Most people are nice. They already know not to idly wish their husband would deploy when yours has already been gone eight months.
They know equating a boyfriend’s business trip or high school reunion trip or film shoot to a deployment ain’t cool either.
But when we went to Camp LeJeune for our most recent Spouse Experience event, a group of Marine spouses told us about the things they heard that left them dumbfounded and groping for the kind of response that you only think of later (yet probably shouldn’t say out loud.)
We’ve listed a few ideas here, but we are still kind of flummoxed. What would you secretly say in your head if you were told:
1. You chose this life. Yes, we each chose one particular servicemember to spend our lives with. We continue to choose him or her every single day. That doesn’t mean we knew what we were getting into or that this gets any easier with experience. The thing we focus on is that our servicemembers continue to choose the kind of work that ensures your freedom—and we should be glad they do.
2. What happens overseas stays overseas. Not only is this a hateful thing to say, but it is untrue. It is hateful to assume infidelity among those deployed (or those at home, thanks). And, as many people have discovered, what happens overseas doesn’t stay really stay there anymore. Ever heard of this funny little thing called Facebook?
3. How do you do it? This is meant to be a nice compliment, but there is often a note of lingering pity in the statement. The best response I ever heard to this one was, “You would be so surprised what love can do.”
4. How long until he gets out? The military is not prison. Unless you are at Leavenworth and then it is, in fact, prison. Well, it is prison if you are talking about the military facility that is a little north of the federal prison. Oh, never mind.
5. How can you do this to your children? Oh, I have no problem inflicting the kind of father on my children who loves them and provides for them and reads to them and watches their soccer games and teaches them algebra and folds their laundry and takes their mother out to dinner once in a while. And if the guy has to deploy or move them during their childhood? Then they will learn how a family copes, won’t they? Life isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be.
6. When is he coming home? The first five or six times a friend asks when your Marine or soldier will return from deployment, it is a nice caring statement. But after the tenth time or so it still isn’t appropriate to offer to carve the date into her dining room table.
7. My husband loves me so much, he would never walk away from me like that. Most of the replies we came up with were so snarky that we figured they would end in an incarceration. We nixed those. My friend Raleigh says the reply ought to be: That’s awesome for you. I’m glad your husband loves you so much he’d never leave. My husband also loves you and the rest of America so much he’s willing to make this sacrifice.
8. The deployment will go by so fast. No, in fact, deployment does not go by ‘so fast.’ It doesn’t go by any faster than morning sickness or adolescence or, say, traction.
9. Oh, just come visit us while he is gone. Mothers (God love ‘em!) tend to think that they can fix everything, including deployment. But visiting mom and dad takes exactly three days according to Benjamin Franklin. Deployment takes 180 days. Or 280 days. Or 365 days. That’s a lot of visiting. And an awful lot of mom.
10. Has your husband ever killed anyone? Servicemembers have answered this question in their inimitable way. I like the guy who says with menace: Why do you need to know? Or the joker who says: You mean today? Or even the individual who says: Yes, followed by a stare so hard and cold the questioner fumbles for their car keys. Which is fine for the servicemember. But what is a spouse supposed to say when rude questions or statements like these come up?
Miss Manners says that you don’t have to say anything. She doesn’t require you to cooperate with rude people.
The etiquette lady in Real Simple magazine would say that you answer this kind of question with a breezy, “Who knows?” and move on to another topic.
You can also try, laughing: I can’t believe you asked me that! Or, pointedly: I try never to discuss that with anyone it doesn’t concern. Or even, gently, You must not be aware that is a rude question.
Most people are nice. They mean well. They can’t always understand a life they haven’t lived. Which is why it is so important to get together with people who understand where you are coming from and all the many things that require a response in our military lives.