We have been at my husband’s current base for 15 months. I recently forgot that his boss changed during that time. I know the name of his current boss but have never met him; I have no clue what rank he is. I don’t know the names of any spouses. I read the emails I get so I do not miss anything big, but have never attended a spouse event here. I am friends with our neighbors, a dual military couple that work with my husband, though I don’t know their ranks or what type of work they do. We swap pet-sitting duties with them, so my conversations tends to be about dogs, cats, beer, wine, cooking, hiking, current movies or books.
When I met my husband, I knew he was in the military. He had been commissioned and was on educational delay while he attended law school. We met in class and on the third date, I told him that I had no future with him because I dated a West Point cadet in college and learned enough to know that I did not have any desire to be a military spouse. My husband is a persuasive attorney and convinced me that he wanted me and I could separate myself from his career as much as I needed.
Life is not that simple.
My husband’s first assignment was at a beach location. All the women from his office got together, some spouses and some active duty. I sincerely enjoyed interacting with his office there and was very involved. I hosted a baby shower, though if pressed, I would say I hosted it for my friend who I valued, not for a spouse of someone with whom my husband worked.
Our second assignment was overseas and I got a civilian position on base. In this capacity, we both had work friends and I interacted on a professional level with people in my husband’s office, so I was not treated as a spouse. In both of those places, I was an active participant with my husband’s office and acted in a way that others might perceive as a “good military spouse,” short of joining a spouse club. I attended a spouse club meeting once and decided it was not for me.
Then a perfect storm of crappy life circumstances occurred in the 24 months we were at our third assignment. I will not recount everything that went wrong or happened in those 2 years, but will say that we experienced nearly every major life stressor. I attempted to attend the spouse social events that my husband’s work held. After all, in the past these events were something that I enjoyed. It became an added stressor. I was made to feel as if my feelings about his deployment were invalid, wrong or immature.
Interacting with military spouses made me feel like I was a bad military spouse because my reactions were different than the reactions of others.
I might have walked away from the military community if it were not for autism. In struggling to understand my older son’s autism diagnosis, I connected with American Military Families Autism Support. With Facebook and social media, I connected with military spouses and active duty members far and wide.
Related: Why Autism Awareness Matters
I have talked to my husband about my lack of participation and his work life, and he sees non-involvement to be a better option over a negative involvement. By nature, I want to help and fix, so I do suffer pangs of guilt for not being involved on a local level. Then I remind myself that my skills and interests lean toward reading, writing and advocacy. I am involved in the military spouse community on a macro-level rather than local level. If this is more comfortable for you, do it. There is not as much required of military spouses at a local/group level as many believe. Be involved in a way that fills your heart and spirit.
Stepping back has allowed me to observe the military spouse community more objectively. I see that a lot of military spouses wear emotional masks. The masks take various identities: some are always smiling and supportive, some are angry and some are meek. Many military spouses act in the manner they believe is expected of them, but it is not natural. That was what I was trying to do at our third assignment.
The secret is that masks seldom allow you to get enough oxygen and just breathe.
When I stopped trying to be a “good military spouse,” I discovered my true military friends: active duty females, male spouses whose wives work with my husband and a military spouse who did not know what rank an O-5 was. Without the mask, I was free to be me with all my contradictions: I love moving assignments, love seeing the world as a military spouse, hate deployments, loathe mandatory fun, adore dressing up for military balls, dislike keeping my opinions to myself and am proud of my husband despite having zero interest in knowing what he actually does at work.