I fell into a conversation with three female servicemembers about the upcoming deployment. They were sure it would be no problem for me.
“Because you are an independent woman, right? You don’t need him around to be happy,” one of them said confidently. The others nodded enthusiastically.
I could see they were sure they were paying me the highest compliment. In our society—especially in military society—being a dependopotumus must be avoided at all costs. You have to live for yourself! Make your own dreams comes true! Treasure your time alone!!!
Loneliness is a character flaw. Being totally independent is the goal, right? But to pretend that I am an independent woman who enjoys the time my husband is deployed is just…wrong. I’m not like that at all.
I am perfectly able to take care of myself. I have my kids, my friends, my job, my own divine spark. But to imply that being alone with my husband deploys is what I prefer and that this is what I would choose for myself is just dumb.
Unlike poor misguided Tom in (500) Days of Summer, I don’t agree with the idea that “Loneliness: it’s underrated.”
I’m more on the Mother Teresa team believing that “Loneliness is the most terrible poverty.”
I constantly hear this idea that we spouses and partners and milsos ought to cultivate our time alone during deployment and treasure it. No wonder those female servicemembers thought it was true.
But it doesn’t really go along with what science knows about people. There is a ton of research out there that shows that relationships are the key to happiness. This includes relationships with a romantic partner as well as relationships with family and friends and neighbors and coworkers.
People who have good relationship with other people are happier and less depressed and have higher self-esteem than people who don’t. Very, very few people are happy living an isolated kind of life. There is nothing wrong with this.
So why do we keep pretending that it is true in the military? Is it any wonder that we get even more depressed when we just can't make the happyhappy happen when we are alone all the time?
My husband is my favorite person in the entire world. And I am his. When we are apart OF COURSE we are lonely for each other. We believe in what Thomas Merton said, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.”
So those servicemembers were right to believe that I would be fine during this deployment. I will be fine. But the reason is not that I don’t need my husband to be happy.
I will be fine during this deployment because I nurture all my relationships. I will be fine because my husband and I email back and forth every day. I will be fine because I talk to my mom and my grown daughter several times each every week. I will be fine because my work friends are my daily companions. I will be fine because my fifth grader can’t sleep unless he gets a little cuddle. And I gotta have my dog with me!
Maybe what we need to do with deployment is start praising people for what actually works instead of dissing them for some half-cocked idea about what independence means. Maybe the highest compliment should now be: You are going to be fine during deployment. You must really spend a lot of time on your relationships.
Because loneliness is totally overrated.