I knew a deployment was coming before I started dating John.
We had known each other for the better part of a decade at that point and were spending hours on the phone every night talking. We both knew something special, something truly life-changing was happening. But we also knew that a deployment to Afghanistan was inevitable. Just a few months? Maybe in a year? No one knew yet, but they all knew it was coming.
It was weird: this knowledge of separation before we were even really “together.”
But like I said, we knew we wanted to be together, so we threw caution to the wind and got cozy. Darn the impending deployments and TDYs: we were going to make this work. No matter what.
You know how everyone thinks that just because you “choose” to date (or marry) someone in the military, it makes all of those things you also have “chosen” to deal with easier? In theory, maybe it should work that way. But in matters of the heart? It’s much, much stickier and painful than that.
I’ll admit it– one of the toughest things for me is the end of something. During my entire senior year of college, my group of friends (who are amazing people and who I love dearly), teased me through every “milestone”… even when they weren’t exactly milestones.
“It’s our first last band practice, Jo!”
“Don’t cry, but this is our last fall break!”
“This is the 42nd last time we’ll all eat lunch together.”
You get the picture. And yes, as I’ve copped to many times, I’m a crybaby. And endings have that effect on me.
I found myself steeling myself for the inevitable “lasts”. The last time we ate sushi together. The last time we went on a date. Our last kiss.
I tormented myself with these thoughts. Looking back now, I’m getting a little teary over the memories. Those months before the deployment were hard because I knew our time together– however brief it already was– was coming to an end. A gulf of a year spread before us. It was hard not to think of the “lasts.”
Here’s what helped me through a very uncertain time in my life, with the hope that it will help you through yours:
Learn as much as you can. Don’t disengage. Especially for first-time deployments, you want to know as much as you (legally, obviously) can. Find out who the FRG leader is and if you can be part of the group (some FRGs don’t allow girl/boyfriends or fiances, but some do). Read up about long distance relationships, if you’re not used to being in them. Talk about your communication options: will there be wifi? No communication at all? Talk to other people who have been through similar situations.
Talk about your feelings openly and honestly with your significant other. That can be really hard. It is often frightening to talk about the things you don’t want to talk about: death, loneliness, injuries, cheating. Truly, honest communication will make deployment so, so much easier. It will give you both a solid foundation from which to operate and it will give you the piece of mind that you’re growing closer, not further apart. So start now, before the deployment gets underway. We just talked. A lot. All the time, really. We talked on the phone and in-person. We talked about the deployment and we talked about regular life. We invested in conversation and it really helped us prepare for the deployment as a couple.
Learning how to deal with stress is a game-changer for deployments. Often the work-ups and separations beforehand can be just as tough as the actual deployment… so learning what works for you with stress can also help you be a more calm, collected person. I found that having a schedule, a rhythm, to get into helped me stay centered. Even though it was tough for me, I also learned how to say no if I knew I couldn’t take on additional responsibilities at work. I wrote. I spent time with friends and family. I prayed.
I spent time trying during those last few weeks to make John’s life a little easier by focusing on him rather than myself. I made a whole bunch of open when letters. I created a care package to send to him the minute he left. I asked him what he needed from me. Focusing on someone else’s needs gives you purpose when you don’t know where to turn. The lead-up to deployment was no different for me.
Make the Most of It
The time before a deployment or separation is chaotic and messy. It can be confusing and frustrating. Often, people find themselves pushing away from each other– fighting about stupid things and making it easier for them to say goodbye. Resist the urge to get crabby (although it gets the best of us). Instead, make time for one another. Yep, it is hard with the demands of jobs and families…but you can carve it out. This time will feed you later during the deployment when you miss each other so much, you’ll swear your heart is actually cracking in two: so investing in it now is important.
The lead-up to deployment or a separation is never easy. It’s ever as you imagine or as you think it might turn out. But you can do this.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of MSB New Media & Unilever. The opinions and text are all mine.