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Dear Prudence: She's not happy in island paradise

  • Article by: Emily Yoffe
  • Slate
  • January 28, 2014 - 2:23 PM

Dear Prudence: Last year, my husband was a finalist for a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity. We were both flown to the lovely island city of the organization. I learned there were high expectations for entertaining and community involvement for both employee and spouse. It would mean my leaving a fulfilling job, but I was told there would be plenty of social and intellectual opportunities for me, and the organization thinks of itself as a family. My husband got the job.

Almost a year into our new life, my husband is blissfully happy. Our elementary-aged daughter and I are not. My daughter is pleasant and outgoing and has always been popular. I have invited just about every child in her new class over for visits and activities; almost without exception these invitations have been politely declined. I offered to volunteer at a couple of nonprofits, but was told they were all set. The other women in the community attend work-related gatherings at our home, but when I have tried to pursue a friendship, I get a polite cold shoulder. I’ve lived in many states and have never had a problem making friends. One person explained to me that the culture here, while superficially friendly, is pretty insular, and people feel “outsiders” aren’t worth the effort.

I want to return to our previous city, where I could get my old job back. But my husband wants to stay here for the rest of his career. We’ve talked about this, and he’s not budging. I feel like I have to choose between marital happiness and happiness in the other areas of my life, and I am beginning to worry that the rest of my life might just prove more important than my marriage. Do you see any alternative?

Prudence says: You imagined an island paradise, and instead you feel you’ve been stranded on a desert island. Culture shock and homesickness make for a hard first year. But feeling this way after such a big move is also within the range of normal. This is 2014, and while there may be duties expected of spouses by your husband’s employer, I don’t believe that spouses are expected to solely devote themselves gratis to the organization.

You would find new challenges and a community of your own if you got a job. If you can’t find one, since you say you live in a city, I simply don’t believe that every nonprofit is turning away able volunteers. If your daughter is happy and outgoing, surely she will make friends on her own. You could also expand her social network by getting her involved in sports or arts activities outside of her school.

If this is your husband’s dream job, it sounds as if it would be pretty devastating to his career to abruptly walk away from it. If that’s the demand you’re making of him, no wonder you’ve both retreated to your separate corners. If you are lonely on your island, I’m sure you would find yourself equally unmoored if you divorced and returned to your previous home. Commit now to spending another full year before you consider doing anything. Take that time getting to expand your world beyond the walls of your husband’s organization. Since you live in a place that surely must attract tourists, put out an open invitation to have friends and family visit. Being their guide to your new home might help you see how good you have it.

Send questions to prudence@slate.com.

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