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Dear Young Me: A MilSpouse Letter to the Past

Ten years ago this month, my Army boyfriend had just returned from Afghanistan. We were carefully and slowly feeling our way through the transition from casually dating to serious long term relationship. As we continue in 2016 with seven moves, two dogs, three deployments and a 6-year-old under our belts, I wonder what I would say to that blissfully naïve 22-year-old college student I was so long ago.

Dear Young Me,

This is such an exciting, life-changing time for you in the sweetest and simplest of ways. Things are fairly predictable with school, your friends, riding ... and Kevin. It feels a little like you are stuck and nothing is changing. The truth is that you are busy laying the foundation for the life you will build down the road.

Thank him for the camera. A lot. It’s a big deal for you, now.

Yes, you are going to be reminded for years about the slightly ridiculous amount of money he spent on your gifts. Don’t sweat it—that camera he gave you is going to change your professional life. Later, you’ll realize that’s just the first of many times he will quietly push you to chase dreams you think are out of reach.

He will ask you to marry him. Don’t freak out. Say yes.

While you are slowly warming to the idea of life with a soldier, he is busy planning -- planning to ask you to marry him, planning to make that life change as comfortable as possible, planning to make your dreams possible. He’ll keep all this quiet because he already knows that you aren’t completely comfortable with this new future, and that you are slightly iffy with commitment. Avoiding a “Runaway Bride” type situation will require a little planning.

Merging your lives starts with a single cell phone plan. Embrace it.

His “It only makes financial sense!” reasoning is only half-true, but go with it. It’s one of those first, slow steps into building a life together. You’ll stress about it like crazy, because that’s how we are. That’s okay, because you’re trying to protect yourself, but he’s going to prove that he’s trying to protect and take care of you, too. Let him!

Then comes the grand gesture that proves how much he gets you.

Your friends and family are going to joke that it’s better than a diamond ring. Trading in his sports car for a truck means he understands a truck can haul a horse trailer -- something you desperately need.

That truck is going to carry you through seven moves in 10 years. He’s going to drive that truck eight hours overnight after work to pick up a horse because he knows how important your riding is to you, and that’s going to give you the strength to get through the roughest years of your marriage. He’s going to drive that truck around town in large circles to keep the baby asleep so you can get an hour of peace to cry in the shower because motherhood is overwhelming. Down the road, when you gather the courage to chase your goals, that truck is going to take you back to horse shows.

There will be hard times, but you both survive.

It will take time before you work up the courage to confront him about his drinking. You’ll wonder if you are being horribly immature and young, and you’ll be convinced he won’t want to be with you when you make this an issue. But, do you hear that small voice in the back of your head that says something is wrong? Listen to it. This moment will be the first time you learn what it means to love someone enough to be an advocate, to step up and say what needs to be said even when it is painful. It will be a long, rough 24 hours (and, no, it won’t be the “right time” when you finally lose your cool and say it).

Both of you will get through it. Years later, you’ll both identify that moment as a turning point. It will be the moment when you both made the conscious decision that is was worth doing the hard work of being together than taking the easier path of being apart.

You will find strength you didn’t know you had.

This year, while challenging, is going to be a time for growing. You’re going to set up a home, plan your “big wedding” and start your first adult job. You’re going to jump right into life as an Army wife and that’s going to be a good thing. Because he’s going to come back from Iraq a different person, thanks to the stresses of combat and a buried IED. It’s going to take years for everything to feel OK again, but it will. You won’t feel strong enough, but you are. Really.

Ten years from now, you’ll be looking into a 2016 filled with the possibility for more growth, renewed promise and dreams fulfilled. You’ll know what it is to create the life you want and need right where you are. You’ll know the confidence that comes from love that is tested and strained, but holds through the hard moments. You’ll know, without a doubt, that if the next ten years bring the same measure of hope, fear, pain, friendship, struggle and growth, it will be exactly where you want to be.

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