We’ve all heard the phrase – we probably have even said it a time or two. “I’m married to the military.”
For years, I said it myself. But in this pandemic, I’ve had lots of time to rethink this statement. During my daily, outdoor walks, I realized that it is not the correct verb to be using. “Married” doesn’t totally encompass all that applies to this life. My hubby and I have been married for 27 years so I’m honestly surprised that I never revisited the concept earlier. Now I can’t go back to my original thinking.
As you stand at the altar, you tell your future spouse that you take them “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” You legally decide to join with this person and you believe that your union will be a 50-50 proposition. For many people, it is. But in the military, you can’t count on certain decisions being equally divided. There is no way for it to be 50-50 when there is a third party in play.
You promise each other that it will be a union of equals. For many military couples in the ops world, this may be the way it starts, especially if you met your significant other early on in their careers-either in training or immediately after graduation. Your relationship has time to flourish and grow AND you have the ability to allocate your life choices and chores.
But once they begin deploying and going TDY, there is no feasible way to split household duties. When one spouse is absent from the home, it’s physically impossible for them to participate. But this isn’t the only reason for my epiphany. I’m not just referring to jobs within the home. Those jobs aren’t the real issue – decision-making is. In the military, deciding where to live is out of your control for the most part. You are told you can move to X location or maybe Y, but those are the options available to you. There are no equal opportunity selections.
The only real choice within the military is whether to stay or go.
When I look at what happens during the course of a military career, I realize that it’s impossible to be married to the military. That concept is all wrong.
Take my word as an English teacher. There is only one word that I think is applicable. We are tethered to the military. The definition of “to restrain” is totally applicable, but my reason for choosing that particular word has more to do with the visual image of the game.
Think about it. Tetherball seems relatively simple. First, you have a metal pole as the anchor and then there’s a ball attached to a rope. The object of the game is to wrap the ball tightly around the pole so that no other move is possible; it is stuck.
Now bear with me. The pole represents the military and you are the ball. The ball is attached to a rope which is your spouse. And finally, the rope secures you to the pole. Each piece of equipment is tethered together and creates a unified game. You cannot escape the pull of the rope nor can you move the pole it is connected to. And every time you want to stay in one place, someone comes along to knock you into orbit. Just like all the plans you make with the military, you can’t count on things being stable.
Normally the phrase I would use is “running in circles” when describing our lives. We may lay out the best plan on how our PCS will go but alas, planning seems futile. If we want to apply this to the tetherball analogy, I’d really have to talk about “going around in circles” but the same explanation applies. It’s only once you are all tangled up and you’ve hit the pole that you succumb to your reality. You seem to have no choice in what to do, but perhaps you have a little control. Either the rope will fray and break or it holds strong. That is your decision.
Some examples of this:
You dream of an overseas assignment. Nebraska seems like the perfect assignment, says the military in all its wisdom. This is not your first choice but because you love your spouse, you move to the middle of the country. You are pulled out of your orbit and follow orders.
You really love your posting and want to extend for another year. Your spouse asks for an extension, but the military has other plans. So, instead of doing what you want, you listen to Uncle Sam and pack up your house and move.
Or, you are ready to retire, but the military entices you to stay with your dream job. What do you do? You stay attached to the rope that is your branch of service and hang on.
As a military spouse, your destiny is always in the control of someone else. The only way you can escape is if you cut the cord, literally in real life and figuratively with our analogy.
So, don’t flat out reject my proposal but think long and hard when you decide to say, “I do.” You may not be free, but I for one wouldn’t have it any other way. I have been able to see multiple states as well as a few countries too. I gave up that control, but I was rewarded with so much more. And my kids have enjoyed the ride too.