When Ryan and I started dating eight years ago, I had no clue what I was getting into. I knew next to nothing about military life, and the concept of being a military spouse was completely foreign to me. I actually started this blog around the same time, hoping to make some connections, learn from other military spouses, and see what they had to share about this lifestyle. It’s funny because, eight years later, I’m still learning things to this day. Some are good. Some are downright frustrating, and some are just life as most people know it. I will say though, for those who aren’t familiar with this lifestyle, it’s foreign to them – much like it used to be to me. I posed a question on my instagram a few months ago, asking military spouses what they wished civilians knew about this lifestyle and I made a list of 10 things we want civilians to know about military life. Some of these things may surprise you. Some aren’t that surprising, but all of them resonate to us on some level.
10 Things We Want Civilians to Know about Military Life
1 // We have very little control over our lives.
When the time used to roll around for us to put in our preferences for Ryan’s next duty assignment, we’d get plenty of opinions. “Go to Hawaii! It’s beautiful!” “Oh, you don’t want Louisiana. It’s too swampy to visit.” Honestly, it didn’t matter what you put as your preferences. We didn’t have JBLM high on our list, and we moved here. The military sends you where they want to send you. Beyond moving, our lives are equally unpredictable. Having a baby? Your spouse may or may not make it home for the actual birth. Many birthdays are celebrated alone, and decisions are made often with a grain of salt because things change – and they can change quickly. The most predictable part of military life is the unpredictability and general lack of control that we have. So, we make the most of it and control what we can, like decorating our houses and making the best of duty assignments.
2 // We didn’t really “choose” this lifestyle.
This is honestly one of the silliest things we hear. I did choose my husband, and I did choose to say “I do.” I did not, however, choose to be owned by the military, and most of us truly didn’t understand this life until we lived it. We’re all learning along the way, and it’s a huge blessing to meet veteran military spouses who teach us the ropes. While we “chose” this lifestyle when we chose our service member, the enormity of it is learned as it’s lived.
3 // We create our own military family.
A lot of us are geographically separated from our blood relatives. My family is dispersed across the globe. Most of my immediate family is back in New Hampshire while aunts, uncles, and cousins are in South Africa. Ryan’s family is spread across Utah, Oregon, and California. It’s not always easy to get to family. Holidays are extra special when you can, but when you can’t, you create a military family. I have my “sister wives” back in New York and living in Tennessee now. My kids have veritable “cousins” in the friends who’ve become family over time, and these people are just as important to us as our blood relatives. Family can be chosen.
4 // We actually really don’t want your pity.
More often than not, we don’t want pity. Yes, this lifestyle is hard, and yes, it can be really freaking lonely. But you know what else? It’s exciting, adventurous, and it’s absolutely never boring. The unpredictability of it is both a blessing and a burden at times, but it’s also a ticket to adventure. And, for those of us with wanderlust, it’s the perfect solution because every 3-4 years, the Army’s going to send you somewhere new and, many times, exciting. Side note – we are getting so excited to move again next year.
5 // Lots of military spouses actually wore the uniform, as well.
Surprise! A lot of military spouses were actually service members, themselves. They wore the uniform, answered the call, and have a unique insight into this lifestyle that those who have served aren’t privy to. I’ve met a lot of incredible men and women who have served, as well, and are now supporting their own service member.
6 // Yes, we do pay taxes, and our housing isn’t actually “free.”
This is a common misconception. First off, yes. We do pay taxes. There are tax breaks when one serves in a combat zone for a deployment, etc., but yes, we do pay taxes. Second, our housing isn’t actually free. Service members receive a BAH or housing allowance in accordance with their rank and the number of dependents (children/spouse) they have. If service members choose to live on post, the entire BAH is collected to pay for the house and utilities. So, basically, you just never see that money – hence the “free” concept. However, if you choose to live off post like we did in DuPont and Fort Drum, that BAH or housing allowance is included in their paycheck and, instead, simply goes to rent or a mortgage off post. So, no, housing isn’t free.
7 // We’re often just as confused about this life as you are.
There are so. many. nuances. There are also approximately 2903849028343289 acronyms for everything. If we spew acronyms at you, chances are we know what 80% of them mean. There are also a million different nuances regarding different installations and posts. We’re always learning, and we’re often learning on the fly. Want to know something about the military? Chances are, we do, too.
8 // Army Wives is not an accurate portrayal of military life.
This one always makes me giggle. No, Army Wives (the show) is really not an accurate portrayal of military life. I don’t know what else to say about that one haha
9 // Many military spouses actually want to work(!!!)
There’s a common misconception that military spouses are A) fat, B) lazy, and C) they don’t want to work. False. On the contrary, military spouses make up some of the most diverse and untapped potential in the job market. Like our kids though, many military spouses have to start over at every single installation and with each and every duty station. Military spouses are often too scared to tell employers they are military spouses for fear of not being hired due to our transient lifestyle. Many military spouses settle for jobs they are hugely overqualified for, simply because they can’t get hired elsewhere. I’ve met engineers, doctors, physical therapists, writers, marketing experts, and beyond. Our unique skillsets are actually an asset, and we want employers to take a chance on us.
10 // We don’t all hold the same political views.
Military families are, more often than not, fiercely patriotic. That doesn’t mean that we all hold the same views, however. I’ve met ultra-conservative military families, and I’ve met very liberal ones. I’ve met moderates. We share a common ground and interest, but that doesn’t mean all our political views align.
So, there you have it; 10 things we want civilians to know about military life. Guys, I’m not an expert. I’m still learning. I’m still perpetually frustrated and simultaneously in love with this lifestyle. I wouldn’t change a thing, but it does get tedious over time. I hope this answers some of the questions that you might have had about military life, in general, but don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Tell me, if you’re a military spouse/significant other, what do you want civilians to know about military life?