First Wife Syndrome

  While the world begins to fret about a new(ish) virus epidemic, I’ve been struggling with my own illness.

Commonly known as first wife syndrome,  this illness is at epidemic proportions in Turkey and commonly occurs in the first wives of families.  It can be particularly aggressive in families with no daughters, and non-Turks seem to suffer the worst from the symptoms.  This affliction can range from very mild to debilitating, and there is no easy way to predict who it will strike. 

Symptoms include,  but are not limited to, back pain, neck pain, head aches, upset stomach, depression, mood swings, lethargy, exhaustion, and general malaise.

But no, really.

Like I described before in a recap of things I love and hate about Turkey, there’s a different standard applied to women rather than men.  In the most extreme cases,  it can manifest as women being treated as near slaves in the house.  This extends to wives, where the women marrying into a family are expected to take on the work of the senior woman in the house (mother in law) when they are there.  This has recently become more of a burden on me too.

Don’t get me wrong,  I have no problem with helping.  What I don’t like is doing things on my own when it isn’t something I’m doing just for me.  For example, forgive me if I get mad about doing my brother in laws laundry.  He’s not my husband and therefore not my problem.

This has been more of a problem since the winter started,  since my mother in law is prone to illness.  The first week it was OK,  but after a month of being asked to make tea (when I don’t want it),  make enough pita bread (lavaş) for our 5 person family without help,  do other people’s laundry, etc… Mmmmm how about no.

But what can I do? If I say no,  I’ll start a traditional rift between wife and mother in law.

This really made my blood boil when I was being told to assist my husband’s aunt in her serving us (as guests) when her own grown female grandchildren were not being made to lift a finger.  This is not normal in American culture (as I know it), and when we first got here nothing was expected of me, it was just a pleasant bonus when I helped so frequently.  But as I’m learning to do things on my own,  it seems that they’ve forgotten I’m not Turkish.

Maybe I should be flattered?

Nah,  I’ll just be mad.

Hopefully things will improve when we move out of my in laws house.  Whenever that will be. The longer I stay the more culture shocks I go through… Is that how it’s supposed to happen?

And now I kind of feel bad for feeling this way! Just because things are different doesn’t make them wrong…

But I can’t turn off 25 years of living my life with a different set of expectations!

What is an expat to do?

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