It’s something that everyone hears all the time. I know it’s not just limited to military spouses, though that is the arena that introduced me to this phenomenon. It is a form of shaming and, in my opinion, it is undeserved and unfair. Still, I’m sure most people can recall a time when they’ve been told one of the following.
- You knew what you were getting into when you married a military man.
- Well it’s not like you didn’t know he would deploy.
- You knew he was in the military and you still chose to be with him.
- Moving around a lot is part of the military life, you know that.
In other words, it’s your own fault, we don’t want to hear that you’re sad, lonely, worried, or whatever emotion is at the top. I sometimes feel like I’ve lost all right to be frustrated by anything that occurs with the military because somehow, I knew that it would be like this. I beg to differ.
First off, there is more than one way to know something. In fact, as I see it, there are two crucial ways that you can know something: academically and “a posteriori.”A posteriori knowledge is that gained after experience. Because there are some things that you can only know after you’ve been through it. All the book knowledge in the world doesn’t take the place of actually living through certain things.
For example, I’ve been reading infertility blogs for as long as I can remember. If you think it’s strange that at 27 and child free by choice that I read them, ponder for a moment on the fact that I started reading them in college, if not before. I’m not exactly sure. Through these women and their struggles to have children, I know all about charting cycles, injection cycles, triggering, implantation. I know about their pain of experiencing a BFN (Big Fat Negative) after a difficult cycle. I know their joy when they have a pregnancy that results in a live child in their arms nine months later.
But of course, this is all academic knowledge. I could never say to anyone that I know what it’s like to be infertile. Because I don’t have a freaking clue. All the reading in the world does not give me the actual experiential knowledge. Now, there may be those who argue that the difference here is that no one chooses to be infertile versus my choosing to fall in love with a military man. To them I would say that I chose the man I fell in love with as much as someone chooses to want to be a parent.
Before I met B, I had an idea of how long distance relationships worked. I knew that they involved not seeing the other person super frequently. I had a friend who’s fiance and then husband lived in a different state due to her work situation and his being in school. I knew that it wasn’t easy on them. But I had no idea what it was like until B and I decided to enter into an LDR a mere three weeks after meeting. I started to clue in quickly when people would reference him as my imaginary boyfriend or try to set me up on dates. I experienced the crushing blow of cancelled plane flights resulting in missed visits. I lived through the frantic changing of airports in order to keep another visit from being cancelled. Before I was in an LDR, I had the academic knowledge of how one functioned. After dating long distance for 8 months, with 1500 miles between us, I can say that I know what it’s like to be in a long distance relationship.
It’s the same with the military. Before you live through a PCS, an OCONUS PCS, a deployment, a TDY, a whatever the hell they come up with next, you don’t really know what it involves. Sure, you can read about it. You can study it. You can think about it. But until you’ve been through it, you don’t know. There’s a difference in knowing that your spouse can deploy and actually having them do so. And until you’ve lived through the days, weeks, and months of separation filled with the concern for their safety, the loneliness, the good times, and the bad then you don’t really know.
In my time as a military spouse I’ve done two short-notice OCONUS PCS moves. I know all about those now. I’ve done a handful of one to two week TDYs where he’s on a different continent from me. So I have a decent understanding of those. I’ve been at the whim of the USAF, hurrying up to wait on whatever it is they want next. We haven’t done a deployment yet and I’m not sure that we will. So, while I have a book knowledge of what’s involved, while I’ve read blogs about what it’s like, while I have a tendency toward the empathetic and therefore can be really good at understanding what it might be like; I’ve never been through it. So I don’t know. I don’t know what it’s like to say goodbye to my spouse for months on end. I don’t know what it’s like to worry about his safety or cry over a missed call because who knows when he can call again.
There is knowing. And then there is knowing. There is reading all about it. And there is actually living it. Even after you’ve lived through it, every circumstance doesn’t stay the same. You can know what it was like to go through x deployment and that doesn’t mean that y deployment will be anything like it.
To the rest of the world, we get it. We knew they were military members. We could have chosen to walk away from the loves of our lives – yeah, sure, you betcha. But, the truth is that no, we didn’t know exactly how hard it would be. We didn’t know how we would react. We didn’t know how we would handle it. So please, keep your “you knew what you were getting intos” to yourself.