You don't get to be a "real" military spouse until you've experienced every sucky situation in the book.
Or is it that how "real" you are increases over time?
At least, that can sometimes be how it feels.
Now and then it seems like military life is a very poorly run contest to see whose life sucks the most. Think of it like a video game where you unlock the next level by fighting the give-birth-alone dragon. Don't ever get there? You're stuck at level 29 fighting the housing maintenance monster and you never get to beat the game.
Experience each and every sucktastic thing? Your reward at the end is a proverbial military spouse crown with one jewel for every level finished.
Military spouse Kayla Ruhm wrote us recently about this feeling. Here's what she said:
It has to be a joke right? Gauging your spouse status by how many deployments you have been through with your significant other? Apparently I never got that joke or the part where it mattered. Yes, my husband has been in the military for going on 8 years and hasn’t deployed. Yes, I am very lucky and I have never said otherwise but to say I am not a ‘real’ military spouse is just crazy.Kayla doesn't sound convinced, does she?
How does that mean that I am not a ‘real’ military spouse? My husband is still in the military and we are married, at least last I remembered we were. We go through the same daily worries about what is going to happen next and he does go away for training and TDY but never a full fledged deployment. On his TDYs or MRTs, there is little to no warning and we don’t always know how long he will be gone. Just because the word ‘deployment’ isn’t used, it doesn’t mean my husband doesn’t serve or that we don’t have time away from him.
We are currently preparing for our first deployment so does this mean that I can now be a real Military Spouse? Do I get a tiara or a certificate? I really hope it’s a tiara and that is sparkly! Or is it a bumper sticker? I just can’t wait.
To me, being a military spouse is about the journey. Whether it be in one place or twenty. Every military family is different and we’ve all been through different things. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, or something like that.
That's because what she is experiencing is real -- it's not OK, but it is real. While we military spouses say we like to support each other unconditionally, and most of us really, truly do, it's easy to let a spirit of competition seep in.
I am better at military life than you are, because I had a baby by myself!
I am more of a military spouse than you because my spouse has deployed 14 times and yours has only gone three!
I win the military spouse contest because I have taken all of the volunteer classes in the universe and the commander gave me this fancy volunteer pin!
I am a better spouse because I run our FRG and volunteer full time while you are selfish and have a career!
On the one hand, maybe making the hard things in military life into a contest is a coping technique. If we think of them in the positive, as something we want to attain so that we are "real" spouses, maybe they don't seem so bad.
On the other hand, if you're not careful, allowing yourself to use that as a coping technique could be a problem and cause hurt for other spouses. That's when coping becomes ego that doesn't get checked at the door.
Or maybe you're on the receiving end of these feelings. On the one hand, you get how people could feel this way. But you just don't -- and you're tired of the feelings being directed towards you.
As a very competitive person I get it. I get the desire to feel like I'm winning in everything I'm doing. I get the urge to give reason to the sucking in the form of a goal chart. Hey, if hard stuff has to happen I might as well make a game of it, right?
I'm one of these people who wants a military life check list. It makes it easier for me to get over the long evenings of solo child wrangling, the Daddy-less pictures of my son's birth and that time we missed our family photo shoot.
But when I do that I might also accidentally communicate to other spouses that my complicated, soldier-absence filled life somehow makes me superior.
So how do we move forward in our military life without holding others back?
What do you do when you encounter this attitude in yourself or someone you know?