As a female service member, I know there might historically be some tension between me and you, the military spouse reading this. Let's be honest, especially among us ladies, things can get, well, catty.
But here's the catch: I'm also a MilSpouse myself.
It's a strange thing to straddle the line between two identities. Sometimes I don't know where exactly I fit in or whose "side" I'm on. But it's helpful in the sense that I can often see things from the perspective of one that might seem shrouded in mystery to the other. I can empathize and relate -- and the truth of the matter is that really, we're all on the same side.
I want to extend an olive branch and shed some light on a few common misconceptions. Will you hear me out? Here are four things I want you to know:
1. I'm not trying to steal your husband.
Let's just get this one out of the way. By nature of the job, there are plenty of times when I'm in very close, extended contact with your husband. There's a certain amount of camaraderie that comes from being stuck in sucky situations together. And when you're in the military, there sure are a lot of those. I would even argue that this sense of fraternity is what makes us so effective -- we are willing to do things for our brothers and sisters-in-arms that we wouldn't for anyone else.
It's a strong bond, but I'm sure it can feel like it encroaches on the one you have with your significant other. I could certainly relate before I joined the Army, when I was a Marine girlfriend and I would go out with my boyfriend and his buddies. I felt like they were all part of some elite club comprised entirely of inside jokes, unfamiliar acronyms and shared experiences. It was hard to be the outsider.
That said, I know for a fact that whenever your husband has a fleeting moment to ponder something other than the job at hand, his thoughts and heart are with you. This is confirmed to me every time he whips out his phone to show me pictures of you or your kids over a chow break. Every time we're waiting for leadership to call formation and the conversation drifts to the merits of your new minivan, even though he was always the kind of person who swore he'd never drive one. Every time he asks me for my opinion on the gift he's gotten you for your birthday.
I know we spend a lot of time together, and he's a great guy--one I admire and respect. But I also respect your relationship with him and the role you play in his life, which is far different from the one I do.
2. But you should still set boundaries for your relationship.
There's a reason that fraternization is simultaneously so discouraged and so prevalent in the military. Not everyone has such innocuous intentions, and the opportunities for temptation are endless. Relationships are hard enough as it is without the added pressure of extended time apart, incredible stress, and often limited means of communication.
I'm not a relationship counselor, but I would definitely encourage you to keep the lines of communication with your service member as open as possible, and make sure you're both on the same page as far as what is and isn't permissible in your relationship.
3. I know the stereotypes about you aren't true.
The "dependa" stereotype is such a tired one. As a MilSpouse myself, it makes me livid when people dismiss me as clingy, incapable, helpless, lazy, conniving, gossipy, *insert demeaning adjective here*. It's incredibly insulting when others assume that milspouses don't have separate identities outside those of their partners, let alone separate careers and interests.
I know plenty of spouses who even out-earn their partners (granted, it's not that hard when you break down military base pay, but that's a gripe for a different day) or have more education or credentials. I understand the initial question asked at most unit family events is going to be some version of "Who are you here with/for?" But it would be nice to be asked, "What do you do?" every once in a bluemoon.
So to those of you who work so hard to dispel the stigma of being a "dependapotamus:" I see you. I totally get it. And I promise not all military members are so narrow-minded as to assume that you must fit into some preconceived cookie-cutter stereotype.
4. I appreciate your service.
You know what's just as hard as leaving but doesn't get nearly the same recognition? Getting left behind. I've been on both sides of this coin, and neither is fun. But at least during the times that I've been the one to leave, I had a specific mission to occupy me. I was in good company. I could completely dissociate myself from the mundane problems of home and focus on the job at hand.
Having been left behind plenty more times, I know how challenging it is. Your partner is off experiencing new things, doing something worthwhile, serving his/her country, and you're stuck at home, just trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy and order. You're the one who has to explain to the kids why Daddy or Mommy can't be home right now. You're the one who has to figure out who the heck is going to take care of your child/pet/house if you unexpectedly have to travel yourself. You're the one who has to keep the bills paid, the house in working order, the schedules running on time.
So, to all the MilSpouses out there, thank you for your service to this country. Thank you for the sacrifices you make, the FRAGOs you handle so gracefully, the inevitable disappointments you bear with nary a tear (or maybe a flood of them).
Thank you for your unwavering support of your service member. Thank you for being so patient, flexible, understanding, and willing to put up with the inevitable crap that goes hand-in-hand with signing up to serve, protect, and defend this illustrious country of ours.
It's worth it. But it doesn't make it any easier. And I salute you.