Not long after my husband left, I had someone say to me “I bet you’ll never date another Marine after that, will you?”
I’m pretty sure I looked at them like they had two heads. What did him being a Marine have to do with him leaving me? And what did him leaving me have to do with an entire profession? If I cut off men based on their professions after I broke up with them I’d have a very limited pool of guys to pick from, and let’s face it, dating today is hard enough without making grand, sweeping stereotypes of people.
That being said, after being married to a Marine-turned-veteran and being a Navy veteran myself, I do have some insight on what it means to date in the military community. Here are just a few things I try to keep in mind if I happen to find myself on a date with someone that is in the service. (And let me say that the quarantine has really put a cramp in the opportunities to date these days!)
1: Career is going to come before dates.
When you enlist, you know that you are putting your life in the hands of the government. Your life revolves around world events and the needs of a nation before anything else. As a Sailor I had to cancel plans more than a few times due to unexpected late nights, dets that were moved up, and an extended stay at a-school thanks to a security clearance issue. If you’re dating someone in the service, you have to understand that you cannot come first. Their job will have to be the priority and it will suck to have plans postponed or cancelled. You’re allowed to feel disappointed when that happens, but you need to be able to go with the flow if you want to make things work.
2: Your career and dreams are just as important.
I know, I know. The statistics of military spouses and unemployment are out there to say that others do not agree with this statement. But I’m not talking about what happens when you’re married, moving every few years, and can’t transfer your professional licenses from state to state. I’m still looking at the nice to meet you, let’s get to know each other stage of the dating process. I have seen so many people put their lives on hold because they start seeing someone that is in the military and feel like they have to forget that they ever had plans of their own. Remember that the person you met likes you for who you are and that includes seeing you do what you’re passionate about. Sure, there may come a time in the relationship where you have to start thinking about how to adjust plans to line up with what the military orders you to do, but wait until that time is upon you to do that. Don’t be so quick to give up on what you’re passionate about because you never know when things might change. Military contracts do end and who knows, maybe your new found loves wants to stay home while you become a powerhouse in your own right!
3: Find the common bonds outside of their job.
Obvious, right? But sometimes when you’re in the military it is hard to find a common thread to connect you to the outside world. It is why you see so many people struggle to reintegrate when they separate from service. There is a culture, a community, that exists within each branch that is impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. I thought I knew what it was like to be a part of the military community because I was a Navy brat myself, but until I was standing in uniform with other Sailors and Marines, pulling into Norfolk after a 9 month deployment, I had no clue what it was like to truly be a part of that world. Now when I meet someone, even if we can connect over service, I try to make it on the bottom of the list of things to try and bond over. I want to make sure they understand who I am outside of being a veteran and that I understand who they are outside of their service. And yes, again, I know it may seem obvious to tell someone to find connections when you’re dating, but the military can take over every other aspect of the service members life so I think it is imperative that it is not the focus when it is possible.
4: Remember that not all stereotypes are true.
There are smart Marines and sober Sailors. Some Air Force members are even willing to stay in a 3-star hotel on vacation, as long as it is close to a golf course that is. Jokes aside, remember that it is not possible to put one specific expectation on a large group of people and have it applied to all of them. I said in the beginning that people think I wouldn’t date another Marine after being married to one, but that would mean closing off myself to a group of men that tend to be hard working, disciplined, and dedicated to serving others. Those are three traits I certainly look for in a good partner so why should I let one bad apple ruin the whole bunch? Besides, have you seen a man in Marine dress blues!? Come on now! I understand that it can be hard not to apply past hurts to a new relationship, but you have to try. This goes for dating in the military or civilian world. If I held the actions of ex’s against new men that I meet I may never date again! My marriage didn’t fail because my ex was a Marine. It failed because of a lack of communication and a pack of lies. Those things have nothing to do with his service and everything to do with his character.
5: Move at your own pace!
My friends reading this now are spitting their coffee over their computer screens because I met my ex-husband in July, was engaged in September and married in December of the same year. My pace was not exactly sloth there. And while I do not regret the six and a half years we spent together, I do sometimes wonder if we would have gotten married had we taken things slower and really got to know each other more. Or if we might have learned some healthier techniques for dealing with our issues if we went at a more normal pace that would have allowed us to salvage our marriage. The military community seems known for short dating periods, short engagements, and quick marriages. Deployments and PCS-ing seem to kick people in the butt to move faster than maybe they should. If you feel as though there is pressure to pick it up and you’re not quite there, never be afraid to pump the breaks! Again, my marriage was not a mistake and at the time I was 100% sure it was what I wanted, and I do not feel that we were pushed to do things quicker. But hindsight being what it is, I’m not sure I’d be willing to jump to fast again with someone. Even if I did meet Prince Charming. Someone will hold me to that right?