Lack of jobs in their home countries and the desire to lead a better life drive most of the migrant workers to far off lands, leaving their dear and near ones. Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

‘Married bachelors’ is a strange nomenclature. Who coined the term, no one seems to know, but there are thousands of ‘married bachelors’ in the UAE.

Who are these ‘married bachelors’? They are normal people staying away from their wife and children due to financial constraints or certain family commitments.

They are mainly found among low and middle income workers

You find them in all parts of the world, working and living far away from their homes and families. These men chose to work away from their families so that the latter can lead a decent life back home. ‘Married bachelors’ are in all strata of society, but mainly in the low and middle income brackets and rarely in the high-income groups.

Joy Thomas is one among them. Unlike what his name indicates, Joy Thomas is not a happy man anymore. This middle-income expatriate, who hails from the south Indian state of Kerala and works as a software developer for a private company in the UAE, has sent his wife and children back home recently. “Children are growing up, their needs are increasing, putting a strain on my finances. I had no other option but to resettle my family back home,” said Thomas, without elaborating much about the relocation.

150million

migrant workers around the world

Fortunately, Thomas can afford to lead a decent life and visit his family back home often. But that is not the case of millions of others worldwide. There are about 150 million migrant workers around the world, according to a United Nations study. While half of the migrant workers are concentrated in northern America and northern, southern and western Europe, the Arab states are not far behind with almost 36 per cent.

Lack of jobs in their home countries and the desire to lead a better life drive most of the migrant workers to far off lands. But that wasn’t the reason why Sanjay Jaiswal landed in the UAE. It was wanderlust that drove Jaiswal, who is from the north Indian state of Bihar, to the shores of UAE. Before finding a job in Dubai as a civil engineer and marrying a Filipina, Jaiswal worked in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

Adventurer turned cautious migrant

“Those were the happy days. The adventurer in me is slowly becoming cautious and the desire to make more money and migrate to Australia forced me to send my wife and child to Philippines. I visit them as often as I can, but I am now living alone,” said Jaiswal with a tinge of sadness.

“Honestly, I don’t like being called ‘married bachelor’. It was a choice I made, though with some difficulty. To achieve something, you have to give up something. Well, I do miss my wife and kid very much, but the thought that it is only temporary keeps me going,” explained Jaiswal.

Jaiswal is educated and focused on his goals, but that’s not the case with thousands of migrant workers around the world and the UAE. Most ‘married bachelors’ in the UAE are living away from their families mainly due to financial constraints, family commitments and debt. There are hundreds of nationalities from around the world in the UAE, staying away from their families in the hope of creating a brighter future.

Endless tale of separation in bachelor pads

Among them, those in the low-income bracket suffer the most. Unlike Jaiswal and Thomas, they can’t afford to visit their families back home often. Life is an endless tale of separation in bachelor pads for these workers. They go on family visits back home in two years, sometimes more, a decision they made to save money.

Forced to relocate family

Alone, all alone, emptiness and longing creep in with the passing of time for most of these ‘married bachelors ‘. Until recently, Saju Varughese was a happy man. The small-time businessman with a fledgling family lived a happy life in a two-bedroom apartment in Sharjah.

Times do change rapidly and with expanding family and rising cost of living, Varughese, like many other expatriates in the UAE, was forced to relocate his family back to his home state Kerala, bringing in a touch of sadness to his daily life.

Silence and sadness

Silence descended on Varughese’s once-buzzing house. Cacophony of children and their constant demands faded. Sound of happiness paved way to emptiness and loneliness. “I was terrified during the recent killer floods that hit Kerala. I waited three days anxiously for some information about my family,” said the businessman, narrating the harrowing time his family went through during the devastating floods in Kerala that killed nearly 500 people and cost the state more than $2 billion in damages. Varughese is among the hundreds in the UAE who wept in silence during the floods in Kerala.

‘Married bachelors’ are not unique to the UAE, the term could be. However, at the end of the day, whether married or unmarried, what unites migrant workers moving out of developing countries is the desire ‘to make more money’.

‘Love demands sacrifice. It applies to both of us’

“For our children the adjustment period after moving to a local school back in the Philippines from Dubai was tough," Servando said. Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/Gulf News

"Being called a 'married bachelor' is a bit oxymoronic. But that's what I am now," says James Servando, a 43-year-old Filipino in Dubai, who has been in the UAE for 15 years.

"All my kids were born and raised here. When they started school in Dubai, it was awesome. But the fees and the demands of daily living became too much to bear. My wife was also working in Dubai then but had to stop when our third child came. Then, we were living on deficit, from payday to payday."

Thankfully, he said, public education in the Philippines is good, and now even tertiary education in state universities is free. Servando and his wife took the toughest decision in their married life: the wife and kids will stay back home, the husband stays behind in Dubai. Their short-term target: pay off loans and save some money. Longterm, he also will go home.

“For our children,” Servando said, “the adjustment period after moving to a local school back home was tough. They suffered due to language barrier. It was partly due to our fault."

"Having been born and raised in multi-cultural Dubai, our kids had English as their 'mother tongue'. This situation is a bit awkward for us. They had daily English drills on kiddie shows they watched on Youtube. They aced Arabic lessons in school. They loved languages.

"Now, that they're back in the Philippines for good, they really struggle with their real mother tongue, which is made compulsory in our community school. So we had to hire tutors.”

The agony and downside

For Servando, the decision to send his wife and kids home didn't come easy. “We agonised over it for about two years.

“Even now, every day is a sacrifice. You always feel some emptiness, the pain in separation. It's a daily challenge.

"But my wife and I also fully realise one reality: Love demands sacrifice. This applies to both of us. To all of us. The only regret is that my kids really miss Dubai."

And then, there's also a realisation, he said: "Loving doesn't always mean physical presence. It could also mean going away, taking practical steps in order to take care of your loved ones and their future."

Constant communication

“One upside today is the internet: constant and easy communication is affordable and available. I’m always in touch with my wife and kids, even if were more than 6,000km apart.

One upside today is the internet: constant and easy communication is affordable and available. I’m always in touch with my wife and kids, even if were more than 6,000km apart.

- James Servando, Filipino expat worker in the UAE

“My routine involves at least an hour of video calls daily...and chats, pictures, screenshots throughout the day, whenever possible. I message my wife about the time I leave home for work, and when I leave work for home.

“She updates me about our children, their homework, their foibles. She carries out my orders: If our kids overstep certain boundaries, my wife makes my presence felt. On weekends, I do video coaching to my kids. I give them exercises in math and writing, for example. I know, or at least try to know, all their jokes. That's how we make up for lack of physical touch."

One upside of being a ‘married bachelor’: “Whatever extra time I have in my hands, I devote to my own passions… music, writing, studying. I’ve taken online courses, which helped me in my personal growth. There’s always good side to this set-up. And I'm grateful for that."

"Do I feel detached from my children and wife? Absolutely. Do I feel the pinch of separation. It's there — everytime I go home to an empty room, preparing my food. Eating alone. I try to find like-minded men, also 'married bachelors', in my community. It helps. And I’ve learnt my life lessons well, so I try not to repeat the same mistakes.”

'Lonely: A reminder of the tough decision that has been made'

Dr Melanie C. Schlatter, PhD, a Dubai-based Psychologist, says: "For many men, the fact that they have to send their family away due to financial reasons — even if it means for long-term gain — can be very undermining of their perceived role as a husband and father, and it can feel very disheartening in the long term.

Struggles can include resentment towards the workplace, loneliness, sadness, depression, anxiety and adjustment issues around the new situation: how to cope with coming home to an empty house, and all that entails.

- Dr Melanie C. Schlatter

Internet communication cannot replace actual presence

"While advances in technology mean that we can 'feel' closer to our loved ones in many ways, it still cannot compete with having the actual presence of loved ones around you day in and day out : the physical presence; the 'life' of a busy household around you; and being supported in emotional and functional matters.

Separation and period of adaptation

“In the shorter term, and if relatively frequent visits home can be made, in addition to a relatively fixed date of being together again, the family can generally weather most storms of the initial separation and period of adaptation, as long as they keep focusing on the positives and the bigger picture.

Loneliness, sadness, depression, anxiety and adjustment issues

“But if the separation is for a longer term, or if visits are less frequent, or if there appears to be no end in sight, then this is where struggles and sadness can arise.

"Struggles can include resentment towards the workplace, loneliness, sadness, depression, anxiety and adjustment issues around the new situation: how to cope with coming home to an empty house, and all that entails.

Emotional needs may go unmet

“There is also likely ongoing and significant pressure to perform at work, and to keep their job. Men are missing out on milestones of their developing children and developing solid relationships. They are getting less chance to show non-financial ways of providing and supporting; physical needs go unmet; social circumstances may change now that they are 'on their own' as such; emotional needs may go unmet as they try to put on a brave face; good physical and moral habits can slip through less accountability; and weekends can become very lonely and a reminder of the tough decision that has been made."