In the military community, you know you belong at an assisted living facility when you start waxing poetic about snail mail.
“The real problem with military marriages today is too much communication,” said the keynote speaker at a conference I recently attended. “All that Skype and email is too much. When my wife and I wrote letters once a week, we took our time and thought about what to say.”
There were some nods around the room. I bet those nods were from people whose junior guys made the mistake of reporting when they were going out on patrol. Or overshared on Facebook. Or dealt with a crying wife too often on Skype.
I’m sure all those nodders imagined that if we turned off the Skype and the email and confiscated every phone, all their command level problems with families would be over. By necessity, soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines would turn into love-letter-writing fiends worthy of Ken Burns immortality on PBS itself.
Clearly, none of those nodders had ever received the kind of skimpy, guy-written letters most service members write. Those are the emotional equivalent of living on a box of Triscuits.
As the speaker went on to talk about how it was far better for him to find out his wife’s father had died during the deployment by letter weeks and weeks after the event (that was better??), I wanted to jump to my feet.
I wanted to make sure that the young couples in the room did not get the idea that it would be better for them to communicate less during deployment.
I wanted those nodders to admit that the problem in military marriages today is NOT too much communication. The problem in military marriage is that it takes time for couples to learn how to communicate from eight time zones away.
How many times does a servicemember have to call during the dinner hour before they figure out that there isn't much uplifting going on when a hungry toddler is screaming and the soccer cleat for today's game is lost?
How many times does a spouse have had to figure out that no matter how much that servicemember loves you, he or she can’t actually fix your current feeling? Or control how often the email goes down?
How many times do young servicemembers panic their spouses or partners about going out on patrol before they figure out that this does not actually protect them and it uses up a spouse’s energy?
All those lessons take time--which is exactly what we don't have in military life. Leaders want young couples to be up to speed right away so that servicemembers can focus on the business at hand. I get that. But indulging in the idea that these problems can be solved by going back to writing letters is like dreaming of fighting battles in deserts with scimitars and Peter O’Toole on a camel behind you.
It’s a waste of time.
Every generation has their own struggle with the communication tools that are available to them. They are going to screw up. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to learn the hard way. That is what couples do.
So instead of wishing away some of the most morale-building tools ever invented, start thinking through those letters to what you actually communicated. I’d much rather hear a keynote speaker think through what they’ve learned about a long distance marriage and pass those lessons along than pretend that the good old days were anything more than old.