“Mrs. Kurt”: Identity Struggles on Manuscript Monday

South Africa expat life Pretoria travel

I’m going through minor identity frustration.

In the 20 years since becoming Kurt’s wife, this is the first time I’ve ever felt entirely defined as only, “Kurt’s wife.”

Every person I encounter here asks what my husband does when they learn I’m an American. There has not yet been any assumption other than that I am a “trailing spouse.” And, reluctantly, I answer them, and am usually told the direction of the nearest spa, and shopping mall, or given tips on hiring a domestic.

Only one person here has asked me if I had a career before moving here, and what it was. He then dismissed it and returned to discussing Kurt’s work.

There was no way I was going to mi

Maybe I should get my literary fix by going old-school and holding readings in the middle of a busy shopping area. πŸ˜‰
(Reading my work from Viet Nam at a beautiful little event in Los Angeles in 2012.)

On days without my own car or community of writers here, I have to remind myself that I have value outside of being a spouse, regardless of whether or not I am allowed to have a job here in South Africa. I need to absorb everything I can in this culture, and even this sidebar identity as “expat wife,” and use it in my writing.

I’m down to my last month of revisions on the manuscript, which goes to my editor in August!!

I have decided to think of my non-spouse identity as my secret superhero alterego, and remind myself that I don’t need anyone else to see it, as long as I work hard at what fulfills me separately and what I contribute to life outside of marriage.

While the life of an expat wife might seem exciting and adventurous in a foreign country, and definitely these weekend outings have been incredible, there is adjustment to being known only as someone’s spouse. But there is also adjustment for the expat worker. There are new responsibilities and long workdays, and learning the politics of a new environment.

Overcoming fear of success Change or Die

There’s no way I am going to let this hard-earned degree sit idle.

Kurt has always loved the unique blend of person I am outside of what makes us, “us.” He always has my back, and I have his. We’re best friends, and look forward to the end of each day when we are together. So the essence of “us” hasn’t changed, even if our location and supporting peers have.

We’ve talked about this strange life we’re adjusting to, and we will work our way through it. We’re looking at mountain bikes as a temporary solution to my being “stranded,” which will only be part of the month. I will find my rhythm to the days, and focus on the things that give me purpose.

And of course, I have all of you. Your comments always keep me thinking. I especially like knowing the things you focus on when you’re feeling out of your element.

And as a thank-you, I’ll leave you with another cuddly-wuddly lion cub photo. πŸ˜‰

Love, Marla

South Africa expat life Pretoria travel

Another lion cub for being so patient with today’s long post.

22 Comments on ““Mrs. Kurt”: Identity Struggles on Manuscript Monday

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  5. Marla, it is so good reading your blog, this post especially. I miss you, lady, and I understand how you must be feeling. The same happens to me in Greece. When people realize that I’m an American wife with a poor command of the language, they often assume that I spend all my time at the beach and the theater. It was irritating because I worked two teaching jobs here this year. By now I’ve learned to be content with the fact that at least I know the work that I do and chalk up their assumptions to just that, cultural assumptions which aren’t true. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with it, but I’m learning to live with it. Hang in there, Marla, you will find your niche!

    • Lauren, hi! I hope your new married life in Greece is treating you well! Yeah, I do have to keep reminding myself that I can’t change the thoughts or opinions of others, because we all, subconsciousy, pay attention to the things that reinforce what we believe, not the things that challenge it. I think that kind of cultural overhaul takes generational changes, and even then…live and let live I guess.

      I hope you’re writing during all of it. I’d love to read what you’re working on, and if you’ve added more to your wonderful manuscript!

  6. Holy Crap! You’re definately getting plenty of advice! None here, I know all too well “who” you are!! No worries, there are plenty of us who know that you certainly are no one’s shadow! Chin up, and keep a stiff upper lip!
    Love you!…Man-up, will ya!

    • Hahaha. I know you know me. And I blame it all on Mom. Damn female equality shit! I think people don’t quite know what to do with me. Am I liberal? Am I conservative? Am I an alien? (I go with that last one, btw)

  7. Hmmm you seem to have found a subject I don’t think I can really give you an opinion on, can you believe that? Sorry to hear, and I hope you are able to find what you are looking for.

    • Hahaha. You’re stumped? Well that’s a first, Coach. It’s allright, really. I think everyone has an adjustment period. And really, this isn’t much different than the initial struggle everywhere we move. It’s exciting, then it’s lonely, I figure out my niche and my people, then we move again. πŸ˜‰ But what an amazing life this is!!! πŸ˜€

  8. hey Marla,
    I lived in SA for 3 1/2 years as a single American women (in love with a hunky SA man). I can relate to what you are saying. It is a male dominated culture but the positive for me was how refreshing it was to see and know real manly men. They are macho, take care of their women, and expect to be the bread winners and leaders. Kind of old fashioned compared to America but I think there are a lot of gender confusions here(in US) because we have made women and men more like each other then ever before. House husbands, women corporate execs, etc. I don’t know about you, but I love feeling feminine and a manly man certainly does that for me. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Lori, thanks for your response. I have friends who also love their traditional relationships, and I think it’s so great that they, like you, have found what works for their own happiness and love lives. I’m always happy when I see a relationship working, and both people in it satisfied with it.
      I’m definitely not one for traditional roles in marriage or my life, and I don’t believe in gender confusion as a national issue. I think some people prefer traditional roles, and others don’t, and the key is finding a match who believes in the same roles.
      I think each person is different from one another, male or female, and discovering the person or life that makes us fulfilled is what makes life so amazing.

      Kurt and I are going on 20 years and we like our non-traditional roles. He loved that I was different from many women he knew, and fearless when it came to travel, new adventure and when we bought our first house, he bought me a heavy-duty maul as a housewarming present, for chopping firewood. There is nothing we do inside or outside the house that he doesn’t expect me to do with him. Likewise he has no problems with cooking or cleaning. As far as work, we made an agreement when we first married that whoever had the higher paying job would work, and the other would stay home to raise the children or pursue our “dream.” In the early years of our marriage, I was the breadwinner, and Kurt pursued his passion of billiards. When Kurt decided he wanted to go back to work, we both worked full time for awhile. When he started earning enough to support both of us and was offered a position to travel full-time, he offered to support me to pursue my passion: writing.

      So far, this arrangement has worked ideally for us, and it will continue to work here. It will just take some adjustment and some saving to get a second vehicle for it to be ideal.

      For me, I feel most feminine when I feel completely independent. It’s only when I’m fully free that I am willing to celebrate the more demure and traditional parts of being a woman, and only in private with Kurt.
      πŸ˜€

  9. I second Kriscinda’s advice. Low profile, secretly cranking on your WonderBook, grinning ear to ear, researching Kindred Spirits – yeah, and wheels. Gotta get wheels. You will find them. Patience, Grasshopper.

  10. Man, take this opportunity to be a blank slate to everyone else. Think of it this way…sometimes it’s *nice* not to have certain lofty expectations. If they just want to see you as “just” Kurt’s wife, hell, when you’re around them, just be Kurt’s wife. Take a vacay and relax to no real expectations. Smile, nod, find out where the good shopping is, and forget about them. In the meantime, get into your house and get a vehicle—while you’re waiting for these things, finish your manuscript and get online: make contacts and find the writers in the area. There must be writer’s groups somewhere. Once you’ve got some wheels, you can go to them and indulge who you really are with other people who don’t give a shit who you’re married to. But yeah, while you’re around people who can’t/won’t see *you,* just go with it. It is completely necessary to have those peoples’ approval, so you shouldn’t care how they see you, really. =)

    • That is SUCH a good point about being a “blank slate” for awhile. Kurt was laughing because I have started doing “character sketches” here which is something I haven’t done in a long time. It makes it easier to watch people who are different from me if I can look at it from the perspective of analyzing the interior/exterior and imagine fictionalizing them.
      I am really missing my heavy-metal, trucker-mouth, independent coffee buddy, though! πŸ˜‰

  11. wow, you are having the Monday blues!!!! hope your able to become mobile so you can enjoy your new environment……

    • Thanks, Nancy. Kurt, as always, is a wonderful person and really factors my independence into his planning for work. He doesn’t have to carpool, but does it specifically so that I have a car at least two-three weeks out of the month. As I mentioned above, he really empathizes with my need to get out, explore and just be who I am.
      He wanted to buy me a car this weekend, but I’d rather save so we can get a better one for when visitors come.
      I also want him to be able to drive more than he has been, though, so this weekend we’re shopping for a mountain bike for me, so that he can drive a little more often, and I will at least be able to get to the gym and shopping center by bike.
      We were chuckling about it, because when we first met, I didn’t have a working car, so I was riding my bike daily back and forth from Homer City to IUP.

  12. It’s so hard being in an environment where no one is reflecting your own sense of identity. I don’t want to get all sociological on you, but part of who we are is very much contained in how people react to us. It makes me crazy when I’m in a place where I feel the “real me” can’t come out, or that no one is interested in the “real me.” It sucks. I know you’ll find some people who are interested in the real Marla, because the real Marla is a very interesting person.

    • “part of who we are is very much contained in how people react to us” – I love this, Robyn, because I’ve often heard people talk of just ignoring the way others see us, but as much as we can try to develop that shell, I think it always impacts us in some way.
      I definitely have felt stifled here, so thankfully the writing and the blogging are good outlets for that. And I have finally met some Afrikaans women and men who are not in the traditional roles. That makes me immeasurably happy.
      Thanks for taking the time to post that. ❀

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