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I’m having a serious identity crisis.
When I said, “I Do”, I proudly took on the title of military wife. I piled it on top of my head, balancing it with all the other hats I wear: sister, neighbor, baker, daughter, friend, teacher, dog owner, traveler, aunt, crafter, photographer… military wife. It looks nice there on the top, it makes me feel like I belong to some elite club, like I’m wearing the appropriate uniform.
I remember when we first started dating I went to a party at the home of one of my boyfriend’s superiors. It was one of those awkward, you’re obligated to attend, kind of things, where spouses are left to fend for themselves while the enlisted go outdoors and talk shop. He deposited me amongst these strange women, reminded me to “be nice” and left me to navigate the waters of military-spouse-land alone.
It was, in a word, terrible. Army wives are a tough bunch. There’s gossip and cattiness mixed in with a determination to fiercely protect their own. These women had survived deployments together, helped to raise each other’s kids, understand the emotions that go along with this lifestyle and had formed tight cliques within the group. It was hard to determine which ladies were friends and who were pseudo-nice to each other. Either way, they seemed a united front on this day, united in the idea that I was an outsider.
I sound dramatic. So let me add that some of these women are great, and many of them have since taken time to help me through this difficult life and I appreciate them. They are strong, smart and caring. Also, I understand that I am drastically stereotyping and generalizing…But on this day, they were terrifying.
A lady came up to me that afternoon. The kind of perfect looking woman that I know I can never be. Her clinically whitened teeth smiled at me and her perfectly manicured hands reached for mine. She was wearing heels and pearls, I was wearing a hoodie. “Oh honey,” she said, “Someday maybe he’ll put a ring on that finger and you can really be one of us.” She then promptly ignored me for the rest of the day… I wandered off in search of something to drink and befriended a woman who was wearing jeans and covered in baby spit-up. (My kind of gal).
The thing is, I was equal parts offended and intrigued. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to find my niche, I wanted to proudly defend this elite group of diverse and interesting women. I wanted to know the things they knew, I wanted to feel like I belonged.
And then I did. Suddenly and without warning, I found myself knee deep in deployment after deployment. I was earning my stripes while planning an out-of-state wedding. My husband-to-be was virtually unreachable. So, I managed our house, took care of the dogs, worked full time, maintained a solid gym schedule (go me!), paid bills on time and otherwise led a pretty mundane, adult life. But, being a two days drive from my family and spending most days in complete solitude is not really how I imagined my life playing out. I reminded myself this was a hat I was excited to wear. I was ready. I could do this. So, I did, and I did it well.
Fast forward a few years: my now-husband is starting to think about a career change. He wants more stability, he envies those with predictability in their lives, and so do I. He’s frustrated with his current path, unsatisfied with status quo and ready for some change. Simply put, he wants to be home more often.
This is a scary thing. How do you prepare for a career change at 30? Is it a good idea? How do I hang that “Military Spouse” hat back up to become just “Wife”? I’ve never been just, “Wife”.
An article posted at Forbes.com (5 Ways to Tell if You Need a Career Change) explains that if you are chronically worn out, exhausted and depleted then perhaps it is time for a career change. The truth is, this lifestyle, exhausts us both. The constant ups and downs, the never knowing where he will be going and when, the training trips, the changes in plans, the inability to make long-term vacation plans…. All wear me down. There are days when just getting out of bed is a struggle, especially if he is out of town.
There are other days when I love this lifestyle. I love the spontaneity and the solidarity. I love being a part of something great. I love being able to binge watch “Gilmore Girls” because my hubby is out of town and he won’t have to watch it. There are a million reasons why I love this crazy life I lead, but that’s another post.
I’m sure there are also a million good reasons to change careers. I fear though, that we may be focusing on bad reasons. How can you make this decision? It’s scary to think about how this idea will impact our life, or how we will face the prospect of regret. Doesn’t everyone feel unhappy in their work environment sometimes? How to you gauge the value of a steady income versus the idea that you could be so much happier in your work life? How nice would it be to have him home more often, to never miss a holiday together? How quickly would we tire of each other’s company? More importantly, I know that the grass isn’t always greener, but sometimes it feels that way. How do we know that we won’t be leaving one difficult lifestyle and head right into another? Is there something better out there, or just different?
What is doubly hard for me is figuring out how to support my husband while he works through these conflicting emotions. We all know that I struggle with anxiety over simple things like grocery shopping. So, real and scary life changes are a much bigger can of worms. If my anxiety is out of control over leaving the military, then how is he feeling? I wish I could figure out how to help him communicate his fears and his goals to me effectively. We struggle with understanding the other’s feelings about this transition because we cannot walk in each other’s shoes. I don’t know what it is like to be thousands of miles from home for months at a time, just like he doesn’t completely understand what it’s like to keep our household running single-handedly.
I know some people who count down the days until their last day of service. I know some wives who spend every night in prayers hoping that their husband will make the decision to leave. For us, leaving the military feels a lot like jumping naked, into a river, in December… in Alaska. How do you make that choice?
I received lots of advice when I first got married about not letting the military become our identity… I think maybe we failed at that, because I am afraid of who we are without that. What hat will I wear when this one is gone?
But, on the other hand, when he woke up this morning and turned to me he said: “I’m thinking about reenlisting.”
**sigh** I love this crazy life.
I’m Molly. I grew up in a tiny town in Central New York state and now I am proud and excited to be teaching a group of fabulous seventh graders in Colorado. I’m a photographer, aspiring writer, terrible cook, and wife to one infuriating soldier whom I love immensely. When I’m not at work you can usually find me hanging out with a good book and my eleven-pound Rat Terrier, Penny. I blog sometimes, when I remember to, at www.lovetheeveryday.com.