I thought I knew what I signed up to when I started dating my husband and became a “military girlfriend”. Having grown up in a military family, I knew exactly what a deployment was and could name 1 or 2 planes on a good day.
Fast forward 2 and a bit years, we’re married and I’m fully aware of how clueless I am on so many things to do with the US Military.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a survival guide with all of the advice and tips from my experiences as a military girlfriend in the hope that it might help someone else…
1) Learn the Language
Like most workplaces, the military has its own language. But unlike many workplaces, being with someone in the military will mean this language is key to understanding your relationship. You’ll use it to discuss so many aspects of your lives together rather than just relaying some gossip with a co worker or a tale of your battle with the photocopier.
So learn the basics! The military will quickly become a part of your life. Like learning key phrases in French or Spanish such as, “I grew up in London” or “my name is Ellen”, learning what PSC means or your partner’s rank will help you talk with each other and their colleagues and families. Trust me, you’ll do this time and time again if you stick together long enough.
I’m sure you would rather vaguley understand what is going on than sit, deliberately eating your brownie so slowly that by the time you’re finished it’s time to go. (Don’t be me guys).
2) Get Involved
One thing I’ve noticed is that the US military is really good at trying to keep its people happy by organising events and socials to create a strong community. While these are often reserved for families and spouses, there will be some avalible to you, so go! Some of my favourite memories as a military girlfriend are at these events – watching England DESTROY America in a football/soccer game at Wembley (COME ON ENGLAND) and an absolutely gorgeous ball at Duxford Imperial War Museum.
However this military girlfriend life is not all glitz and glamour. Go to the BBQs, baby showers, quiz nights and leaving dos (leaving parties). Everyone moves around so much, so take any opportunity to meet the other amazing partners and families. They have so much knowledge to share and endless stories to tell.
David and I were 2 months into our relationship when we attended the Air Force ball. I sat next to a lovely spouse who couldn’t stop telling me about how much she loved the military life and what an amazing adventure we were about to go on. She married us in her mind right there and then.
Not going to lie, having been a military girlfriend for just 2 months it overwhelmed me. But now its one of my favourite memories. It got me thinking about the possibilities and of course, seeing David’s slightly nervous face was priceless.
3)Meet the Spouses
I’ve heard and read many MANY mixed reviews of spouses groups. (Public service announcement: avoid Tupperware Parties at all costs). It’s like your first year university when you get assigned a dorm room/flat. You have no idea whether you’ll be sharing with your new BFF, the invisible man or a pretentious nightmare. It all boils down to whether you’re lucky with the people you meet. Who knows… you might meet your spirit guide.
Carrying on from my previous point, just get involved – you have nothing to lose! And meeting other amazing couples and spouses will make you feel less alone in the military life. I am a naturally shy person so the thought of being in a room full of loud Americans I didn’t know sounded like pure hell. But everyone was lovely and was bombarded me with advice on my husband’s new posting which I am eternally grateful for.
However some groups are more *selective* than others. (Meaning you can only join the club if there’s a ring on it). I totally get why these groups are exclusive to married individuals. But maybe we should try and move into the 21st Century? So many girlfriends and boyfriends who have been dating for years and are just as keen to get involved with their partner’s military community as the spouses are. And opening up these groups to newer partners would give these newbees access to guidance and support from the more seasoned military spouses, helping them to feel less daunted and clueless about the military life. But that’s just my opinion. Fight me if you want. (But give me some notice as I need to book in some karate classes first).
Some spouses will welcome you with open arms and relish the idea of showing you the ropes. Just don’t get frustrated if the aren’t all like that.
Ok, this is kinda cheesy and contrived, but keep a sense of who you are. This is good advice for anyone in a relationship, but for those with a partner in the army/navy/air force, don’t get too swept up in all the military stuff. Keep your ties to things outside of being a military girlfriend.
It might feel like friends and family don’t understand your situation. It’s frustrating having to explain, simplify or just avoid anything to do with the military when talking about your relationship. But your family, friends, colleagues and the random lady in your yoga class are the ones who will make everything seem a bit more normal. Especailly when you are stressed and confused and want to talk to someone without using a 3 letter acronym.
5) Bases became my enemy and best friend
I believe bases are a blessing and a curse. (This may be reserved to foreign military girlfriends, but you can share in our pain for 4 paragraphs).
Going on to the US base in the UK was just weird. With so many Americans around, I felt like a foreigner in my own country. (Technically I was…)
The bases are full of endless support structures and facilites designed to helpout the military members’ loved ones. They can include advice centres, gyms, the Exchanges, employment support and and more. Useful right? Not if you are a military girlfriend. Again, these are reserved for spouses and families. This can be sooo frustrating, especially if you have located to a new area to be close or you just want to work out together.
However the access to American food revolutionied my life. As soon as anyone found out I could go on to base with David I became like a black market dealer in American candy. I’d get requests for caramel M&Ms, obscure Oreo flavours and multi colours cereals that definitely do not pass UK sugar content regulations. Its something to keep in mind if you need to get out of something at work…
Maybe it was due to all the sugar inside, but getting on base was an ordeal. First I needed a sponsor to get on who would essentialy hold my hand. I would then wait forever at the visitor centre getting a pass so that I could spend 30mins navigating around the stupid airfield. So not ideal when you are late to picking up your boyfriend from his very first deployment… (I promise I’ll leave early next time Daivd).
6) Prepare for long distance
I didn’t experience this in the same way that some relationships do because I was lucky enough to meet my husband during his posting to the UK. However the amount of (insanely romantic) stories I’ve heard of couples meeting once during a visit home or party and then diving head first into a long distance relationship are endless.
So be prepared. You might be from the same hometown and they’ll leave for training or a posting elsewhere in the country or overseas soon after you make it “facebook official”. And chances are they will leave for a deployment for 3+ months at some point, so you guys are going to have to deal with the fact that a military relationship will lead to the realities of long distance.
7) Deployments can be good
I describe my husbands’s first deployment as “an experience”. He’s still got the first letter I sent him that illustrates my slow unraveling in embarassing detail. So I was not the image of a stable military girlfriend. (Anything that repeats “I’m ok” multiple times on each page, clearly is not).
There’s loads of relationship advice out there that says you should go on a trip together before you get married as you will get a great insight into your relationship. You plan together and deal with stress (if you want your relationship to last don’t fly in Europe with RyanAir). You will also find out whether being isolated together in a foreign country makes you fall into the love of romance novels, or descend into a horror not even Stephen King could imagine.
I’d say that deployments are much like this for military relationships. Similar to trips, you will go through deployments again and again in the future. So when your partner tells you they are going away, see it as an opportunity to challenge yourselves.
8) Deployments also suck
If you just read the last section thinking I’m a crazy lady, well here’s the bit where I step down from my motivational platform and get real… Deployments suck. Especially for military girlfriends because you have no friggin idea what’s going on. Chances are, when you drop them off on base it’ll be the first time and you’ll question why on earth you feel like their mum (mom) dropping them off for a school trip. You’ll then drive home wondering if they remembered to pack clean underwear and extra socks.
Communication during this time can feel like climbing everest – tiring, draining, and you’d have to be a little crazy to attempt it. When you don’t hear from them it might be the first time they haven’t texted you for more than a day (I like to keep him on a tight leash). Depending on time zones, calling each other seems impossible. Even if the stars do align, like a cruel and fickle god, your WiFi signal will have other ideas and drop out every 5 minutes.
And if something happens, it won’t be you that gets the call.
9) Coming home can be harder
Just when you think you’ve made it through the worst of the deployment, coming home can feel like being asked to walk a few miles home when you’ve just completed a marathon. You’ll almost miss the certainty of them being away as you knew what was happening each day! Times will change, dates will change. You’ll be sat by your phone waiting for the call that they are on their way back. Just waiting for the call. And waiting for the call. Then you’ll need to get on base. As we already know, UTTER NIGHTMARE without an ID.
When you do finally reunite, it’ll be amazing to have them there in front of you again. You’ll be amazed by the fact that they are REAL and not just two blue ticks by your messages.
Aaaand then it’ll get weird. Being away from someone lets you build up an idealised version of them. Is this healthy? No. Do we still do it? Hell, yes! You forget how much they farted, how much they like trash tv shows (you still love me right David?) and sometimes you’ll forget how to be around each other. Don’t worry, it’s completly normal after so long apart!
Just don’t expect things to be perfect and normal immediately. This may be obvious, but your partner will have just returned from a very stressful and intense few months. They will still be in that frame of mind and act a little diffferently. Give them time to readjust to real life and to chill out a bit.
10) Be Flexible
There is so much pressure to have an exact plan. But that’s not exactly possible when your in a military relationship. They may be away for birthdays, anniversaries, meet ups and holidays. Something may happen last minute and they are whisked off on a trip or asked to training at the drop of a hat ruining your plans to do nothing next weekend.
But most significantly, they don’t know where they will be living or moving to over the next few years. So kiss goodbye to the cute little house down the road, perfect distance from parents, friends and the pub.
One of the key things I learnt as a military girlfriend is the need to be flexible. You can plan ahead and think about the future, just be ready for those plans to change and adapt them to your situation.
When I was younger I always thought I’d want to live abroad. But just for a little bit – nothing too scary, ya know? But here I am. I’ve just moved across the ocean to a new county and there’s a high chance I won’t be living in the UK again. But again, things change. I don’t know what’s in the future so I’m going to be flexible and ready to adapt to whatever life throws at us
So that’s it! I hope it hasn’t scared you off.
If it has, COME BACK HERE NOW. Let me tell you that you guys will have a fabolus adventure and just like that lady I met a the Air Force ball, I have married you in my mind already. YOU CAN DO THIS.