I have no clue what he’s talking about! Should I pretend I’m following along, or actually pay attention?
That was me, sitting across from my date over a plate of pasta, totally confused. But, in order to be engaged in this conversation, I knew I needed context. I knew that passive listening and nodding wasn’t going to be enough. If this was my guy, this was OUR life. I wanted a relationship built on engagement. So, I had to step up. Ugh.
At our favorite Italian restaurant, we made use of the napkins and a pen and he explained Brigades, Battalions, BTRYs, career progression, deployments, PCS (Permanent Change of Station) options, the list goes on. I asked ALL the questions. I knew NOTHING. If possible, I knew less than nothing because what I did know he was clearly proving to be straight-up wrong.
For me, the military was filled with young kids that graduated high school and joined the service. Young kids who didn’t have any idea what they wanted in life. Young kids following their dad, uncle, brother, or friend into selfless service. It isn’t that I didn’t respect Service Members. I just didn’t know any. And so their struggles, sacrifices, and triumphs were this distant idea that I didn’t really understand. I’m not proud to admit that my narrative for military service was that of arrogant, abusive, womanizers. For the handful of Soldiers and Marines I’d met while living in North Carolina, this was accurate.
There was nothing about military life that interested me. Until it did. I sat across from a well-spoken, well-mannered, considerate, civil engineer who happened to be in the military. And so, the napkins came out – I had a lot to learn.
“Two people in their late-twenties looking for love.” I am willing to bet that was somehow woven into the marketing of the then AOL dating site we’d both joined. Yep, we are as old as dialup internet and AOL. We were online dating before online dating was a thing, or at least before it was a thing you’d admit to anyone. Trendsetters among our circle of friends. Or just busy and bored with our options elsewhere. We likely only connected because the site allowed you to set your compatibility profile to include a selection of professions from which you believed your mate would emerge. In hindsight, what a ridiculous notion. Doctor, sure. Lawyer, sure. Construction worker, ok. Banker, ok. Military, nope! I’d said No. It was, I think, the only profession for which I’d checked No. Again, based on my preconceived ideas, a Soldier or Marine did not fit into the life I was building. After all, remember, I was “going places.”
And so, he took the bait I never even knew I’d used. He wanted to know why. Respectfully, he hit me up and asked the question…” so, what’s the issue with the military?” It was a valid question, and not one I was expecting when I’d logged in and noticed “1 New Message.” I was being asked to articulate my judgements, my fears. And yet I didn’t want to be fully honest because something told me I wanted this conversation to continue. So, I hedged a bit with a more generic answer about financial freedom and a lack of awareness. Not untrue, but not fully true either. But he was confident enough to ask that question to someone who’d said “No” to the military. And a year-long friendship began that led to napkins and pens and a new understanding.
In the end, those crumbled napkins were just the beginning of the questions I’d ask and the answers he’d provide, again, for the 10th time. At times we can think we are so right on a subject, but just have it flat wrong. By calling me out and putting me on the defensive, respectfully, I was able to grow. Having someone challenge your perceptions is not easy. I had a choice to make. I could be defensive, or I could listen. I could choose to learn or cling to my truths. Being humble, being willing to be wrong, being willing to listen, those are true tests of maturity.
Thank goodness we didn’t meet in my early 20’s, goodness knows that girl wouldn’t have made it to the napkins and pens date.
Tell us! What were the biggest misconceptions you had before becoming a military spouse?
Jennifer is a military spouse of 12 years, 6 moves, and 4 duty stations. She’s also a business owner and lover of travel, Italian wine, German Christmas markets, fireworks, story-worthy socks, cream cheese icing, warm bath towels, and morning snuggles with her kiddos.