Like I Never Left…

So fabulous being back in beautiful SG. It’s one of the few places where life just makes sense to me. Like Disney, and possibly Dubai.

I had a great first day by the hotel pool on Sunday – needed to get a tan before I could see anyone here or I’d have died of shameful pallor and pastiness. I still don’t get this Asian whitening thing. Then in the evening I decided to take a walk down Orchard Road to see what has changed in my absence. The most significant development is that there is now a salad and juice place in Tang’s, opposite Krispy Kreme. So now people can go for a doughnut, feel bad about their dietary choices, and have a quinoa bowl instead. Not being one to suffer the slings and arrows of personal guilt, I stuck with the doughnut. It’s fine because I was up at three this morning so I spent a couple hours at the gym. I thought that the six glasses of New Zealand’s finest would’ve been enough to make me sleep through the night, but jet lag is a capricious mistress.

I got to about 15k on the treadie when the lag did its wavey woaaaah thing, making me instantly unconscious, and next I knew, I was lying face down on the floor, following a minor collision with a cross trainer. I was so tired that I stayed there. What a lovely sleep I had! To anyone observing, it no doubt appeared that my unintentional fall was a deftly executed acrobatic transition between running and rest. As I slept I had a wonderful dream that I was back in my bedroom on Emerald Hill Road, after an awesome night out with my girlies; sleeping the morning away while the help packed the irritants off to school. When I heard, “Ma’am… Ma’am”, I thought sheesh, she still doesn’t know what day to send in Milly’s library book?!! How TF am I sposed to know??

Opening my eyes, I saw the hotel gym guy, looking all flustered.

“Ma’am, are you alive??”

“Thursday is library day, isn’t it?… Oh. Yes, I’m totes alive”, I said, “I was just napping. I always like a nap after a run.”

“But are you ok? I’m sorry, I don’t start til 6am, and I came in and saw you lying here, and I thought…”-

“It’s coolio, babester, I’m all good. I’ll do a few weights and abs and whatevs, and then I’ll shoot off.”

I didn’t really feel like any of that, but once I’d said it, what choice did I have, dear readers? None, that’s what. Hate having to do stuff just because my mouth says I’m going to, partic when I’m on holiday. Damn my integrity.

So after Tang’s, I thought I’d go for a roof terrace beverage. Happily ensconced at the Loof Bar on my own (girlies all on Valentine’s nights out apparently, these dull still married expat people), I was admiring the sky and thinking deep thoughts about active wear, when the very last person I wanted to see showed up: Mrs Doom and Gloom Expat Wifey. She was delighted to see me because she’s so awful at taking hints. I told her about me moving back to London and Don disappearing after his appalling behaviour, which she took as an invitation to recount her entire life since I saw her last June.

“You won’t believe this, EJ, but it turns out that my husband – soon to be ex-husband – is gay!! Can you believe that?..”

I totes could because I’d seen his sneaky airplane snogging, and as I’m a terrible liar, I looked away, pretending to have spotted a rare and fascinating bird hovering above Raffles Hotel.

“Unbelievable, right??! And you’ll never guess who he was having it off with…”

(His male PA perchance?)

“His PA! Who’s a guy!!”

(Right under your nose?)

“Right under my nose!! And guess who told me…”

(Uh maybe Flo, the most illustrious gossip on the island..?)

“Flo told me! What a good friend she is!! She said that everyone knew except me, and I didn’t believe her at first, but she was the only person brave enough and loyal enough to tell me the truth.”

“I’ve just got to go to the loo”, I said.

In the cubicle I practiced what I was going to say, with appropriate accompanying facial expressions, in order to indicate that I for one abso did not know, abso was v v taken aback (surprised face) and felt abso dreadful for what she had been through. Once I’d nailed it, I went back out.

“Well, babes, I for one abso did not know”, ectsetara, etc, and I must have successfully conveyed a sense of concern because she went on with the deets of her drama.

She told me that she is so much happier, without her hus, and for the first time she’s starting to enjoy being an expat. She even thanked me for my brilliant advice on expat divorce, and for my beauty and wellbeing guide (seems she hasn’t read any of my posts about her, phew). As she was talking, I found myself beginning to… like her! What now, now?? No longer a wifey, she was apparently not full of doom about being an expat anymore. Or gloom! She said she has made some new friends through the divorce support group, she got herself a job, she’s been working out, and she has stopped feeling guilty about assigning more of the childcare to her helper and her husband. Go her!!

“Wow, hon, that’s just amazing!”, I said, without having to practice because I really meant it, “You’re like a glowing exemplary to expat divorcees everywhere!! I’m so freakin’ happy for you!”

“Oh”, she blushed, “You’re always so sweet, EJ… But that’s not all! The best part is that a publisher read my blog about my experiences of living in Singapore, and they want to publish it!! As a book! Isn’t that awesome?!”

I looked up to find the imaginary bird again, but all I could see was my imaginary self about to jump off the Swissôtel.

“Oh golly, I seem to really need the loo again!”, I said.

Staring into the bathroom mirror, I tried some meditation techniques, focussing on my breathe, feeling the rise and fall, and visualising the ocean washing gently against the shore, calmly ebbing in and out. Rise and fall… Ebb and flow… Then I thought, “That f***ing smug c***, getting her blog published! Well my hus may have had his little dalliances, but A) At least he’s not gay, and 2) He came back to me, and I get to move to Bishop’s Avenue!! So there! So what if she’s here in the sun, with a live-in, having fun times, while I’m getting rained on in London, making packed lunches and wondering why there’s no home cooking in my house. So very what exactly?? She had clearly taken advantage of my empathic nature, and pushed me over the edge. To think I’d reached the point of actually liking her!! What a B. These expats are so damn self-satisfied. (Except the ones who are my friends, of course.)

Returning to the table with my composure intact, I said, “You know what, I’m really suffering the lag, so I think I should probably go…”

“Are you sure? I’m with the ladies over there for an anti-Valentine’s. The divorce support posse. You’d like them. In fact, you probably know most of them.”

She pointed round to a dark spot near the bar, and there I saw a bunch of my girlies – the ones who’d said they were out with their husbands tonight.

“Oh, that would’ve been soooo nice, but really I should take off. I’ve got this gig on Wednesday, and I need to practice. Yeah, I was into blogging, but now I’m more about the public speaking. I just think it’s a way cooler medium for sharing my life*. Wow though! It’s been a-maaazing to catch up with you. Congrats on uh things and stuff. I’ll see you soon…”

“Yes, see you soon! We’re coming to your gig actually, so see ya then! Can’t wait!!”, said non-D or G expat non-wifey. She kissed me goodbye and I noticed that she had finally absorbed the correct protocol for expat lady air-kissing, which she was always so shit at.

 

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The Loof Bar

 

 

* Didn’t mean it, dear readers. I only said it because the other thing my mouth had queued was, “I knew all about your gay husband”.

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Expat Divorces Suck Too

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Having decided what to do about Clara (deets to follow, but suffice it to say for now that I’m going to take away the one thing she cares about: her work), I feel much calmer. My chi is returning to a more balanced state.

Don got back yesterday evening, so I decided to have an early night, thereby thusly avoiding the necessity of seeing him. I slept deeply, for the first time since this hell emerged on Sunday.

Awaking clear-headed today, I set about finding myself some support. The wise women of the Real Singapore Expat Wives FB group pointed me in the direction of a network for trailing spouses going through this awful awfulness, and so this morning I attended a meeting offering practical and emotional guidance. OMG there are a lot of us!! The room was full. I thought it was just my torment concluding that expat marriages suck, but it turns out that I am spot on.

The facilitator was very nice. She’s a therapist – but not a patronising hypocritical Clara-type therapist, I hasten to add – who has been in Singapore for yonks. She went through a messy expat divorce herself, so she (unlike Clara!) really knows her onions.

“Welcome, ladies… and gentlemen. Good to see you again and I see some new faces. I’m sorry to see you in a way, because it means you’re embarking on what’s likely to be a difficult journey… But I’m also glad that you made it here today, that you’ve reached out. So I’ll do my best to share with you what I’ve learned from my own difficult journey, and we are all here to support one another.Part of what makes this so hard at the beginning, I think, is the shock, and the torturing self-questioning, “How did this happen? How did I get here?”… We are rarely objective about intimate relationships, including marriage, so if things unravel, there can be a deep sense of shock and denial.Even in a good enough marriage, there may be days when we look at other people’s relationships, seeing theirs as better, and ours as lacking something by comparison. But the breakdowns and adultery that have brought us all together today can happen to anyone. We can’t control the people we love. And the point is, in a loving adult relationship, we don’t want to. We certainly don’t want to have to feel that we need to.”

She said that there’s a mounting body of evidence* to show that expat life plays havoc with existing marital problems and also creates new ones because of the strains put on the relationship.

She talked about an article in the WSJ Expat blog, quoting it to say how some people approach the decision to move abroad when their marriage is facing problems: “To have a totally new experience in a totally different culture – maybe this will turn us around and change the situation.”

Then when it goes wrong, also from that article, “If you live abroad and your relationship breaks apart, you lose much more than just the partner. It’s everything – because you went that far for him.”

How truesome!! We all agreed with that, and my heart totes went out to the other women (and the two guys, but less so). I thought my life was a mess, but some of these women are going through even worse stuff. Husbands telling them to leave the country even though it’s their home; or preventing them from leaving and imposing that everything, including what happens with the kids, is going to be on his terms; or that they won’t support the wife despite her having been out of the job market for years raising the children, and not being able to get a work permit here. Argh, the list goes on and on.

My head was spinning by the end of the session. It was a welcome relief when the facilitator told us her own story of how she made it through her divorce. She mentioned a writer called Martha Beck, and read out a section from a piece on recovering from heartbreak. I’m not really there yet, I guess, because I’m still figuring it all out. Like I said, I know what to do about Clara, but next on my list is Liz, the woman who has stolen my husband. Then, of course, there’s Don himself. That’s the hardest part.

Plus at the same time, I have to get my head around what I want to do. And what I actually can do. Hmmmmmm. Maybe that’s the hardest part.

Resources For Expat Trailing Spouses Facing Marital Breakdown

Groups:

Counsellors and Psychotherapists:

Legal Advice: 

Recommended Reading: 

Kennedy Chamorro, A. 2013, Own Your Financial Freedom: Money, Women, Marriage and DivorceMarshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd, Singapore.


* Yvonne McNulty, associate faculty member at SIM University in Singapore, (2015) “Till stress do us part: the causes and consequences of expatriate divorce”, Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 3 Iss: 2, pp.106 – 136
Found at: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/JGM-06-2014-0023

From the abstract: “Findings demonstrate that expatriate marriages end in divorce for two main reasons: first, a core issue in the marriage that exists before going abroad (e.g. alcoholism, mental health problems) and which continues while abroad; and second, when one or both spouses is negatively influenced by an expatriate culture to such an extent that a form of “group think” results in polarizing behavior that is counter to how they might behave “back home” (e.g. infidelity, sexual misconduct). The consequences of divorce for expatriates are immense and include bankruptcy, destitution, homelessness, depression, psychophysiological illness, alienation from children, and suicide.”

Expat Ex-Wife Flying Solo

1408995526zolbvDespite being the incredibly resilient woman that I am, I’m really feeling quite miserablé about the prospect of returning to the UK. There is a triumvirate (thanks again to M in India for that awesome word!) of reasonation for my woes.

Firstly, the weather. London, of course, has its own micro-climate which makes it that much nicer than the rest of the country, but it is still quite crappy compared to Singas. I can’t get my head around not just chucking on Chanel flip-flops every day as I sashay out the front door, dodging clamouring fans and tourists who want in on my glamorous life. (The lack of clamouring is also not so appealing, which makes me think we should move to a house with one of those lovely blue plaques from English Heritage. I suppose we could just get the plaque made ourselves. I’d quite like one that says Charles Dickens. That would be way cool.)

Secondly, but related to the weather, is the issue of snot-ridden children. As dear readers will know from previous posts , I cannot abide by snot, and like I have said before, Crouch End is positively awash with the stuff. If Max and Milly become one of those children, I don’t know how I am going to cope. I’m all for unconditional love of our irritants, but vile effluvia raises a v real obstacle to that IMO.

Thirdly, and this the the most worrying part of my dire situation: no live-in help! Never mind my ongoing quest for a second helper, at home they have these awful laws about minimum wage and how many hours a person can work which prevent us from having even one live-in. ARGH!! And yet I have two children to look after! It’s terribly unfair because it means that either I do literally nothing else besides irritant and home-related tasks, or I squeeze in other things such as a rewarding job, a social life (which would be a fraction of what it is here), and my gruelling health and beauty regime, in which case I will be perpetually exhausted. I certainly won’t have the time to continue sharing my glamorous life with you, beloved babeses, as I will barely find the time to have a glamorous life : (

I was thinking these thoughts today at the hairdressers, and before I knew what was up-ski, I felt a big sad tear running down my cheek. I must have looked truly tragic because the expat ladeee seated next to me took pity on me, handed me a tissue and asked if I was ok. She was super sweet and reminded me of Angelina Jolie, smiling beatifically as she goes about her charitable missions. It made me think that maybe I should abandon my Kate Middleton smile and channel Angelina instead. Because Angelina is also hot and has a hot hus, so perhaps that would be a good transition for me as part of the repatriation process. I could even switch to her hairdo. Make a fresh start. Become a new repat EJ through being Angelina-ish. Ya think??

The woman told me her name was Katie (LOL #weirdness!!), and said she’d be at the salon for a while, in case I needed someone to talk to. I guess I must have because I started telling her about my life as an expat, my marriage, and my dreadfully difficult predicament of now having to return home against my wishes. The words just tumbled out of me. I even told her about when I thought Don was having an affair, and that now I think he probably surely isn’t, but actually I only probably surely think that because he said I was being ridic.

Katie listened and smiled sadly, saying, “Something quite similar happened to me actually, with my ex-husband. He met another woman here, and said I should go home with the children. I was lucky though, much luckier than some, because my business was going well, and I had just managed to get my own Employment Pass. If I had still been on a Dependent Pass, I would have had no choice but to leave. Tim didn’t want the kids cramping his style with his new relationship, so he did everything he could to persuade me not to stay. It was hard. And hopefully your husband isn’t doing that, but it sounds like what you’re going through is very difficult.”

“It so is, babe!”, I said, “And I really appreciate that you get where I’m coming from. It’s just so hard to talk to my actual friends because, you know, we’re all mainly having an awesome time all the time. And if Don is having an affair, well, that’s just… that’s just… humiliating!! What does it say about me?? Where does it leave me..? What if this whole repat thing is about sending me and the kids home, and he’s secretly planning to do a u-turn and say we’re leaving, but he’s staying?…”

When I started crying again, Katie got up from the chair, her head full of foils, and gave me a hug.

“How did you do it? How did you cope with being so massively humiliated and so horribly dumped… cast aside, like a disgusting old piece of rubbish??”, I asked, sobbing elegantly into her neck.

She gave me another tissue and sat back down, pulling her chair and the head-heater thingie closer to me.

“You will be ok, whatever happens, and you just have to believe that. If he is seeing this other woman – Liz, did you say? – then it’s really not about you as a person, it’s about him. It’s about whatever has changed inside him, not about who you are. And you will get through this. If I did it, anyone can.”

“Ok”, I faltered, unconvinced, “What did you do?”

“I moved to a smaller place with our kids, switched them to local schools, and I worked 70 or even 80 hours a week, for a long long time. Thankfully I was able to keep our wonderful helper. She is like the co-parent for me. Tim has a baby now with the other woman, and he sees our kids every few weeks, but only because I’ve insisted on it. He has only ever contributed the bare minimum, so I really didn’t have much choice. The choice was between going back to a place I hadn’t lived for years, taking the children away from the only home they knew, and seeing their father maybe once a year, as well as me losing the business I had worked so hard on, or doing what I have done. But now it’s a few years down the line, and I’ve been able to hire some people, so work has eased off. I get to spend much more time with the children. And I can even get my hair done once in a while!”

She grinned as she said that, and I wondered what my hair would look like if I could only get it done “once in a while”. As well as what I would feel like if I lived in a tiny flat, and worked for 70 hours a week. Seven zero!! That seems rather a lot.

I was deep in reflection when Katie began speaking again: “But you know, I have learned things about myself through this experience that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. There were days when I thought I couldn’t go on, when I wondered if it was really worth it… when I had a hard time believing that it would all be ok. And I wondered if I had made the right decision, or if I should’ve left. But now I see that it was the right decision, not because it was the easy one, but because it was my decision. No one else’s. I made sacrifices, but they were worth it. For me and for the children. I look at my three little girls, not so little anymore, they’re teenagers ha!… I can’t believe it!!… I look at them and I see three strong, independent-minded, thoughtful young women. And that makes everything we went through worthwhile. So you’ll be ok. Just believe that.”

My hair was finished and my mani-pedi was dry. I wanted to stay and talk to Katie some more, but she said apologetically that she had a conference call, and I thought I had better not cancel my girlies’ date for high tea at Raffles. My hair looked frankly stunning, and thankfully my bullet-proof mascara had not suffered unduly from the emotional journey I had endured with the lovely Angelina doppelgänger.