herald

Tuesday 22 August 2017

We married just two months ago but this week my husband had to emigrate

Deirdre O'Shaughnessy and her husband
Deirdre O'Shaughnessy and her husband

It's two months since our wedding and a few minutes ago, my husband got on a plane to the UK to begin his teaching career.

It's not how married life is meant to begin, but sometimes life presents you with choices that aren't choices at all.

The choice, really, is between endless, fruitless days spent pottering around the house and sending job applications, walking the poor, put-upon dog until his paws get sore, scrimping and saving for everything, or feeling productive and useful, and alive, in a new setting with new accents and strange sausages and nobody to come home to.

He's not gone far. It's only an hour from Gatwick, which is itself only an hour from Cork, and the price of a train ticket to Dublin.

That's what I keep telling myself.

As for the dog? He'll do fine once he realises the recent, stressful exercise regime was just a blip.

And he'll be allowed to get back to doing what he does best; sleeping, one ear cocked, under the kitchen table.

After returning early from our honeymoon to interview for a job that turned out to have been incorrectly advertised, it wasn't long until we discovered that the most a newly qualified teacher can hope for in Ireland is a few hours' subbing.

Or the faint hope that somebody teaching history, somewhere in Ireland, will get pregnant.

slog

It's a difficult thing to take that chance and go back to the slog and poverty of three years in college after years of earning and independence.

It's galling when excellent results, professionalism and a wealth of previous experience add up to precisely zero, because there is nothing in this country for you.

And it's incredibly pressurising when everyone you meet suggests that "if anyone can get work, it will be you".

And so, like so many of our problems, we can export the unemployed to the UK, or further.

In doing so we trust that the vast requirements of such a populous place can assimilate what we ourselves cannot.

What's stopped me from indulging too much in self-pity is the knowledge of just how common this is.

Within 15 minutes walk of my own house, I know many other couples doing this, with varying degrees of separation.

There's the family with two kids, where dad gets up at 5am every Monday morning to go to Dublin, coming home just in time to tuck them in on Thursday night.

There's a family-of-five, where dad spends weeks at a time on construction projects in the UK, not knowing when he'll get home again as he is moved around at the behest of his employer.

There's the couple, keen to get married but forced to wait, who enjoyed a year living together before he had to pursue his career in the UK, because there is no funding for his work in Ireland and she is mid PhD.

And there's the family-of-six where the father works in Dubai and comes home to his wife, who works full-time, every few months.

Varying degrees of separation, varying degrees of difficulty. I jokingly call us 'the deserted wives' club'.

This is our country's 'recovery'. We are exporting our young - and not so young - men.

Like the brickies and potato pickers in the old days sent home the next sibling's passage, so the teachers and engineers and academics are sending home the money to pay the new taxes on property and water and whatever else they dream up in next week's Budget.

Loneliness

Loneliness is a tiny, unquantifiable story - as dramas go, it's no Ebola - but it's the real story of unemployment.

It's the nobody to have tea with at 11am, the empty space where a schedule should go and the lack of someone to bounce ideas off.

It's the 'any news?' you ask when you have none yourself because you haven't seen anyone or done anything that you didn't do yesterday.

Or anything that doesn't involve daily domestic drudgery, however you look at it. Emigration might be lonely, but it's better than that. I hope.

In work, almost anywhere, there is camaraderie and company, there are tales to be told, even via Skype, at the end of the day, and a narrative to shape your day and your life.

And so we make the choice that isn't a choice, and he is there and I am here, and the 'deserted wives'' book club starts in earnest next month.

It's all taught me one thing - take your opportunities where you find them.

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