Friday, March 15, 2013

My Whole Life is an Unaccompanied Tour

Lately I've been a source of information to prospective Foreign Service Officers who have found me at this blog or through other social media. One of the questions I get, particularly from the young women, is, "What's it like as a single female FSO?" The short, sweet answer is, "It's not for everyone."

There's a joke in the Foreign Service that goes something like this: If you want to know where a male FSO's first overseas post was, look at his wife, if you want to know where a female FSO's first overseas post was, look at her furniture. 

I know enough female FSOs who have found husbands abroad to dispel that myth. But I think the foreign service lifestyle is harder for single women than for single men. And "single issues" are not just about dating. I cannot tell you how many post reports I've read where "great post for singles" meant "great post for single guys to pick up local girls in bars." 

I'd be curious to know how many FSOs are single and compare that against the resources offered specifically for them. I took the "Single in the FS" seminar at FSI before heading out on my first overseas tour; the only thing I remember is that we were told we had to report our romantic relationships to the RSO. As if the dating scene is the only concern singles have overseas. They don't teach you how to expand your circle of friends outside of the embassy. They don't train CLOs on the special needs of singles (most CLOs are spouses and therefore organize events that appeal to other spouses and families). And they don't teach you how to handle the tough times alone. I think there are a number of single FSOs who self-medicate when they don't have anyone to talk to.

One of the nice things about serving in Kabul, and previously in Baghdad, is that everyone here is temporarily single and living the unaccompanied life. For a single FSO who usually has to plan social activities around her friends' kids' schedule, it's great! In Kabul, the babysitter doesn't cancel at the last minute, visiting in-laws don't disrupt your regular girls night out, and people are always up for a drink after work. 

This career is - mostly - fulfilling and has given me a lot of experiences I would not otherwise have had.  I'm grateful for that. But it's also a demanding lifestyle and doing it by myself can be tiring sometimes. There have been times when I wished I had a trailing spouse (or wished I WAS a trailing spouse) instead of being the one on whose shoulders everything falls.

I wonder what would happen if single FSOs organized themselves.