August 14, 2022

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To some women, perilously overstretched by the demands of juggling work, the home, marriage and...

To some women, perilously overstretched by the demands of juggling work, the home, marriage and children, my life must have sounded like a dream.
My husband had a high-flying career as a globetrotting journalist, which rewarded him to such an extent financially that not a single bill was my responsibility. We lived in glamorous locations across the world, from Japan to America’s East Coast.
While he worked, I was able to devote myself entirely to our two young daughters, missing not a single school drop-off or pick-up.
I was present for all their milestones — from those precious first steps to the tender night-time cuddles.
When they were old enough to go to school, I had time aplenty during the day to tackle any domestic niggles and enjoy gossipy coffee mornings with friends, as well as the freedom to volunteer at my children’s school and attend language classes myself.
In short, you might say I was a ‘kept woman’. But far from it bringing me contentment, it drove me to the very brink.
And shocking though it may seem, I found true happiness only after I had left the man to whom I owed my lavish lifestyle.
Being a ‘kept woman’ is a status idolised by some young women in today’s society — just witness how footballers’ WAGs have their own sizeable Instagram followings, their own particular cachet, for nothing more than being the other half of a wealthy man.
And I can understand why a considerable number of women might daydream about a life freed from the shackles of the office, where they have endless time and energy for their children, marriage and home, and where making the money to cover next month’s bills is not their concern.
But believe it or not, while such an existence might sound Utopian, I found it truly corrosive to my happiness and self-esteem.

In short, you might say I was a ‘kept woman’. But far from it bringing me contentment, it drove me to the very brink. Pictured: Caroline Khoury today

You may wonder why I would say this when I tell you that for many years (while we lived in Hong Kong), I actually had a live-in helper, and so didn’t have to lift a finger. No household chores, not even any cooking. I didn’t even once do the vacuuming.
And because my domestic help lived in, it meant that we also had round-the-clock babysitting, so we could enjoy a lovely social life, with weekly dinner dates.
We were also members of the local club, where other expat families would meet up and swim.
My husband’s employer paid the children’s private school bills (although we covered the substantial tax). Over the years, we have enjoyed beautiful holidays to places including Thailand, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
On the surface, life was idyllic.
But I couldn’t help but be dissatisfied. I felt truly lost.
When I had met my husband in 1994 — during my first year at university, when he was a second-year student — we were equals.
In fact, until I had my first child, I earned much more than him thanks to my well-paid career in finance, while he worked his way up the journalism ladder, at first earning barely £12,000-£16,000 a year, and I paid more of our household bills.
We bought a home in New Malden, Surrey, near my parents, and married in 2002. Life was good. We had a weekly cleaner, went to bars, restaurants and parties and had lovely European city-break holidays.
Motherhood — although it was something I had deeply desired — undoubtedly changed everything.
I gave birth to our first child in 2005 and after a year’s maternity leave, returned to my job part-time while my daughter went to a nursery.
I hated leaving her, but was worried about losing my salary and career path. My office was male-dominated, I was passed over for promotion because of my child and working part-time, and there was zero flexibility. There was no option to work from home in those days.
Then, 13 years ago, in 2009, when I was on maternity leave with my second daughter, my husband got a prestigious job offer in Hong Kong, with a high-five-figure salary.
He asked what I thought about moving to Asia.
I was sleep-deprived, suffering from postnatal depression and still grieving for my dad, whom I had lost the previous year. It was a monumental decision that, in hindsight, I was in no fit state to make.

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Pictured: Caroline and her girls in Hong Kong in 2009

My mum told me it would be the best move I could make — a chance to leave behind my career in finance, which I hated. And I deeply wanted a chance to step back and relieve some of the domestic pressure I felt I was under.
So off we went to live on the other side of the world, where I threw myself into being a full-time stay-at-home mother.
While my husband worked long hours, I took care of our children in upmarket Discovery Bay, on Lantau Island. My Filipina helper took care of domestic duties. I adopted a full domestic goddess act and left the big decisions to him.
We used to return to the UK every summer, where friends started asking me: ‘What do you actually do?’
Eventually, I asked myself the same question. I knew I didn’t want to return to my stressful career in finance; the mere idea brought on panic attacks in abundance. But I knew there had to be more to life.
When my husband was offered a new posting in Tokyo in 2011, I jumped at the chance to move there. I was sold on the idea that it would be incredible for his career, and Japan was a country that had always fascinated me.
But living there was a difficult experience. While we lived in a middle-class area, the cost of living was high. Hardly anyone spoke English and, although my girls were at an international school, paid for by my husband’s employer, I felt lonely and isolated.
The expats in Japan moved in very different circles — many of them were bankers’ wives with incredibly grand houses — and I felt as though I didn’t fit in.
At first, because domestic help was no longer affordable in Japan, the reality of finally being a full-time mum in a foreign country with zero support hit me hard.
But soon enough, the girls were at school full-time and, after the chores had been done, I once again found myself with endless hours to fill.
I took an online course in teaching English as a foreign language and set up a playgroup for Japanese children during the day.
While I was juggling my new project with caring for the girls, my husband took on more responsibility and worked longer hours, from 7am till 9pm. We were seeing far less of each other than ever before and the joke about me being a ‘single parent’ started to be bandied around.
It seemed clear to me that if he wanted to further his career, I had to manage everything else — the kids, house and admin, all while running my little playgroup venture.
I can pinpoint the moment I realised something just had to change. It was 2013, our younger daughter had just started full-time school and I was folding sheets in the kitchen. My husband turned round and asked me what I was going to do with the extra time I now had.
He said: ‘Surely you’re not just going to do laundry?’
His words festered inside my head. At first remarks like that chipped away at my self-confidence but, ultimately, they kindled a flame of rebellion. Yes, he paid the bills, but didn’t I deserve more than this?
In 2015, my husband was close to the end of his Japanese posting. A choice had to be made about whether to go back to the UK or to accept another secondment.
I knew that if we went back to the UK, I would have no choice but to return to my pressurised career. So when a high-status posting came up for him in his newspaper’s New York office, we seized it — it was a dream come true for him and a life as a New Jersey housewife for me.
We moved to Montclair, an affluent town with fancy coffee shops, chic boutiques and a branch of the upmarket organic supermarket Whole Foods.
Our garden was half an acre — enormous! — and we holidayed in Puerto Rico, Toronto and Montreal.
While my husband carried on working long hours — sometimes 14 hours a day with a visit to the gym afterwards — I tried to settle our daughters into life in the U.S.
I knew I was leading an incredibly privileged life, but I felt desperately unhappy and lost. The joys of being ‘kept’ were finally waning.
I never saw my husband, who was either at work or at the gym. And because of visa laws, I was unable to work and felt like a desperate housewife.
In the summer of 2017, we had our annual holiday to the UK and the anxiety that gripped me when we had to fly back left me breathless.
When I told my husband I wanted to return to the UK, he scoffed: ‘Going back to England won’t make you happy. You hated it there — you’ll regret it.’
By now our older daughter was approaching 13 and I knew that if I wanted to go back to the UK, it would have to be now, otherwise it would be too hard for her to fit back into the British education system and we would have to remain in the U.S. for at least another five years, until she had finished her exams.
I could no longer ignore my anxiety attacks or my deep-seated unhappiness. I wanted to go home, even though I wasn’t sure if it really was home any more after 11 years away. My husband reluctantly agreed and we moved back to the UK in 2018.
On the surface, it didn’t look like a great decision. The girls struggled to settle into a new school system, my husband’s new role on his newspaper wasn’t nearly as exciting as what he’d had before. We lost all our expat benefits, such as our housing allowance and school fees and, at the same time, rising house prices meant we couldn’t get back on the property ladder if we wanted to live in an area with decent schools.
We had to rent a house in New Malden and used our savings to buy a second-hand car.
Despite all this, I felt liberated. For years, while living in America, with those long hours to fill, I had been writing a novel.
Within a year of returning to the UK, I had an agent for my book and then, the following year, won a two-book deal. Life was on the up. I realised that my problems were down to fear. I had to be selfish and put myself first in order to be happy.
And so, last summer, I found the strength to leave my husband for good. Today, I am happier than I have ever been.
I have a sense of purpose and have even started dating again, via online sites. I started last autumn and it’s fun — although needless to say I avoid alpha-male workaholics like the plague.
I’ve enjoyed many entertaining coffee dates with some lovely younger men and seem to attract Italian, Spanish and French guys. I feel desirable again and make much more of an effort with my appearance than I did during my lost years.
That said, I don’t believe love was the missing piece from the jigsaw of my life. Nor is another long-term relationship the answer. For now, I am happy to be single and putting my needs and those of my daughters first.
For all the surface privileges of my past life, I can emphatically say that being a kept woman wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
You may dream of it, but having a jet-setting lifestyle and a high-powered husband certainly didn’t bring me happiness.

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 It Must Be Love, by Caroline Khoury, is published by Penguin at £7.99.


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