It was a hot August day, and we had just arrived on base for our very first Family Day. I was so excited to see all of the other wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers that were gathered, with children running all over the place. I thought, “This is going to be great! I finally get to meet people outside of his work.” Kyle had been welcomed into his new unit in February 2014, and had gotten to know the other soldiers really well in the last 6-7 months. But I had only seen them in passing, and I was eager to get to know everyone.
As the Family Day activities began, small groups started to form of the people who already knew eachother. I could feel them looking at me, and I started to wonder what they were already thinking. I had already learned the hard way what people sometimes think when you’re “just” the girlfriend, and I felt like they already had some opinions formed about me. But despite those doubts, I slowly introduced myself to the group. One by one, I learned a little bit about everyone. Many of them had husbands and wives that had transferred from other branches, and had moved halfway across the country to get here. Some had children, some didn’t. Some were married, some weren’t. It was such a blend of backgrounds and lifestyles.. yet there we were, under the same roof, for the same reason.
I would love to say that this process has been graceful, and that I’ve always eased my way into knowing what I know about this lifestyle. I wish I could say that I never made a fool out of myself, or looked confused at a base function, surrounded by people far more versed in this language. But like most, I was thrown into the thick of it pretty abruptly. I learned a lot that day, not just about this lifestyle, but about the people who live it with us. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted anything to do with it honestly.. I didn’t want to be part of it all in the ways that some wives and girlfriends are. But before I could control it, it became a part of me. Here are the 10 things I’ve learned so far:
Get married when it’s right for both of you
Occasionally, I’ve come across some petty people who point out the fact that I’m not a wife. But a kind reader pointed this out to me: “If you were a wife, it would be because you’re not a mother. And if you were a mother, it would be something else.” It’s such a temporary thing to address, and I’ve certainly struggled with it here and there. I’ve struggled with wondering if I was “less than” someone else, whether that be less of an adult or less of a decision-maker, etc. But one day, I just stopped caring. I have a man who loves me immensely. I have a life that I’m proud of. We believe in something so much greater than either of us.
Getting married will be one of the greatest days of my life. But it doesn’t just come to a screeching halt after that. Like many others, we are incredibly ambitious and driven. Marriage will not be the one thing that completes us. And if you’re reading this and you’re in the same boat, remember this: Labels don’t create love, and not all marriages have love in them. Sometimes the people who point out what you “don’t have” are actually just hurting inside.
Don’t assume you know someone’s life from just a glance
I’ll admit, I can be such a hypocrite, and I hate it. As somewhat of an introvert, I observe people before introducing myself. Sometimes this is a bad route to go, because I start to assume that I already know things based on what I see. I learned this the hard way when meeting one of Kyle’s coworkers, who was extremely bubbly and outgoing. I assumed he was young to the military, hadn’t deployed yet, and hadn’t started a family. So after I met his 7 kids, ages 3 to 12, and heard about his 3rd deployment, I was blown away.
You can’t assume you know everyone, but at the same time, don’t assume you know nothing either. Trust the things you do know, and allow them to help you navigate through the madness. Also, don’t assume that someone can’t have a certain lifestyle because they’re in the military. The military is made up of people, and as extraordinary as their sacrifices are, they do have quite ordinary lives outside of this. What they choose to reveal will vary from person to person, but give them a chance to show you.
Not everyone is a “soldier”
Before we became a part of all this, every single person in military uniform was a “soldier” to me. But now when I see people in uniform, it’s second nature to recognize what branch they belong to. It can actually be pretty annoying to some people if you call their Sailor a “soldier”. Because they chose that branch for a reason, and they’re proud of what they represent. They’re all fingers of the same fist, but they don’t necessarily want to be grouped together as just soldiers. Not to mention the fact that each branch specializes in different areas.
I can’t know everything
When we’re at a work/base function, Kyle’s bosses or coworkers will often pull him aside to discuss things. At first, I was always curious and wanted to know what they talked about. And Kyle would just simplify it and keep things vague. It frustrated me, because I felt like there were certain things he couldn’t/wouldn’t discuss with me, and I wanted to be involved.
But the nosey side of me had to accept that he has a job he can’t always talk about. He has protocols to follow, and telling me those details could jeopardize his job. If he wore a tie to work instead of ACUs, than maybe it would be different. But I learned to accept it.
We are as limited as we allow ourselves to be
Military life can feel like a rut sometimes. Like you’re just stuck, and you can’t go back to normal, but you can’t go forward either because you have to wait. We can’t just get up and move when we get tired of where we live. Kyle can’t just go to work and say, “Hey, I’ve done really well and reasons A through J are why I should be promoted.” Raises don’t come yearly, and bonuses are pretty much non-existent unless you choose a certain MOS. There are many things we “can’t” do, but these aren’t the things we go to bed thinking about.
Nothing stops us from saving the money that we do earn, so that we can take trips and pretend we live somewhere else for a week. Nothing stops us from encouraging eachother to learn and develop in our jobs. Kyle is constantly looking for schools with open slots so that he can get more qualified in what he does. He’s constantly volunteering to deploy when the opportunity arises, so that he can put his experience to use. Nothing stops us from planning, and living our lives. We stopped holding ourselves back with all the “cants” a long time ago, and it certainly made life easier.
There’s no gold star for knowing all the acronyms
I know quite a few just because I’ve heard them a lot, but this used to make me pretty nervous. I couldn’t understand anything people were saying quite honestly. They say them so quickly that sometimes they go unnoticed, and the conversation takes a turn without me. And you know what? It’s okay. It’s not my job or yours to know them all. There’s no award for being able to decipher this language.
Understanding this lifestyle makes you see other things differently
I’ve always been patriotic, and so has my family. I know few people who aren’t. The town where we live has an American flag in almost every doorway, and hanging from every light post. But you see the world differently when you begin to understand one thing: sacrifice. I have an overwhelming gratitude for those who have served and are serving, and I can honestly say that this gratitude felt very different 4 years ago. Because I understand what sacrifice looks like now. I understand what it feels like, most of all.
Some things truly are unbreakable
I’ll be the first to say, we’ve been through a lot. We’ve had our fair share of fights, and moments when we really asked ourselves what to do next. We’ve put each other through some things that I thought would break us at the time. But with each new experience, we grew.
In some cases, people grow in the opposite direction, but Kyle and I grew together. We learned more about the things that really hurt the other, and eventually we healed. We learned to let go, which was the hardest part for me. Distance can bring out a side or yourself that you might not even recognize. But time goes on, and wounds heal.
Don’t let negative relationships influence your own
This can be related to any relationship/couple that you’re around. Kyle used to know a couple who are also military, and they had a very different relationship than we do. They fought pretty regularly, in public, and for those who didn’t know them it could get a bit uncomfortable. I used to wonder if it was normal or not, but the truth is, it doesn’t matter. How other couples choose to conduct themselves doesn’t affect us.
I used to hold military couples on a pedestal because I always thought that if they can stick together through all of this, they must be unicorns or something. I assumed they were all “good” people. But they’re just that: people. And whatever traits they have that are less favorable will eventually shine through, regardless of what they do for a living.
There are some military spouses and personnel who truly stand out as great leaders and examples, but there will always be some that are quite the opposite too. Just because another military wife or husband is volunteering every weekend with the F.R.G. doesn’t make you a bad wife or human being not to be. And on the other hand, not going to the club every other weekend with another group of women doesn’t make you boring. You should never feel as though you have to fit any standard, regardless of the influences around you. Do what’s right for your, and the person you love.
It’s all worth it
Last but not least, and the most important of all. If you’re new to this, it won’t always feel like you’re running in place, trying to keep up with the twists and turns of this life. I can promise you that. You’ll look back someday, when the craziness is over and the dust has settled, and you’ll laugh at yourself a time or two. But despite all of it, between laughter and tears, we decided a long time ago that love is worth it.
What have you learned being a new milso? Share your thoughts and stories below!