keeps you connected to whats going on back there, but also goes miles in making you feel less lonely. Now I know that virtual connections are not real and a misguided attempt at actual connection and what not. But you have to work with what you have right? And if thats all you have its definitely better than nothing. And I’ve never felt closer to Phil and Holly in my life no matter what the naysayers say.
Make lists so you don’t fall into a funk, even if those lists are as boring as ‘clean the bathroom sink’ (I have a very clean bathroom sink as you can imagine)
We by no means live in a tiny cupboard, but to all intents and purposes we live in a relatively small home, it being a two bed apartment. Without kids, there’s really only so much mess two adults can make. And yet, I find that keeping on top of the house, to a degree that I feel comfortable with, takes an awful lot of time. And that can actually be a really good thing when you’re the quintessential lonely expat in a foreign land. The first set of lists I make to feel like I have more structure and purpose to my day, and to actually keep up, is a list of housework. You’d be surprised to discover that I rarely actually manage to get through all of them on any designated day! But that’s not the extent of my lists of course. Because I mean I am not boring. Anything but. I get creative with my lists I’ll have you know. I’ve got a personal list, a house list, a social list (people I’ve forgot to reply to, you are on that list, I am getting there!), a blogging list (now), a shopping wish list (I love this one, its normal I promise). My lists come and go, but they always help me to look forward to the next day and feel like, hey I do have a ton to do with my time, I do have a purpose even if I mostly can’t leave my house and don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to see! I feel miles better with a bunch of long to do lists, even better than I do when I’ve ticked them all off!
Take the time to work on yourself and no I don’t mean meditation, because that will literally drive you bonkers in an empty quiet apartment
I can’t stomach meditation at the best of times. Alright that’s a little bit of a lie. I’ve enjoyed meditating with my mom, and with my friends at a self care sleepover (it’s a thing, okay, it makes it more relevant and 2018 than just calling it a regular old facemarks and chocolate sleepover). But all those ‘meditation’ sessions have been social, which is really weird and possibly defeats the purpose I know. As I said, I can’t stick it out with meditation. So disclaimer aside, I do not mean you need to work on yourself in any woo woo ways, even though frankly I do have a bit of a penchant for some woo woo things. But there are a million and one tiny ways we can all ‘improve’ (you are perfect as you are of course, but we would all be a little happier and healthier with a little more concentrated effort). And a lot of free time to yourself without too many distractions is the perfect time to hone in on them and carve our real space for self improvement, or rather, lets say self growth. Two of the major ways I’ve been working on self growth have been physically and intellectually (I sound so condensing I know, I am sorry). Having a space all to myself means I can start the day with all those embarrassing at home workout videos that I frankly love, but wouldn’t be caught dead doing in front of anyone else! And having the day totally at my disposal without any social obligations means I find myself in a the gym more days than not, and I feel great about it! For the first time I can spend the entire day in my, cute, workout clothes and put in as much time in improving my stamina and overall strength as I please. The constant stream of information I take in by having a background hum of morning TV and podcasts and YouTubers discussing everything on the planet, also educates me by the by, and far more than it would have at home! Embrace the opportunities and get excited about it, it makes the lulls much easier to bear when you know you’re working towards the best version of yourself.
Make the effort, Skype first, call first, put your ego aside
Nevertheless, sometimes, you do need that human interaction. And with a busy, busy, busy husband, that cant always wait till 7pm at night. I have great friends and family who are in touch every single day, but I realize that I do have to take the initiative to ‘make the first move’ so to speak. There can be a strong urge to feel like people need to check in on you, because after all, you are the one who is far from their support system, on their own, and without the usual social structure that everyone still gets to enjoy on a daily basis. Nevertheless. Nevertheless. Lets just face it: people have lives. And they forget. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that people back home don’t want to speak to you, or don’t want to hear from you, they do! But between work and family obligations and just getting in some down time themselves (they probably don’t have as much free time on their hands, not to shame the wife life at all), they may just… forget. So pick up that phone, make that Skype call, send that message, and just get on with it, ego or not. You’ll be happier for it, and you may find that your old friendships get rekindled in ways you simply didn’t have time for when you were back home in the thick of it!
Tell people you’re lonely
Loneliness isn’t a dirty secret. It’s not a source of shame. It’s not a reflection of anything in fact, except your interactions with other people. And the only way to relieve loneliness is to break it down and reach out and face it for what it is. If you’re feeling lonely, just tell a friend. They’re far more likely to reach out and check up and make sure they carve out time for you, if they know that’s what you need. If they don’t know, you don’t get anywhere, and you lose the chance to turn your lonely feelings into a chance to reconnect and connect deeper. Don’t do it to yourself.
I’ve had quite a back and forth relationship with reading, sometimes not reading at all for vast stretches of time, and sometimes reading as many as three of four books at a time. But I find that being mostly at home, and with no social obligations, the time I have to really settle in and enjoy the pure indulgent feeling of reading, has gone up manifold. And thats a great thing! Reading is so enriching, and honestly, its a muscle. The more you work, the stronger it becomes and the easier it comes to you. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a reader, and I’ve gone through phases like that a lot (my current Kindle and its bill would have you think otherwise!), the truth is we are all readers when we’re reading something we want to be reading, something that really sparks excitement and interest and makes us grow. And that something is out there! Probably by many, many authors, with new books coming out every month. Get on YouTube and go through some Booktube videos to get inspired, get on Twitter and follow some authors in your genre, or just find other’s TBR (to be read, it took me a minute too!) lists and see if anything strikes your fancy. A book just needs you, a quiet corner, and a nice cosy cup of tea. And it’s almost impossible to feel lonely when you’re stuck into a world of lovely new characters.
And that’s about it, for now.
Having only lived this new wife life barely three months now, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m trying to figure them out day by day, and I’m sure there’ll be a part two to this someday soon. Embrace the loneliness and make it work for, rather than against. It is possible.