She was once known for her long, slender legs. They were what first attracted her husband. After a brief, but romantic courtship, she knew she could never be without him. She left behind her family and friends, whom she had always held near and dear and followed him half way around the globe - literally. They spent their first years of marriage in a third-world country where basic necessities were sparse and parasitic diseases were aplenty. As his career in diplomacy surged, hers in medicine remained at a standstill. Her infatuation drowned her resentment and it pulled them through. Until that fateful day, when on her way to the marketplace to pick up fresh vegetables for his favorite meal, she became the target of a terrorist attack. The violent message was intended as a warning to the government she and her husband dutifully represented; she was the unlucky messenger. Today, she is known only for her limp.
At home, a different but equally brave and devoted wife raises three children alone. Not because she wants to, but because she has to. Her husband is serving in a hostile region too dangerous to be accompanied by his wife and children. His job is stressful and demanding. He only returns home on the weekends and sometimes he wishes he didn’t have to because frankly, diplomatic crises are easier to endure than his wife’s psychological warfare. But who can blame her? She is overwhelmed by their maladjusted teenagers causing trouble at their fourth school in five years. It’s only a matter of time before he starts to seek comfort from his secretary who “gets him.”
The tales of these two women are composites of stories I have heard during my time working in diplomacy. They are not unique to the experiences of diplomatic couples who represent Israel. They are recurring themes in the lives of diplomats throughout the world. Diplomatic couples, military couples and couples who are regularly forced to relocate for work know these trials and tribulations far too well.
Since the above stories are fictional, I can’t reveal a satisfying conclusion, but I can tell you that the real-life versions more often than not end in divorce.
Diplomatic spouses, (in most cases, wives) must give up their careers and identities for the sake of their other halves. They must tend to the children, to the country, to appearances and more - for love and not for money. Any Israeli diplomat engaged in the current labor dispute with the Finance Ministry will confirm this.
But I’m not here to get into politics.
I’m here to share what I’ve learnt from the exemplary couples who have survived their service to the state.
From the woman who traded her hard-earned doctor honorific to disappear into the abyss of anonymity as “the ambassador’s wife,” I learned that a true leader recognizes when the time is ripe to follow. I learned that living in your spouse’s shadow is not necessarily a position of shame, but rather a position of support, if you choose it to be. And success is a by-product of that support and can only be fully enjoyed when shared.
From the “hostess with the mostess,” whose cocktail parties and cooking I suspect earned Israel some much-needed friends, I learned that housewife is not a dirty word. I also learned to put pride and passion into everything I do and roll a mean maki while at it. Only a wise woman could truly understand and harness the connection between food and friendship.
I observed that most happy couples in diplomacy and otherwise, speak with a “we,” rather than about “me.” This expresses a mutual investment and agreed upon beliefs, goals, visions etc. Most importantly, it shows an equality between partners and an interdependency characteristic of harmonious couples. Perhaps, the sacrifices and difficult environment breed such behavior. All I know for sure is that “behind every great man is a great woman,” and this rings especially true in the field of international diplomacy.
The struggle between the Foreign Ministry and the Finance Ministry in Israel is largely based on a financial degradation. However, there are deeper layers that the diplomats simply won’t permit to be ignored; amongst them the demands regarding their spouses and their respective rights. It is with great humility that these oftentimes egomaniacal men recognize the sacrifice of their beloved spouses, and their indebtedness to them for their careers and their accomplishments. They will not back down until a mechanism is put in place to compensate them… and maybe at the same time, save their marriages. This strike is the well-deserved “thank-you” and the long-awaited “I love you.”
I’m a sucker for a good romantic ending. I wonder if Finance Minister Yair Lapid is too.