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Published: October 26th 2008
It’s funny how free I can be with complete strangers. One of the best things about this host is that Jayne busies herself with a lot of social activities, and while she’s doing them, I typically come with her. There’s not much work I can do on my own at her house. I get the benefit of glimpsing into the subculture of older, British ex-pats in France. It’s remarkable, and worth a study.
I don’t’ really have a control specimen, as I don’t know too many American women this age, but I find the most notable sentiment to extract from these ladies is that of discontent. My French friend, Chantal, said of the British women she knows that they were “ennuissant” (I’m not sure how to spell it), basically meaning they are bored. She marveled at how few of them held real jobs. And since so few of them have attempted to learn any French (though they love to make fun of the accent), they can only hang out with other English-speaking Brits.
There’s another phenomena that occurs with ex-pat women in France: divorce. At least three of the ladies in Jayne’s circle of friends have split with their husbands since they moved to France. Something I haven’t figured out yet causes seemingly solid couples to crack. When I explain my own situation of wanting to move around and travel more, the ladies always erupt with Tina Turner-esque support, exclaiming their regrets of being tied down at a young age. So many women I’ve come across on these travels are on their second marriage or partnership, or at least have divorced their first husbands. One woman (Canadian, therefore actually does speak French) put it succinctly, explaining that, in her day, if a young woman was in her early 20’s, she had to be married. And so many of them were constrained by these social pressures, that they succumbed, at great sacrifice. Either they picked the wrong men, or they gave up plans of their own; prevailingly relinquishing their own identity. Either they were “Mark’s wife” or “Megan’s Mom”, and never just themselves. When speaking to me of my current and prospective travels, their sense of regret and longing are tangible. “If only” and “I wish” have become huge parts of their lives, and alarms me.
Every single one of them (even the happily married new mother, how dare she) assured me that exploring the world was far more important than any man, especially in light of the fact that the relationship will statistically end in heartache anyway. And I felt almost ashamedly fortunate that I am in the position that I’m in. Had I been born 30 years earlier, I wouldn’t even have the choice. I feel sometimes that I’d rather have the man, than the travels. Yet maybe I don’t have a choice. As a woman who’s been given liberty, I owe it to someone to take advantage of the gift.
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