We’ve been in this business a really long time and what I’ve noticed is that most people in the military are planners.
It doesn’t matter when, where, or why; they have to map things out. Usually, my spouse’s career and mine don’t overlap. But I realized the other day that they do! I can actually apply what I’ve learned to my spouse’s career.
I am an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. There are four basic conditionals in the English language: zero, first, second, and third. You can look up what they are but most of us know them as “if…then….” statements. What I’ve realized is that most military folks use the first conditional and as a spouse, I hear these statements often as the second conditional.
The first conditional talks about future events that MIGHT happen. Most individuals will use this structure to “guess” about a future occurrence. Our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Coasties use this concept whenever PCS season is on the horizon or a promotion is coming. My spouse can pontificate about situations until the cows come home.
“What will we do if I get a remote assignment?”*
“If I get promoted, I will stay in the military.”*
(*not actual statements made)
You know what I’m talking about. During PCS season or promotion periods, these conversations occur daily. Sometimes multiple times in one day! “What if?” “What if?” “What if?” They are like two-year old’s who constantly ask “Why?” I know it’s his way of working through the problem and getting himself prepared so there won’t be any surprises but I would rather skip these conversations.
But as a seasoned spouse, I know that the military usually deals in surprises.
That’s why I think that the second conditional is REALLY what my spouse speaks in. Well, maybe not my spouse, but the military in general. The second conditional is what is used to speak about an unreal possibility or impossible events. Let me reiterate that-an UNREAL possibility. That is what I hear whenever he talks to me about future plans. To me, they are always an unreal possibility. We have been at this game for over 25 years now and let me tell you, the military only works in hypothetical, UNREAL situations. At least that’s how it feels to me.
I don’t care how many times we plan out the future with a beautifully drawn chart, it never follows one of those paths that we’ve dictated. You know how it is. You dream of getting assigned to Hawaii but instead you end up in Alaska. I’m not saying that Alaska is bad. It is OCONUS after all. But you wanted to live outdoors on the beach, not the mountains.
Or you think that you’ll get that promotion in a year. It’s all out of your control.
I learned long ago to not pin my hopes on the “what ifs” of military life. It can drive you crazy. You’ll find yourself living in a fairy tale world. While there, birds will sing your praises. Your kids will obey your every command. That isn’t real life.
The only command that gets obeyed is the one that comes down from your assignment officer over in Personnel. And even then, nothing is certain. Trust me on this. Once you listen to enough stories you’ll understand.
So I will continue to let my spouse think he is using the first conditional but I know that everyone else related to his thoughts are using the second conditional. And in this case, second is best.