According to my mom, between the very knowledgeable ages of 16 and 20 I very clearly stated that I would never marry a man in uniform. Whether fate or karma is laughing is up for debate.
I met and married a man in uniform; a sailor to be exact. One look at that uniform and I was hooked. I’m now a decade into this milspouse lifestyle and see no end in sight. My husband will most likely be a lifer-more accurately they will have to force him to retire. He loves the Navy and his job within it. I am proud and supportive of his naval career, but this life is nothing like I imagined.
Being from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia one would think I would have some knowledge about the Navy. I didn’t. Prior to meeting my husband, the Navy was always that thing, over there, that meant protection and money for Hampton Roads. When I married my husband I was indoctrinated into a whole new world of acronyms, times, and places. We met while he was on shore duty and I quickly learned shore duty is drastically different from sea duty.
Yet the ways in which this active duty lifestyle has enriched my life is beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve lived in some great places, met wonderful people, and enjoyed new adventures in each place we’ve landed. I am grateful my children have had the opportunities they’ve had to meet people from different cultural backgrounds, to see sights many people only read about, and to learn resiliency at an early age.
The “catch,” as a fellow Navy spouse put it, is, “You are your husband’s mistress, the Navy is his wife!” The Navy is his day job, his night job, his ‘real’ job. The Navy is the overseer of your household and livelihood. It dictates where you will go, when you will go there, and how long you will stay there.
But you signed up for this. You knew it was going to be like this. Right?
When I hear these phrases they make me cringe. To me, these phrases wreak of assumption and judgment. Surely if I made the decision to marry my sailor I knew what I was getting into. Really?
Do you ask a traveling salesman’s wife if Monday through Thursday business trips are great because even though he’s gone he’s racking up so many miles and points? Or ask a surgeon’s wife whose husband leaves yet another family gathering, cookout, or birthday party, if she’s just thrilled to make apologies to everyone for his sudden departure?
The point is, I didn’t know what I signed up for or what my experience was going to be like. Especially when the only constant is change.
How could I have possibly known that I would have a baby while my husband was somewhere on a ship between the Mediteranean Sea and the Persian Gulf? Or that I would live with my parents more as a married-mother-of-two than I ever did as a single college student. How could I have known all those business classes would pay off so well as I budgeted, house hunted, and sold cars alone? Or that I would cry at a bank teller’s desk because they wouldn’t accept my Power of Attorney when my husband’s bank card was hacked while he was out to sea. How could I have known that there would be a whole year of my life where I was just as afraid to come home as I was to leave?
I never signed up to meet the First Lady and have tea at the White House. I never signed up to dine with admirals, or hear the Vice President speak at a charity event. I certainly didn’t sign up to live just outside New York City and go to work everyday at an office in Times Square. I never signed up to attend an opening night of a Broadway show. Nor did I sign up to move to sunny San Diego. Yet all of these things, the good and the stressful have been part of my journey.
From shore duty to OCS to sea duty to Afghanistan to Manhattan to San Diego, my journey as a military spouse has been anything but ordinary. At the very least this life has been interesting and at the very best it is has been rich with people and experience.
So, yes I did sign up for this: a life full of experiences and friends.