The loneliness of the H4 housewife


It was quieter than usual last Friday in the office.  My manager was MIA, and many of my colleagues were working from home.  There were no projects in the fire, so we have been in a very mellow support mode.  It was a good day to take a long lunch, or to spend some time catching up with co-worker’s lives.

I had to drop some money by Preeta’s office as my contribution to a group baby shower gift.  I’ve always had a great affection for Preeta, even though we have little in common and our contact in the office is strictly professional.  She is a bit shy, and tends to socialize and lunch only with the tight circle of the other Indian women programmers on our team.  On this quiet Friday, with her usual buds working from home, she was stuck with me.

One of our male colleagues, Rama, is going to be a dad for the first time next month.  So, Preeta is hosting a surprise baby shower for him and his wife, Amita.  Rama is another one of our Indian contractors who I like a lot.  We were on a tough project together and he was completely unshakable.  If I had a question or a problem, within seconds he was in my office with a solution, and if not a solution, at least a willingness to find one.  And he felt comfortable asking me questions about myself and American culture  and I about him and Indian culture.  He loves to give me tips on good Bollywood movies to rent, and gave me the skinny about the local cricket league.

I’ve met most of the spouses of our contractors at various social functions. Most of the Indian wives tend to be very shy, but make a delightfully colorful clique in their traditional Indian outfits.  Rama made a point of introducing Amita  to me.  She giggled shyly as she told me that Rama has told her so much about me. “You like Bollywood movies, and you have three cats and a rabbit. One of your cats is very big.”  I felt a bit awkward because I knew nothing about her.  In fact, I didn’t even know he was married!  She was a lovely girl and seemed tickled to be there and to be meeting me.

Later it occurred to me that it was a bit sad, really.  She seemed a bit too eager for outside contact.  I admit I’m interesting (at least to me), but I don’t think I should rank as anyone’s dinner conversation with their spouse.  Later I asked Rama if his wife had many friends, or if she had any family here in the States. As I suspected, she didn’t.  But what surprised me was how unconcerned he seemed to be about that.  He acted as if that were just the norm.

As Preeta and I were chatting on Friday, I asked her if Amita struck her as a bit lonely. “Oh yes, but that is not uncommon.” She explained that many Indian women find themselves in that position.  They come to the states with their husbands who come on a sponsored work visa (H1B, I believe).  But, the wives are only granted H4 visas which allow them to be in the States, but they cannot work.  So, for many of them, whose husbands work for large contracting firms who move their employees from from job to job, city to city, their lives consist of living in some bland corporate apartment complex, away from their friends, their family and no outlet for their professional aspirations.  No wonder Amita struck me as sad.

Unlike in Bollywood movies, where being matched with a potential husband who works in the States is considered a great catch, Preeta told me that now young educated, professional women are steering away from men whose work is going to take them to the US.  If they are going to go to the US, they’ll do it on their own Visa, thank you very much.

For some reason, I feel a very deep sadness for Amita.  Then it occurred to me: Amita’s situation reminded me of my own mother’s loneliness and isolation.  My mother’s restrictions were not of a legal nature, but entirely internal.  But the result was the same, sitting at home all day, friendless and living vicariously through  her spouse.   For myself, I can’t imagine a less fulfilling life.

Amita is due to have a baby next month, and both her parents are by her side for the next six months.  I wish her happiness.  And I wish for her all the fulfillment – family, social, professional – that she desires.


23 responses »

  1. eye feel ya there LB ~ as ruff azitiz for us amerikins in udder cultures itz gotta be doubly tuff comin in here from the outside especially with the cultural submissiveness on top of the professional isolation. makes me wonder if maybe u haven’t slipped into sum thin purty interesting and potentially complicated = befriending lonely expat housewives ? maybe they could uza rabbit to pet . . . ?

  2. BB Golly – Trust me, I’ve had plenty of plans to “help Rama’s wife” run through my deluded little head (though admittedly, Harry, doing a visiting rabbit program wasn’t one of them. She is an H4, not a 4H). But, I think if I were to suddenly show up on her doorstep, it would quite confusing for her. Rather, I’ve been trying to make Rama a bit more aware of his wife’s situation, and how potentially isolating it is for her.

    Amurin – I hope there is. I read that some women in the same situation have started their own social and charitable groups. Again, I brought that up to Rama and he said he would look to see if there was anything local.

    Who knows, maybe she is perfectly happy. Maybe this is the life she chose. I could just be projecting my own mother’s experience, plus my own ideas of fulfillment all over this poor woman. ‘Tis very possible.

  3. “Rather, I’ve been trying to make Rama a bit more aware of his wife’s situation, and how potentially isolating it is for her.”

    I think you hit the nail on the head.

    That and an anonymous rabbit in the post should work wonders.

  4. main thing is momentz like this cawlz for sum kreeee8 tivity.

    if allz ya kin due is throw up yer rabbit hands and wok away then maybe itz time fur a dinner party ?

    just don’t serve rabbit stew

  5. ok that last crack was a little off base but house about halfing the 4H wife do the cooking ~ you could even offer to go shopping wither.

  6. Harry – Thanks for the validation. And while I would never dream of sending a live rabbit in the post, I am going to get them a stuffed toy rabbit as a baby gift. Much safer for the baby, and I wouldn’t have PETA on my ass.

    BB Golly – It did indeed cross my mind to have her over for dinner. And if she weren’t about to pop out a baby, I would still be considering it. But, I think the bigger goal is to facilitate her being able to help herself make new friends. While Amita and I may have Rama and Bollywood movies in common, it’s not the basis for an ongoing relationship. And at worse, it may come off as pity, and that ain’t never pretty.

    Oh, and thanks for the offer of dressing up like a rabbit, but seriously, I’m really good on the rabbit front. No mas conejos!

  7. sew how about killing two (or maybe 3 or 4) cojones with one rabbit? = stay open to creating an opening with all partayz involved in what ever way ‘just appears’ (since what we hold in our hearts is bound to appear sooner or ladder)

    Therez a whole sin drome here sounds like. Ram Ram Hare Ram

  8. sew it seams to me (and this is not going to shock n e won whoz a reg you lar re der hear tho we can all ways hope) that thairs a transgender co next shun hear ~ a board H4 and a tranny walks into a bar n the bartender says . . .

  9. witch brings me to the issue of loan lioness ~ which in my fur tyle image nation is the conjoined twin of boredom = the list of opper tune nateys to combat this die namik duo seems staggeringly endless

  10. Hi…I just happened to google indian H4’s in the Bay area and read your blog entry! it sure is an interesting read:) i never meant to intrude, but I feel compelled to leave a comment because im a h4 myself and thought it would put things in perspective.

    I have earned an MBA degree in Finance from a very good b-school in India and was working with a bank in their business banking division as a relationship manager before getting married and moving to be with my husband here in the bay area.

    Initially like it is for anybody else in a new place , its a challenge to begin your life all over again in more ways than one! Its a new home, new place, new friends, etc . Having said that, Its really not bad at all. Infact its fun …with the world now being a global village, where different cultures are blending into each other – it only gave me an opportunity to interact and learn about other people from different parts of the world right here in the bay area. We go climbing with a Russian, have drinks with Americans, take our american friends to Bollywood movies and some Yoga; play football with the mexicans, and exchange wonderful stories over some “indian food” about how our cultures are so different but yet so much fun!

    Having said all this , being a h4 I ONLY feel deprived because I don’t have a legal status to work in this country. Having earned a Masters degree and having a good 3 years of work experience I feel moments of hurt because i cannot make good use of my time here. I cannot apply what I have learnt and interview here for a job. I only think its fair to be given a chance to be able to work if i am skilled and can bag a job on my own merit. I understand the country right now is going through a phase and I too pray that this recession gets over soon like a bad dream and America is standing tall with pride again!

    This is a part of my life I just wanted you to read to have another perspective of an Indian woman here on a H4.

    I too think its a brilliant idea to point out to Rama that his wife may be lonely and try to encourage her to do somethign with her time, and go out there and meet more people. I notice this is quite an old entry and now she is probably busy with the kid and may already be doing a lot more with her life!

    Its more than about having a rabbit to pet 😉

    Cheers, God bless u!

  11. Do you know any of these social and charitable groups that help h4 women? i really need to find out. I have been searching on google to no avail. The reason I ask is I want to start one and do not want to recreate the wheel…if you even know of someone who knows about it, could you contact me?

  12. Friends,

    We all are aware of the identity crisis that many girls experience after they get married and come to the United States of America on a dependent visa, famously or infamously known as H-4 visa, which not only imposes restrictions on working and having an independent source of income, but might also involve an agonizing wait to earn an authorized work permit that renders the official rights to work in America.The alarming number of stories about depression and loneliness experienced by H-4 wives inspired me to find a medium that’ll allow me to share my secret of leading a life full of happiness and sheer bliss while being on a dependent visa. And I thought the best medium to deliver my message would be through a book.

    My book “H-4 Fortune Cookies” is dedicated to all the H-4 wives who believe that “life is a struggle” in a new country, especially when it involves leaving behind a well paying job, a stable career, or promising educational achievements in their respective home countries. It is for those who believe that they are not free despite living in a free country – “The Land of Opportunity”; that they have sacrificed and surrendered a significant part of themselves to their restrictive immigration statuses. It contains 50 Inspirational Thoughts written by me, who was fortunate enough to have enjoyed every moment being a H-4 wife!

    I want to share my good fortune with all the H-4 wives in the form of these 50 Fortune Cookies that stood by me during tough times. I sincerely hope that the thoughts in my book spark a ray of hope in the lives of all those wives who left their homelands to be in a progressive country, yet feel constrained due to their immigration statuses. I deeply desire to liberate all the H-4 wives from their mental inhibitions and inspire them to realize their dreams while being on a dependent visa. Share the good fortune by passing along these fortune cookies that are stocked with a lot of goodness and hope for all those who need a fresh perspective about “life on H-4”.

    My book is available in the form of an e-book and can be downloaded from the following link:

    Experience the joy in spreading hope & inspiration through the fortune cookies in my book!

    Lots of Happiness & Light

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