I Did Not Know What I Was Getting Into


It is a phrase that military people hear often. Maybe it has never been said to you, but surely you have heard it said to (or about) someone else. It is such a few words, but contains within it so many thoughts and emotions.

"You knew what you were getting into."

Whether talking about joining the military, marrying someone in the military, moving, having a baby, getting pregnant just before a deployment, whatever - that phrase has been said so many times, in so many ways. And I truly believe that anyone who says it has absolutely no idea about what they speak.

In my experience, I thought I knew. I was raised by military grandparents (though my grandfather was retired before I was born.) I lived in a militaryish town. My husband and I talked about it before we got married. Heck, I even did a college research paper by interviewing a Navy wife in hopes of gleaning some sort of insight.

And still, I did not know. I clearly remember, not long after we were married, when my husband came home with his pre-deployment training schedule. Weeks gone, weeks home, weeks gone again. "What is this?" I asked. "I knew about deployment. No one told me about this."

Fast forward to that first deployment. I was good, I was strong, I would be fine. And I was fine, but it wasn't always easy. I did not know how much I would miss him. I didn't know that my friend Murphy would make sure that my car wouldn't start when I came out of work at 1 am. I did not know that it isn't fun being a newlywed when you are not together.

A few more years later, and we had a baby. It was so strange to be away from my family when such an exciting thing was happening. I did not know how much I was going to miss their presence. I must have called my mother, and mother-in-law, and grandmother every day when I was pregnant.

Fast forward a few more years. We now have three very little ones, and we're figuring out coping strategies for my husband's upcoming deployment when we discover that I am pregnant. I did not know what life would look like when you are alone for six months with three little kids and an ever growing belly. Picture this: me in the commissary, with my huge stomach pushing the double cart, with the "baby" in a backpack. Who could have known?

The fact is, no one knows. Even if you are raised in a military family, and have spent your whole life in the military, and maybe even been in the military yourself, you don't know what it is like to be a military spouse until you are a military spouse. Even then, you only know the things that you have already experienced. You don't know what hasn't happened yet. You can guess, you can imagine, but you don't know.

To me, the strangest part is that it doesn't really have anything to do with the military. It is just life. My civilian friends experience just as many new experiences as I do. Being a newlywed is always involves learning. Moving is always new. Job changes always bring the unknown. It doesn't matter your gender, age, family situation, or military status, none of us have a crystal ball that tells us what the future might hold.

The thing that frustrates me the most about the "knew what you were getting into" thought is that it implies some sort of failure on the part of the military spouse: failure to anticipate, failure to accept, failure to cope. Let's be serious here people, sometimes life is hard enough without the guilt of feeling like you should have known it would be hard.

I still haven't figured out a smart and polite response, but I'm working on it. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them. In the meantime, what do you think? Did you know? Do you think people can know? What's your take?

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