Almost every day on one of the several military focused websites, forums and social media groups I belong to I see mention of how civilian family and friends “just don’t understand” military life. I’m pretty sure that at least once (and probably more!) in the years I’ve been married to my soldier I’ve said the same thing.
Over the years though, my feelings have evolved. I encourage milspouse friends to embrace the opportunities that military life offers them- new places, new friends, new learning experiences. Now, I think we need to add that embracing the new doesn’t mean abandoning the “old”.
I consider my experience as a military spouse to be a positive one. I am involved in several local Army volunteer organizations, deployments taught me I was stronger than I ever thought I could be, I’ve met and formed friendships with amazing people that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise, and I can literally count heroes as friends. All those wonderful things fail to account for this incredibly prevalent idea that civilian friends just can’t support us.
“But their 4 day/2 week/etc business trip is nothing like a deployment!”
So, everything has to be the same for someone to sympathize with your situation? Why? I don’t only talk about my hair with friends who also have stick straight blond hair (although I always ask them who cuts their hair if I like it). There have been plenty of moments that I’ve been annoyed by someone commenting that they don’t know how I “do it” or that they don’t think they could handle a deployment. But to be honest, I have been just as frequently annoyed by milspouses who seemed determined to argue with me about who has it the roughest. Your husband is deployed? “Well, my husband is deployed, I have more kids, and there’s a black hole in my bathroom”. My civilian friends may not have an equivalent experience but they also aren’t trying to compete in some sick misery contest. There are days that I just need to be the saddest person in the conversation.
“They don’t know what it’s like to have to move around all the time”
I have two reactions to this. One, in this very tough economy I’ll take the uncertainty of imminent PCS orders over the financial uncertainty many of my civilian friends are living with. Fighting the fear that we won’t be able to provide for our family (at least the basics of a roof, food, and necessities) isn’t something my husband and I have had to deal with. Two, many in the civilian workforce ARE moving much more frequently than in former generations. Not being in the military doesn’t mean that you will be able to find a job that provides for your family in the geographic area you desire. So, we don’t exactly have a monopoly on the moving for work thing.
“I have a special bond with my military spouse friends because we’re going through the same thing/deployment/training schedule”
That’s true. I feel ya. But I also have a special bond with the friends I played on the monkey bars with in elementary school, the girls I got ready for prom with, the college friends I pulled all-nighters with, and the people I trusted while learning to be an adult. Now, don’t get me wrong- my battle buddies are an extraordinary group of spouses who tackle the challenges of military life with humor, grace and a mind-bending willingness to give. That doesn’t mean, however, that my civilian friends don’t also bring a welcome breath of “other” for the days that I simply can’t bear to think about the Army for one more second. While as military spouses we make wonderful friends, there is so much value in friends who knew you before the military came into your life and have watched you evolve and grow.
For me, the civilian vs. military friend debate is a piece of a larger struggle- finding the balance between making the most of military life and letting it become my identity. I am proud of being to be an Army wife. I love my military community. But I am more than that too. I am a photographer. I’m a bit of a foodie. I am incurably curious. Each of those parts makes the whole stronger. In the same way, the diversity of our support system- family, friends, military, civilian- makes the whole stronger.
What roles have non-military family and friends played in your military journey? Do you ever feel that you have pulled away from civilian friends?