One of the young wives at the workshop looked confused by the discussion.
"What’s a geographic bachelor?" she asked. " I don’t think we have that in the Marine Corps."
"Oh yes we do," muttered an older wife. She went on to explain a service member is a geographic bachelor when he or she moves ahead to the next duty station and the family stays behind.
Hope dawned upon the younger wife. I could see her thinking that her husband receiving orders didn’t mean she had to quit her job. Her children could stay in the same school and keep their friends. She didn’t have to pack up all her Tupperware and wonder what happened to the lids. If that meant her husband wasn’t home most of the time, who cared -- he wouldn’t unload the dishwasher on a bet anyway.
I could see I needed to stop that mental party right away. I asked the class, “How many of you have ever done a geographic bachelor tour?”
About 15 hands went up.
"How many of you would ever do it again?"
No hands. Instead, we exchanged grim looks all round. I thought that was enough said, but I contemplated it all the way home. I could see how a geobach tour does seem like a sensible idea on the surface. However, when you get to thinking about choosing to raise your children without their father around and all the implications that go with it, a geobach tour seems like a social construct invented by hungry divorce lawyers.
So why do we military folks keep on doing it?
Sometimes when combining a career (or two) in the military with raising a family, doing a geobach tour is a choice couples have to examine. From interviewing dozens of couples who have taken on tours like this, I picked up a few things I wish I could have shared with that young wife:
You must have a very good reason to do a geographic bachelor tour. I’ve interviewed military families in my career who wanted to do such a tour because they liked their day care provider, bought a house they liked or wanted to retire to the area in 15 years. Sorry, those aren’t good enough reasons.
Good enough reasons are things like having a child with a life-threatening condition who needs her particular doctors; having a spouse who requires less than a year to complete his training or graduate from college; or when the active-duty member is only going to be at the new duty station for six months before moving again. The most common reason to do a geobach tour is because the family has a junior or senior in high school. These are dog years for teens, and many of their future opportunities depend on staying at the same school. That’s a good enough reason.
However, no matter how solid the motive, you must acknowledge from the outset that becoming a geographic bachelor is not a good choice. The military already requires families to be apart so often that adding more length to the time you spend away is a poor decision.
Do yourself a favor and write down your reasons for choosing to live apart and get all your family members to sign off on it. Post it in a place you can read it every time all three of the children have to be at sporting events at different ends of the county.
Your marriage must be rock-solid -- or falling apart -- for you to take on a geobach tour. If you've been married 20 years or so and everyone in the free world recognizes the two of you were made for each other and will die rapturously in each other’s arms, then you have my blessing to do a geobach tour. A marriage like that can learn to cope with new routines, irritations, arguments and money problems caused by a geobach tour.
Conversely, if you've already interviewed divorce attorneys and labeled all the DVDs which belong to you, you also have my blessing and my condolences. Everyone in between should think twice about taking on this kind of stressor. Living apart takes away all the efficiency of a family. There is twice as much work and half as many people to do it. You will fight over that. A new marriage or a marriage with young children needs time to solidify before it is tested in this way. Ask anyone.
If you decide you have no other choice but to take on a geobach tour, resolve to do less. A commute can be the equivalent of a part-time job for some service members. That kind of travel is exhausting. The emotional toll on family members can be heavy, so give up one of your service commitments. Let the other moms volunteer at the snack bar this year; you can do more next year to make up for it. Let someone else coach the soccer team. Put off the bathroom remodel until the geobach tour is over. Your priority is keeping your family together, and that is going to take energy you currently expend for other things.
I confess that, once upon a time, I thought a geobach tour was done only by service members who didn’t like their families or by families who had a bad service member. I thought it was a nice term for "trial divorce." I know better now. Sometimes such a tour is a duty a service member and his spouse choose to take on because they know it will be the best thing for the family in the long run. However, we should never allow ourselves to make that kind of decision without knowing there will be a heavy toll we have to be ready to pay.