I remember when I went to my first spouses’ gathering after my husband went back onto active duty. I was a new military spouse, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was lovely; the women were very friendly and welcoming, but I was shocked that the first question I got after introductions were made was, “So, what does your husband do?”
I was taken aback. I had a successful law career I had been pursuing for the past decade. I had just left a job as an assistant city solicitor. Why didn’t anyone ask me what I did?
My husband tried to explain that it wasn’t meant as an insult. It is natural for strangers to want to find common bonds, and in our diverse world, the military was the one thing we all had in common. I understood, but I worried that I would start to identify myself solely through his job. Would I lose my sense of self? Would I lose the things that made me who I was?
More than a decade later, I don’t even think twice about it anymore, and I’ve gotten used to not only answering “the question” but I find myself asking it, too. The military is such a huge part of our daily lives. Our spouses’ jobs shape not just where we live, but how we live. How we think of ourselves and our families, whether or spouses are intel officers or medics or maintainers.
When you live in a military community, you get used to seeing minivans with “Proud Air Force Wife” tooling around town. You know people with email addresses like “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “LUVMYF16PILOT@writeme.com.”
That kind of pride and support is wonderful, but the thing is, a military spouse is an accomplished person in his or her own right. We have advanced degrees. We cook and paint and write. We run marathons. We volunteer at our churches and our children’s schools. But marrying a member of the military often means putting our own careers and interests on hold, if not sacrificing them altogether.
Of course, being a military wife is like being a pastor’s wife or a politician’s wife. His job becomes your job, too. It’s a job that requires not just total commitment from the employee, but from the entire family, too.
There are very few jobs like that. I can’t say I’ve ever seen any “I Love My Insurance Adjuster” or “Proud Mortician’s Wife” bumper stickers. Still, I realize there’s no comparison. Being married to an insurance adjuster or a mortician or a lawyer is not the same as being married to an active duty military member. Being a lawyer was my job. The military is a life.
The important thing is to keep it from becoming an all-consuming life. Although we all know spouses who still “wear rank,” the military has changed significantly for spouses in the last fifty years. More of us are able to pursue our own goals and interests. Still, being a military spouse is a twenty-four hour job. There is no downtime.
At our last base, my husband’s flying squadron was filled with newly-wed young lieutenants just out of pilot training. Their new wives proudly wore airplane jewelry and squadron t-shirts, and it was wonderful to see them so enthusiastic.
I hoped they would remain as proud and enthusiastic, just as I hoped they would maintain their professional licenses or keep running triathlons or teaching yoga or whatever they can to carve out a small corner of military life for themselves.
In the end, it’s more of an observation than a complaint. I’m enormously proud of my husband, and I have never been anything but proud to support the mission. I don’t regret any of the choices we made as a family.
And he’s proud of me, too. He has been nothing but supportive as I studied for a bar exam, worked as lawyer, or sang in the church choir. I think that kind of support is one of the greatest gifts a spouse can be given.
There may not be a “Proud Attorney’s Husband” bumper sticker on his car, but he has been known to wear a “Real Men Marry Lawyers” t-shirt under his flight suit.