I was sitting in a performance evaluation meeting in my principal’s office around April. My then-fiance had been deployed since June and although it had been a tough year, I was starting to feel excited for his homecoming, for our wedding, for my move to where he was stationed and for our brand new life together.
And, I’m not going to lie, I was having a pretty awesome evaluation too, until another administrator walked into the meeting. He spent a few minutes engaged in small talk with the principal and me. And then he asked me if I was afraid that John was cheating on me in Afghanistan. After all, he wouldn’t let his fiancé be in the military—there are too many men there, too many sweaty people. Didn’t men and women shower together? He just didn’t know what he’d do if his fiancé was in my fiance’s position.
I’m not a fiery person. I’m a writer, not a public speaker. More often than not I think of the perfect thing to say hours after the incident…but of course, never during it. This was no different. I mumbled something that I can’t remember now. I felt my face flush red and I felt myself become a very impotent, less-muscular Hulk. I was furious, but my evaluation was being discussed, so I tried to refocus. (And trust me, that was tough too.)
What stupid things have people said to you?
We got an earful.
They broke down into a few categories and we’ve quoted them here, directly from the mouths of military spouses. Ready to go down the rabbit hole?
It seems that many people have a sincere need to remind military spouses and significant others that we’ve chosen this life and so we should shut up and move on during deployment. Perhaps it’s meant to be empowering—that we’ve been the masters of our fate—but it often is incendiary and a tough pill to swallow.
Especially when we really have very little control over the logistics of our own lives and absolutely 0% say over anything the military does.
- “Suck it up buttercup. You knew what you were getting yourself into.”
- “You talk about your husband so much and it seems like you think his job is better than anyone else’s.”
- “He missed your daughter walking? At least it’s not like a first day of school or a sweet 16.”
- “You people are used to this sort of thing. I don’t know why you are crying.”
- “At least your son won’t know his daddy missed the first 3 months of his life.”
The D Word
About a month after John deployed to Afghanistan, I was hanging out with friends at a bar when one of them asked me why John even had to wear dog tags. After all, few soldiers die by bullets now—most of them blow up. What good would dog tags do then?
At the time, I was consumed with worry since John’s base had been under attack twice in a week. I was so worried I literally couldn’t taste food. (Seriously, I even tried to eat Reese’s. I didn’t finish one cup.)
That whole hanging-out-and-getting-a-drink-with-friends thing? Yeah, it was ruined by reminding me that John was in constant danger…along with a really distressing mental image.
Again, I am not alone. There was an overwhelming response that people—even strangers—would ask about death and dying when they found out about a loved one’s deployment.
Thanks, guys. Because that’s not something we worry about for the entire deployment, from start to finish.
- “It’s not like he’s going to die or anything. Stop crying.”
- “Aren’t you afraid he’ll die?”
- “How much life insurance do you have on him?”
- “Is he in like, a combat zone? Is he being shot at?”
- “Hope your husband doesn’t get blown up.”
- “If your husband gets killed it won’t be so hard for you because you’re used to living without him!”
Let’s be clear: service is service is service. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Coast Guard with a keen eye for drug runners, in the Reserves kicking down a door in training, flying a refueling plane, a Marine MP doing base security or a Navy EOD tech dismantling a bomb. We need all kinds of people to ensure that the job at hand gets done safely. Truth bomb: No branch is more special or more awesome than any other branch.
- “He is in the air so there is no danger. Not like anyone will shoot at him…”
- “He’s only in the Navy. He doesn’t know what a real deployment is.”
- “Oh, it’s his second deployment? You must be used to it by now.”
- “But he’s on a ship, right? So, it’s not like he’s really deployed.”
Really Awkward, Extremely Personal and Totally Clueless
I really try to see the best in people. A lot of the things people say when they find out about deployment comes from both a place of empathy and ignorance.
Talking about deployment can be tough since there are so many layers to it–from politics to the emotional anguish to the military’s rules and regulations. It can be harder if you’re taken off-guard, don’t know how to respond or have no idea what the logistics of a deployment (or the military) are.
Let’s be real—with only 1% of U.S. citizens serving in some military capacity, the vast, vast majority of people we meet will most likely have no clue about what a deployment actually means.
Still, no matter if the words are coming from charity or malice, they can still sting pretty deeply.
- “Did he kill anyone?”
- “How does it feel to be married to a killer?”
- “Are you planning a vacation to Afgh[anistan] to see him?”
- “Since he’s in the medical group, how can he help save the enemy too?!”
- “I heard they cheat with female soldiers deployed. Aren’t you worried about that?”
- “So do you get free stuff when your husband’s deployed?”
- “At least you get to pocket extra deployment money.”
I Couldn’t Do It
Truly, I believe that most of the statements that fall into this category are supposed to be compliments of our loyalty to our significant others.
Case in point: during John’s deployment, one of my very dear, wonderful friends told me that she didn’t know how I could go on without John. As if her love for her husband or their relationship couldn’t stand up to a yearlong deployment—and that’s simply not true.
“If you had to to stay with Pete, you would in a heartbeat,” I said. Really, it’s that simple and once I framed it that way for her, she agreed.
- “How can you live like that? I mean with your husband always being gone.”
- “Wow, I would kill myself if my boyfriend went to Iraq.”
- “I could never deal with that! Do you think he’s cheating on you?”
These are the comments that left my blood boiling when I read them from our Facebook walls. These are the comments from people who feel the need to demean the significant other by one-upping them. And many times these comments come directly from military spouses who should know better and help to lift each other up, not passive aggressively put them in their place.
- “It’s only three months. I could do that with my hands tied behind my back!”
- “At least he’s only in Afghanistan.” (Said by other spouses whose husbands were deployed in Iraq.)
- “Only 5 months? Psshh.”
- “Don’t talk to me about needing a break, I homeschool.”
- “I think deployment is so much harder with small kids.”
Weird Relationship Advice
I couldn’t round out this list without the unsolicited relationship advice that is ubiquitous during a deployment. I’ll just leave it at that.
- “Well, that’s nothing but good for you. Now you can at least do what you want.”
- “I wouldn’t let my husband do that.”
- “He’ll be back soon. Next thing you know, he’ll be annoying you and you’ll be wishing he was deployed again.”
- “If he loved you and the kids, he’d choose to stay home.”