I met my husband right after I had turned 21, and really wasn’t thinking about long term plans, marriage or meeting my “person.”
Our relationship started the way most Shakespearean romances do: in a bar, on St. Patrick’s Day. I knew he was a Marine, in the way that someone in their early 20’s with no military background can have knowledge about it, which was pretty base level. He had just returned from a deployment to Iraq, and while we always ran in the same friend circle, we never really “knew” each other. I had never given much thought to what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone in the military. That was, until about a month into dating, when he was in the process of changing specialties and had to go to an eight week training in North Carolina.
By that point, as Hallmark as it sounds, I had already realized he was the one I was supposed to be with, he was my “person.” That doesn’t mean his leaving was any easier on our new relationship. I was able to fly down to Camp Lejeune halfway through the course and visit him. We exchanged “I love you’s” for the first time and it was then that I really started wondering what being with someone in the military could be like.
After two years of dating we got engaged, and around the same time we learned that upon resigning his contract, his new duty station would be New Orleans. A marked distance from our home in New Hampshire, we began realizing that we were soon going to be embarking on a new journey.
Two weeks after our wedding, we pulled out of the driveway of our first home together, and were on our way to what was about to become our new normal.
Up until this point, and for a while after our first PCS, I had worked as a daycare provider. It wasn’t something I considered making a lifelong career, but I loved the work and it helped pay the bills. I had never had that gut feeling pulling me towards a professional path. I marveled at my husband for being so dedicated to such a noble calling. I quickly realized that being a military spouse meant more than just being a supportive partner.
There are a lot of unique aspects of being a military spouse. For starters, if you’re a female, it means getting used to being called “ma’am,” even when you’re in your early 20’s. More importantly, you learn to be really self-sufficient. The first few years we were married, my husband was gone for months at a time. To an introvert who has just moved 1600 miles away from home for the first time, that shock to the system has you figuring things out on your own really quickly.
You also come to the realization that, in many ways, the requirements of your spouse’s career will need to come first. While that has posed its challenges, it also afforded us a lot of positives. We’ve been able to PCS to duty stations all over the country. Our two sons have been to more states and national landmarks than most people can ever say. The job security and benefits from my husband’s military career have helped us remain stable during times of uncertainty.
The sacrifices he has made for us, and our country, often make me feel as though my sacrifices as a spouse are but a small price to pay.
For me, my identity crisis came with guilt. I felt as though being a supportive wife and mother should fulfill me enough, and branching out for myself was selfish, and would take away from them. Since we met after he had returned from his only deployment, I even felt as though my identity as a spouse was somewhat skewed.
While he has left for months at a time for training, I always felt as though I had no right to complain, or admit I was lonely or that all of this was hard. I felt like those wives who are pregnant or give birth while their partner is away, or those who deal with countless other hardships during their spouses deployment, those are the ones who deserve to feel lost, sad or really anything they want.
I never wanted to come off as though I had it anywhere near as difficult as they did. I was thankful to have some incredible people along the way, who really impressed upon me the sense of community and family in the military, and that we truly are all in this together. No one benefits from having a “who has it worse” contest, and learning that early was invaluable.
I fell back hard on being “a military wife and mother.” That’s exclusively who and what I was for years. Even in conversations with members of my own family, the questions during Christmas dinner centered widely around my husband’s career, or the development of my kids.
Rightfully so, I suppose. Up until then, I really had put myself on the backburner and was solely focused on being those things for other people. It was never meant in a way I took offense to, but it did help me realize it was time to carve out my own path, separate from that of a spouse or a parent.
After some soul searching, and many conversations with my wonderfully supportive husband, I realized my pride of being the main support for my husband and kids did not mean I couldn’t pursue something that was just for me. After the birth of my first son, I chose to go back to school and pursue a career in the mental health field. Six years later, I am interning as a substance abuse counselor, and am dangerously close to completing my graduate degree. It has given me a sense of individual purpose that I honestly didn’t know was attainable.
I am an incredibly proud wife and mother. My husband and sons bring me inconceivable amounts of joy. The things we have done and accomplished as a family bring so much fulfillment to my life. My husband is an incredible Marine, a well respected professional as well as role model. My life would truly be incomplete without them.
My life has also been gratified in a new way. I have created a new piece of my identity puzzle. A piece that doesn’t come with the label or “wife” or “mom.” This piece just says “Amy.” It’s a piece that is just as special and meaningful as the others. By realizing this path for myself, I have a stronger sense of self, and quite frankly, I would argue that it may even make me a better and more confident partner and mother.
Being “married to the military” didn’t take away from identity, it helped me define it.