by Katie Caruso, Guest Contributor
Sometimes I feel like my identity as a military spouse, is too easy to recognize.
Maybe it’s the English teacher in me, but it makes me think of Hester in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Remember that long, complicated novel from high school about Puritans in Massachusetts who make people wear a red letter A on their chests for committing adultery. Not to worry, no literary discussions of sins and character flaws here.
I’m talking about the symbolic badge we as military spouses wear.
I knew there would be sacrifices of all kinds being a military spouse, but this is one I was not as prepared to accept. Because of my husband’s job, I am marked. I am forced to wear the “MS” scarlet letters to signify my choice of marrying a military member. I can’t say I’ve ever heard others declare,
Oh, she’s a banker spouse or he’s a teacher spouse.
Sounds ridiculous, right?
Yet, thousands of us walk around with these letters everyday, for the entire world to say, “This person is a military spouse.”
Don’t get me wrong; I love being a military spouse. But, just like any other interest or part of my character, I should be able to share it on my own terms. Similarly, there are instances when I may not want someone to know that part of my life.
The civilian world doesn’t understand the lack of social privacy that military spouses carry. We are easily identifiable: accents that don’t blend in, a geographically scattered resume, at a loss when someone asks, “Where are you from?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the name of a street or town wrong only to be corrected with a laugh in front of a group of locals. Or how many times I’ve heard, “You definitely aren’t from here!”
We are forced to share our lifestyle, information about our marital situation, our spouse’s job and other details that many people never share in an initial conversation. Once the cat is out of the bag, there is no turning back.
We are labeled and the “MS” is boldly displayed for all to know. In the case of Hester, the scarlet letter was a punishment for her deeds. She felt guilt and resentment. I do not believe any military spouse should feel punished or guilty for their marital choices.
There are ways to embrace those letters “MS” and turn them into a badge of strength.
The Dreaded Job Interview
Wearing the “MS” letters might be most frustrating when looking for a job. I am constantly counseling military spouse friends (and a few personal pep talks myself) on what to say in a job interview. I could probably lodge formal complaints on dozens of potential employers who have illegally asked me about my marital situation in an attempt to confirm that I am a military spouse.
There’s no cute blazer that can cover up the “MS” letters you wear to every job interview.
I always make a point to illustrate the unique skill set that comes with hiring a military spouse. Yes, I’ve lived in 3 states and another country. I’m flexible and adaptable. I can communicate comfortably with anyone. I can take initiative in an unfamiliar setting. I have seen what works in a variety of situations and I want to bring new ideas to the table. I can use my time in this location to broaden my skill set and learn something new.
The Novelty Item
I honestly think most of the questions or silly comments are because people are just curious. Civilians want to know what life is like as a military spouse and to hear about places we’ve lived and people we’ve met. They want to tell stories about their brother, cousin, high school classmate who is in the military (You’ve obviously met him, right?) and they want to feel connected to you.
As in any awkward interaction, I think people just blurt out how they feel. I secretly enjoy tackling the stereotypes of military spouses by striking up a conversation and sharing my personal thoughts and experiences.
Learn to Let Go
There will come a time when we all re-enter the civilian world from the military community and for some it will be sooner than others. Add it to the list of sacrifices, vent with a fellow military spouse when you need to and then move on.
In case you blocked out the rest of the plot line of The Scarlet Letter, just know that in the end, Hester wore her letter bravely and she served as a gentle ally to other women in her community.
While we spouses might wear the letters proudly forever, the “MS” will become less noticeable. But we will always have our network with each other.
How do you embrace those letters “MS” and turn them into a badge of strength?
Katie is an educator and political junkie, with a BA in Political Science and MA in Teaching. She is a military spouse of 9 years to an Air Force pilot and mother to a curious and adventurous little boy. When not teaching or juggling military spouse commitments, Katie loves reading, traveling and watching college football. You can follow Katie on Twitter at @katiecaruso.