Life as a Trailing Spouse in Macau


(Picture: gorgeous padi fields in Bali circa 2010)

Well, there’s much more to trailing spouse insecurities, alienation and displacement. I’ve been travelling and relocating for work myself before I decided to take the plunge (with very cold feet admittedly!) and give up the life as I knew it to move to Macau over two years ago. It’s been tough to say the least and possibly the biggest personal growth spurt I’ve experienced in all 33 years of my life.

Life had always been very busy, exciting and full of new adventures with work being a huge part of it. There was never a dull moment and then it all dissipated and I was left to confront myself in Macau, working from home (still travelling often – ever grateful and thankful!), but really with so few friends (3) and a gaping hole in my soul for the lack of cultural or intellectual stimulation in my immediate environment.

Most talented trailing spouses don’t work because of the silly restrictions here in Macau and I admire how they keep their sanity in tact if they don’t have children to devote all their time to. In my case, I inherited my now husband’s friends other halves as friends, many of whom I would never have imagined making friends with if I was starting out in a new country. Yes, I’m a difficult, yes I have standards, but I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone I didn’t know how to begin socialising.

And mind you, I work in PR and communications! From “Are you getting a French passport?” to endless complaints about domestic help or how much they hate this shithole – it puts me in awkward situations when I can’t find the right answer to navigate.

One would think that Congratulations are in order when you get engaged, so to be confronted quickly about getting an EU passport, as a Singaporean, I found it hard to comprehend, only to realise much later that it’s an on-going pursuit of the holy grail – a better, more mobile life. But don’t we all aspire to that?

So, I read an article lately and the quote I saw on Instagram really struck a cord having lived outside of what I used to call home for over a decade now, I don’t quite feel displaced because moving for work puts me in autopilot, until two years ago I moved for love and most recently joined the ranks of ‘trailing spouses’.

One of the things I was very clear about was that my basic needs of having to work had to be met in however and whatever way possible, partly also because my housekeeping skills are terrible… and of course the idea of being financially dependent has always been a horrifying thought… maybe that too might change some day.

The quote above struck a cord, I’ve made friends from all corners of the globe, there’s always a familiar face and good friend to see whether it’s Tel Aviv, New York or Paris, I’ve friends across the globe pursuing dreams and making the best out of life has to offer. Friends inspire and encourage each other.

Macau was difficult from the start with a toxic welcome by a drunken bawling trailing spouse who turned up at my place at 2am during my first week here calling me a bad person for not texting her once a week to ask her how she was.

There I was: jobless, moving in with my then-boyfriend for the first time waiting for my cat to arrive – in fact Smuge was the only constant in that chapter of my life.  No job, quit the career, no future in sight and the last thing I could really think about was texting an acquaintance every week?

She apologised profusely there after, and I know she’s probably fighting her attention seeking battles. I am grateful for the experience and the big lesson to me (after the trauma) that we meet all kinds of people that I would never have otherwise ever encountered if I always had the luxury to make my own friends, and had things my way.

We live and let live. We learn. I have a better radar for drama and go out of my way to avoid it at all cost. When there is little choice, I behave like a civilised adult. And drink more wine.

I’ve met all types of people here, I still can’t make sense of it and sometimes I also wonder if it’s me going mad. Even the wonderful free meditation class turns into a group therapy session where people talk suicide and self-hatred. I really just wanted to go meditate and have inspiring conversations, not counsel people out of their troubles. They need professional help, not strangers in pseudo group therapy to talk about life and its woes.

trailing spouse macau

It’s taken me over 2 years to finally have a handful of normal, inspiring, very hardworking women friends here in Macau and finally accept and understand why most of the other people behave like they do – because this insular place makes people go mad and it perpetuates this toxic cycle of negativity of putting each other down.

I have never seen it anywhere else I’ve lived – or maybe because I wasn’t so close to the source of a trailing spouse. Or lived in an insular community where village life and gossips are common place.

I suppose, I wasn’t prepared for the life changes when you relocate for your other half’s work (out of the love and support you have for him). So, I guess the question is, where and how do you find the balance?

When is too little or too much of are you doing enough or are you just whinging? I am all about solutions and making it work and I think I am sort of finding the footwork and foot hold to get with the (slow) rhythm and madness of Macau.

trailing spouse

However much I gripe about the long commutes from Macau travelling for work, I am thankful for this place, these lessons, this environment to grow out of my comfort zone, to address deep seated issues, clear out skeletons in the closet and find that balance and peace of living anywhere in the world.

It’d be all too easy to move to another big city filled with inspiration and endless things to do at the theatre, cinema, museums, but it’s here where there isn’t much to do where I get to dig deep and address the gaping hole in my soul to actually connect with myself at a different level no longer distracted by all the wonderful things a new relocation with work always brings.

As for a portable career that I have and tirelessly built the last two years, it works well in this region where I’m at the right place at the right time, filling a market need, who knows what the next move might bring. Whenever that may be?

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