During our first deployment, we were still young (21 to be exact!) and had only been dating for about six months. We went through a lot…and when I say a lot I mean…A LOT. We didn’t have a super strong foundation as a couple seeing as we were long distance for those six months, his mother absolutely hated me and caused an unGodly amount of drama, and it was his very first deployment which is going to be tough on anyone. I documented a lot of how I felt, what I was afraid of, things I wanted to say but couldn’t, in a
private blog that somehow got passed along in the young Navy girlfriend community (unbeknownst to me at the time). Its funny how I can look at those blog posts now and remember those pains and feelings so strongly, but I also am a bit ashamed of some of the things I wrote. There is a certain level of maturity one must have to successfully survive a deployment (let alone a military relationship), and needless to say, I did not have it.
The first time around I can tell you the hardest part was simply losing communication. Talk about privilege…we are so used to being able to call, text, Amazon Prime anytime of day or night, so when it is taken away from us, all hell breaks loose. I never remember having any kind of attachment to my phone until that deployment. I could go to class or work without it and be just fine. I never slept with my phone in my bed, never worried if it was on silent when it was lost, never worried about who needed to contact me. In my mind, it couldn’t be that important that it couldn’t wait…..or could it? Knowing I had very few opportunities to talk to my boyfriend meant that phone was attached to me 24/7 just waiting for an e-mail. When he was in port? Forget it. I got no sleep, I slept with the phone laying on my chest, and I would have given up my left arm to Skype with him.
Now? Meh. At the risk of sounding cold-hearted, its not that I don’t WANT to talk to him, its about time. Before, I had time to kill. I could sit up all night waiting for an e-mail or stop everything I was doing to Skype. Not so much anymore. I work full time teaching elementary school, so there is no way I can say, “Oh kids, hold on just a second, I need to go FaceTime my husband, you just work on those fractions for an hour or so, ok?” HA. I can’t stay up all night, not only because of work, but because my child requires a whole lot of attention that I simply cannot give properly if I am exhausted. I am finally old enough to realize that giving up my social life to sit around and wait for a call is unhealthy, let alone unfair, so thats not happening anymore either. I think now I know that although conversations are precious and important, we WILL hear from each other eventually and that radio silence doesn’t mean “its over” or something terrible has happened. He knows that my world has to keep spinning even if he isn’t around and that means that my identity is not “wife of a deployed service member” so I will go about my daily life. Do I want to hear from him? Of course! I obviously still miss him. But what I am saying is, it is not “life-or-death mass hysterics” if I don’t respond to an e-mail within 3 minutes or miss one video chat request. Life will go on. There will be other opportunities. (And before anyone says, “But what if he dies?! Then you’ll regret that!”…you’re right, if my husband dies in combat I will definitely just focus on the fact that I missed an e-mail…NOT. You can’t think like that…ever)
Last time, port visits were exciting and stressful at the same time. I was so happy for him to get off the ship, see new places, try new things,
find wifi to video chat with me all day, and report back on everything. But on the other side was my worry. Young + American + probably (definitely) shit faced + pay day = nothing good at all. So yes, while I was happy he was able to see Paris, I was also quite concerned when he was doing shots of Absinthe in the Red Light District of Paris before going MIA for about 8 hours. Again, being young and in a different country with more money than you’re ever used to having with zero financial responsibilities back home? Sure sounds like a recipe for success to me! *insert overly exaggerated eye roll*
Seven years later and we have both grown up a lot. Port visits now consist of me telling my husband how much I’ve budgeted for him to splurge in port, him finding somewhere quiet to FaceTime while drinking a beer or two, and calling it a night at a decent hour for each of us. BORING. But I love it. I love that he wants to sit in the corner of a coffee shop and talk to our son or tell me how much he missed wearing sneakers for the past few months. I love starring at each other and talking about how tired we are. I wish I was kidding you right now, but this is the part of getting older that I really have grown to appreciate.
The last woe I remember being pretty big back then was, as much as I hate to admit it, the fear of infidelity or breaking up. Think about who you were dating at 21 and really, truly try and picture yourself going through something like a deployment together. (All you veteran military couples who were high school sweethearts need not participate in this exercise!) This is not something normal “kids” go through, so naturally it is tough thinking, “Are we going to make it through this?” “Is he still going to want to be with me?” “What if he meets someone on the ship?” “What if he meets someone in port?” “What if he gets drunk and cheats on me?” Although these could be fears for any young couple, they get amplified by ten when you are in a deployment situation. Right now, I am sure there are lots of readers thinking, “Uh uh not my man, I knew he wouldn’t do any of those things because I trust/ed him 100% so this girl has to be out of her mind…” OK. Again, six months into it, I was not stupid. I knew that six months wasn’t a marriage, it wasn’t some whirlwind romance, it was six months of fun and “lets see where this goes”. Sure, we loved each other, but was that enough? I had no idea. I had never loved someone like I loved him. It had nothing to do with trust, insecurity, or any of that. It had everything to do with fear of the unknown and deep down just wanting things to work.
Fast forward through love, marriage, and the baby carriage…I don’t even think about these things anymore. I’ve learned a whole lot about the different kinds of women in the Navy (shout out to all of you hard working, intelligent, fabulous Navy women!) and about what happens mentally on deployment (have you ever heard of “deployment goggles”? They’re real. Don’t ever get a pair. They lead to poor decisions), so I think I….WE are better prepared this time. We are much better at communicating and expressing our feelings, even when those feelings aren’t easy to vocalize. I know that not every woman on that ship is out to be a home wrecker (even if a few still are…don’t think I forgot your name Jessica…*cough* bitch *cough*) and he knows that no one stateside is ever going to lead me astray. We have a relationship that has history, a commitment, a future, something tangible that is not as easy to destroy as our relationship was last time.
I’m writing this all thinking, “How do I sum this up into one thing I have learned?”
Like a fine wine, some relationships get better with age, and we are an example of that. Think about this for a minute. Most men and women who join the military do so at the age of 17, 18, 19…and they’re all hitting their first deployment either immediately or within a few short years. Who in the hell thought it was a good idea to let these children have significant others?! I mean really, we are BABIES being shipped off to God knows where to do Lord knows what, but they are leaving huge pieces of their hearts back home. I’m not saying this isn’t true for those without significant others, but leaving momma is a different feeling than leaving “the love of your life”. Being 19 and freshly in love may seem great, but throw deployment in the mix and its going to be a lot more difficult than your standard freshman-year-of-college-romance. Sure, there are some couples who get through it just fine, and I say, applause for you, because I sure as hell didn’t do too well. I like to assume most young couples struggle a bit during that first deployment. The good news is, it may not get easier, but you do get used to it and things are just…different.
My suggestion to any young couple going through their first deployment is to live each day with intention. We went into that deployment completely blind, not knowing what our relationship would be, if there would even be one in the end. Being with someone in the military is a commitment unlike any other. You may be married, but if you don’t have the intention to stay married, grow in your love, and/or make upward movements as a couple/family, then you may find yourself in the same place as an unmarried couple. Having goals and making sure each decision you make is purposeful and helps you attain those goals is extremely important. Maybe you’re not married but want to get engaged after deployment. What can you do as a couple to strengthen your bond while he/she is away so that you are 100% ready for that next step? Maybe you are engaged and planning a wedding. What can you do to keep your relationship strong through the added stress of wedding planning during deployment? How can you save money? Maybe you’re married and hoping to start a family after deployment. In what ways will you ensure you are ready for that change once he/she gets home? I could go on and on with examples. I guess my point is, unless both people are on the same page and going in the same direction with the same enthusiasm, it is very easy to derail your relationship when you throw deployment into the mix. The distance, the stress, the uncertainty, the lack of reliable communication, it all makes every little thing 300 times more difficult. Since it is pretty much impossible to expect the unexpected, instead be prepared for the journey toward a common destination as best you can, think two steps ahead, keep your eyes on the prize, and deal with small set backs as they come.
To any of my young, newbie girlfriends/wives out there, stay strong. You will get through it, and as long as you are both in it for the long haul together with the same goals and drive, it will be worth it. I promise you it will be worth it.