We thank Jostein for allowing us to translate his article on his condition of male accompanying partner. Translated from Norwegian by our talented Venusiaexpat.
I have lived abroad as student, single worker, to be with my partner, in couple (both working), and then as an accompanying partner. I believe the most “comfortable” way of relocating is following the partner, though it is certainly the hardest as far as identity is concerned.
I invite you to read a reflection of Jostein on being an accompanying partner. It is the point of view of a man, which could be the one of any partner today. I found lots in common with my feelings.
Every time we go to Morocco, we need to fill out a form. Name, surname, residence, nationality. I do it quickly — I’m so worldly, I could almost do it blindfold. We’ve done this before! But then comes a field for profession. And I stop. Every time. What am I? And by extension: Who am I?
You write dentist. You write teacher, electrician, veterinarian. Real estate agent, HR consultant or INFLUENCER and you whizz pan-faced through the police control. As you do in all social events. Frank, from Bergen, dentist, you say. And you are placed in the social landscape, or in the records of the Moroccan border police. You know where you are.
My name is Jostein. But I don’t come from Halden, even though I come from there: it’s twenty years since I left the city. I’m from everywhere. And profession? Job?
On several headstones in Norway, the deceased’s profession is engraved. Truls Solberg, Opera singer. Ole Hansson, Priest. But it is almost always the man’s occupation. The husbands’ profession. On the wife’s headstones there is usually just wife. Line Undrum, priest’s wife. Teacher’s wife. The wife of the parliamentary representative. And that’s where I am.
My wife makes the money in our home. And more importantly, she is the one with the career. I just trail along. She travels the world, new countries, new work challenges, and I sit by, holding great hopes that this time it will be possible to create a career from scratch, to begin all over again and find out how to achieve status and create a role, so people can know where I stand.
Good morning. Jostein. Norwegian. Translator. I’d like to say. For I have translated some books and could translate more. But it doesn’t feel right, I’m tongue-tied, I have not translated anything in the past year, and I am not the sort of person who can knock at a publisher’s door, nor do I know many publishers, and anyway I am not good enough, and spend more time learning new languages than improving the one I know. I say translator to the border police. But I always feel like a fraud.
Anyone can call themselves a translator or writer anyway. But you are not one before you have achieved a certain level, before you are good enough, or have done enough within the field. And I haven’t.
And anyway, the question isn’t “How do you make money?” It isn’t “What do you do?” or “What are your hobbies?” It’s “Where you get your income from?” And my income is the family allowance cheque my wife gets.
Hello. Jostein, Norwegian. Accompanying partner.
Hey, the world is my oyster! I can study online or wherever we happen to live. I can meet interesting people and experience interesting things. As I ran through the Atlas Mountains, I stopped to feed monkeys and chased away stray dogs. I drove a boat in underground rivers in the Czech Republic. I toured the Danish island of Bornholm on a bicycle with four children. All things that I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t lived in these countries, if I hadn’t been an expat.
But all this does not say who I am. I cannot find a box that can define me: I will remain an accompanying partner, someone who is someone following someone else, as long as things hold together. And what would happen if things didn’t hold together?
And if suddenly I found myself alone? Who would I be? What could I do?
However, this also shows how strong and secure I felt when I consciously agreed to follow my family, to be my wife’s helper, the one who adapts to make things work. (Not a spare tyre, but a rear wheel of a front-wheel drive car).
On the other hand, I am also asked to be someone. It is necessary for the good of the children, that Dad is something different from a person wandering aimlessly, that he is something, something definable, something to be proud of, in a way. It is essential for my own happiness, and there are few things as negative as unemployment for happiness — and it is not for the money not earned, but for the self-realization that is not achieved.
My father was a teacher, a good teacher, one of those trying to make the school a better place. For me he was the most popular teacher in the school; I don’t know if that was true, but it was for me, and it was all I needed. To lean on this idea, with pride.
What is the father of my children? What am I?
At a certain level, we all wander aimlessly to find out who we are, but most of us find a place before their thirties. We finish our studies, find a partner, choose a career or at least a job. We build a niche in which we feel safe and comfortable. The lucky ones succeed in building a remarkable, admirable environment. Most have at least a place they feel they belong to. And when you meet people, you have all the answers ready. Hi, my name is Frank, I’m from Bergen and I’m a dentist. Everyone knows where to place you.
I build my “place” on sand. And every time someone asks me who I am, what I do, or worse, if I’ve finally found something to do, I get annoyed and I feel guilty. What do I do? I facilitate the daily life of my family, I try to build a place for myself, like a good handyman, without being one. I’ve tried so often to build my own place, and I’ve started again so often, that I often wonder if it makes sense to work hard to build shelters that are always only temporary.
Who am I? Jostein.
What am I? An accompanying partner.
No. It’s not enough. So, even if I don’t like meetings, I joined the school’s parents’ committee, although it mostly harbours demanding women with way too beautiful purses. And despite the fact that there is nothing to show for it on my CV, I started helping migrants in a local church in Rabat. And despite being asocial and desperately introverted, I started building a network to find my niche, or to create a “place” that I can call my own.
It’s great to follow your partner around the world. There are wonderful experiences and lots to learn, for example, from the many cultural clashes that teach plenty about others and yourself.
But it is also putting yourself in the back seat. It’s not your job, it’s not your career, it’s not your overtime or your requirements that come first — no matter how supportive your partner is. You are no longer someone on your own, you are someone’s partner. Ah, you’re married to her, yes, she’s good, you’re lucky.
You have to be strong to be an accompanying partner without losing yourself. You must be adaptable. You need a thick skin.
Maybe that’s what I am. If St. Peter at the gates of heaven asked me, or if someone asked me what to write on my headstone, which profession, a word that sums me up, then it would be this: thick-skinned.
He was nothing special, he had no career, he was not like other adults, but he had a thick skin and a good heart, and he thought that was more important than any career.
Hi, I’m Jostein. I come from many places. I work to thicken my skin and sweeten my heart.
It would not work in social circles. I hope that at least it might work on a headstone.
Jostein Sand Nilsen, 100prosentRabat (in Norwegian)
Translated from Norwegian by Venusiaexpat