A couple weeks ago when I was asked to speak about the ups and downs of life as a military spouse, I had a mild panic attack. (I MUCH prefer to write speeches for someone else.) But I said yes anyway, because the opportunity comes with tremendous potential to help members of our local community better understand military spouses.
Below is a portion of my remarks, shared here because I’m grateful for the friends who helped me write this. They gave me so much content that you might see several blogs in the coming weeks. — KDR
Many of you have probably met dozens of military spouses and you’ve discovered that we’re not quite Stepford Wives. It’s hard to paint us in broad strokes, but chances are, if I asked you to describe a military spouse you’d say:
She’s outgoing, high achieving, really organized, and available if you need help. You’d point to the military spouses that serve as the PTO presidents in town. You’d reference the neighbor who has a bunch of kids and her husband is gone all the time but wow, she’s got her act together. You might think of the gal down the street who is a little more reserved, but always has a smile on her face.
The truth is, most of those distinctions are skills we’ve acquired to survive this life. Even my most introverted military spouse friends can “fake it” at a social gathering for an hour. Just one move earns you a Masters degree in organization. And nearly all of us are making the rest of it up as we go along.
While we aren’t all quite as similar as you imagine, I can tell you 3 basic truths that probably ring true for every military spouse I know.
- 1) When we said, “I do,” it was our equivalent of raising our right hand and agreeing to serve alongside the one in the uniform.
- 2) They pledged to “protect and defend” but we pledged our love and surrendered our lives to follow. Where you go, I will go. What matters to you, matters to me. What guides your life, guides my life.
- 3) They offer a salute as a sign of respect, we salute with our lives. We believe in something greater than ourselves.
This week when I asked a bunch of my military spouse friends what they wished their civilian neighbors or family members understood about life as military spouse, I received nearly 250 comments, emails and text messages.
Buried beneath all the reasons we love or appreciate this military life (meeting amazing people, moving to exotic locations, learning about new cultures), were a myriad of less concrete, harder to explain burdens of a military spouse.
These are the things we’re afraid to say out loud. It’s scary to name the heartbreaking parts of this life. (Because we spend a lot of time trying to not get our hopes up, to manage our expectations, and avoid disappointment whenever possible.)
But what if in the process of protecting our hearts, we lose heart?
What if, in the process of wearing the “superwoman mask” as a military spouse, we lose the opportunity to build connections with our civilian neighbors and friends that we need in order to survive this crazy gypsy life?
Because we do – we need you.
We need you to knock on our door. You may be in your forever home and slightly annoyed that the house next door is a rental property with three different families in three years, but when you take the time to say, “welcome to the neighborhood,” it’s life-changing for us.
One of my girlfriends shares a story about a time when that didn’t happen. They lived in a cul-de-sac in the South and within the first week they’d met nearly every neighbor except the family directly next door. Eventually she ran into that neighbor at the mailboxes and introduced herself. The neighbor said, “Yes, we saw you move in. We don’t usually get to know the people in the rental property. You’re all military and you just leave.”
Fortunately this friend had moved frequently enough that she’s not unfamiliar with that kind of welcome, so it didn’t upset her too much. And she’s confident enough to tell me, “Her loss! We are super fun!”
But even as she told me that story, I knew how hard that was to hear.
Because we aren’t as brave or as strong as we seem. For many of us, this life is much harder than we let it appear. We are lonely. Yes, moving frequently can teach you to make friends, but it can take a long time and a lot of effort (that often feels one-sided) to establish real friendships. It’s hard to find kindred spirits.
We need you to tell us where to find: a pediatrician, a nice dentist, a quality moms group, a church. And we really need to know best place for a haircut & highlight, and where NOT to go. While it’s a rite of passage to learn some of this stuff, we don’t have time to learn the hard way.
Quite frankly, by the time we’re worried about those roots and the highlights that no longer cover the premature grey hairs, we’re almost too tired to care.
Because we are exhausted. We may or may not have a college degree, but we have a PhD in Research. Before we ever moved in next door to you in your forever home, we researched where to live in at least two or three different states because the military said we “might” be moving there. And in order to figure out a house, we researched schools and tried to figure out whether this neighborhood fed that elementary school and this middle school, or that other high school and the new elementary school. Forget your concerns about gerrymandering congressional district maps! Trying to read a school district map in any given state might as well be reading hieroglyphs.
One of my girlfriends joked that by the time we figure allllll the things out about any given location, including the “secret handshake” that got us into that awesome Wine & Words book club, it’s almost time to go.
We need you to help us feel “at home.” A couple years ago, my husband and I attended a gathering for new families at the church we were attending in Alabama. I’ll never forget what the pastor said as he invited this small group of mostly military couples to join the church.
“We know you won’t be here long, but you’re welcome here and we wa
nt you to feel at home. Every time you move, you change your home address. We hope you’ll consider making this your church home address for as long as you’re here.”
Military spouses won’t tell you, but we are all homesick. We miss our families. We miss our friends. We miss having people who know us and invest in us.
We might tell you how this town isn’t like where we came from, but that’s because it’s easy. It’s safer to tell you the surface level stuff about being a military spouse rather than admit to being lonely or homesick.
But I believe the human heart was designed for community. We are all wired for connection and that’s where we become our best selves.
For as long as we’re here, we want to be part of your community. Psalm 68:6 says, “God sets the lonely in families,” and for this season, you get to be our family.
I know it’s hard to be friends with military spouses. One of the unintended consequences of learning to move well is forgetting how to cultivate things like friendship over the long term.
We need you to remember us. When I asked, “What would you say?” I received more than 200 messages. But three simple words captured my heart.
“Don’t forget us,” she said. “Our relationship changed when we moved but it didn’t end. We had no choice but to go. A piece of our hearts stayed with you. Don’t forget us.”