Hear this truth: Military life isn’t for everyone.
Some of folks genuinely like it; others put up with it because it is a condition of being attached to the person they love. And I want to be clear: those of us who date or marry someone in the military are no better or worse than any other significant other.
There was no particular email or conversation that got me thinking about this topic. Rather, it just seems like it’s been a post that’s been writing itself for the past (almost!) 3 years as I talk to more and more military significant others who have successful relationships.
Every relationship has its own difficulties; it just happens that when the military’s involved, there’s a special breed of inevitable obstacles that spring up. And I think, when you start out dating someone, you rarely think about everything that will happen next. Or that could happen.
When you’re thinking about dating a military guy or a military gal, there’s a bit more to think about. That’s because there’s so much outside of your control. From little, annoying things– like restricted communications during certain times– to big, overwhelming things– like deployments and moves across the world, military life can throw a lot at a new relationship.
Yes, the allure of a dating a military man or a military woman can be heady, romantic stuff when you’re envisioning the homecomings, farewells, traveling, and your military boyfriend or military girlfriend in uniform (because, oh, that uniform!). But there are a lot of practical things to consider, even when you’re “just seeing where this goes.”
Military life (and military relationships) seem to move just a little faster and need more planning than others. Dating can be complicated without the military. Adding the military into it can be even more so. If you’re teetering on the edge of this particular path, think through what military life means for you and your relationship before you jump in:
1. Don’t date him/her if you already know you can’t be faithful.
And don’t date him/her if you believe that “everyone cheats” during deployment. Period.
During John’s deployment, I had more than my fair share of people who asked me if we were cheating on each other or if we had ever entertained the idea. (Answer: No and no!) While it’s unfathomable to me why someone would think it’s acceptable to ask that, it’s true that there’s a stigma and stereotype surrounding military relationships. People often expect military relationships to be unfaithful, owing to the amount of time and distance spent away from each other.
So, let’s talk about that.
Yes, people in the military cheat.
And you know what else? So do people in the civilian world.
But– and this is important– that doesn’t mean everyone does. There are healthy, faithful military relationships, just as there are healthy, faithful civilian relationships. You get to chart that course with your significant other; no one else has a say in it.
Here’s the bottom line: You will be separated from the person you love at some point during their career in the military. If you need physical touch and constant communication so that you won’t stray, you need to do some soul-searching. Being apart is hard, but it shouldn’t be hard to stay committed.
2. Don’t date him/her if you’re not resilient.
Military life is hard. You’re going to move. You will leave your family. You will leave your friends (over and over again). You will put up with deployment, weird shifts, emergencies, trainings, and a whole bunch of other stuff that will happen at inopportune times and will be the least helpful thing.
It’s okay to get frustrated, be angry, and cry, but you’ve got to pick yourself up and move on. If you have a hard time being resilient in the face of challenge (and if you’re not willing to try to be), the military lifestyle probably isn’t for you.
Here’s the good news: You can learn to be more resilient. You can stretch yourself and practice flexibility, picking yourself up and dusting yourself off. You can try to be a more resilient version of yourself. If you’re prepared to do the work, you can make military life work for you, whatever that means in your situation and in your relationship. But if you’re not honest with yourself about your needs and your ability to be flexible and resilient, you might just find yourself angry and frustrated in the near future.
3. Don’t date him/her if you care about rank.
4. Don’t date him/her just because of an impending deployment.
Deployments put a lot of pressure on everything– you, your military member, the relationship. The time leading up to a deployment can feel like a pressure cooker… and it can also feel very, very romantic.
Deployments can also be tough for people in the most exclusive, committed relationships. If you know that you want to be with that person and you’re committed, then go for it! But don’t let the sole reason for committing to someone be because of a deployment.
Just as there’s more to a person than the military, there’s more to a relationship than a deployment.
5. Don’t date him/her if you don’t have a sense of who you are.
I’ll say it again– military life is tough. It can mess with your self-esteem and sense self-worth. You need to know who you are. Have interests, hobbies, and friends. Have a plan for your education and/or career. Know who you are without your military guy or military gal– because chances are that you’ll be spending a lot of time separated. If your whole identity is wrapped up solely in your service member, it is going to be a tough, lonely life.