Apples, Oranges and Milspouses

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I know what you’re all secretly wondering about me. So, why don’t I address it right off the bat.

Yep, your suspicions are correct — I do weigh over 150 pounds.

I’ve worn double-digit sized pants since the eighth grade, I have a brick of Velveeta in my fridge, I can’t remember my times tables when put on the spot, I never dust the ceiling fan blades, and I’ll admit it — I let the dog lick me right on the mouth.

There, now you know, I’m not perfect.

Isn’t it strange that humans instinctually size each other up, as if we’re all part of some Darwinian survival of the fittest scenario? What’s even more interesting is that competitive instinct affects military spouses differently than our civilian counterparts.

Often, civilians compete on a material level — who has the most expensive handbag, the best lawn, the best-dressed kids, the fastest car, the biggest house, the highest paying job, or the coolest vacations.

But in the military, uniforms broadcast rank and pay grade. Many of us live in identical base quarters, we take our trash to communal dumpsters, wearing the same lounge pants we all bought from the same PX clearance racks for $9.99, and our trash contains the same K-cups and chicken bones we all picked up at the same commissaries.

Since our spouses’ incomes and benefits are a matter of public record, the playing field for military spouses is entirely different than it is for civilians. We don’t compare material possessions. We want to know: Who has moved the most? Who has lived in the worst base housing? Who has suffered the most deployments? Who has lived overseas the longest time?

Instead of tit-for-tats over who has the best Pottery Barn curtains, we military spouses wrangle over whose life is, strangely enough, harder.

But the matchup over military hardships breaks down, when you consider that military spouses’ lives are really too diverse to compare.

According to the 2014 Military One Source Demographics Report, there are 665,619 active duty military spouses, and 381,773 selected reserve military spouses. There are also at least 326,000 surviving military spouses and a whopping 15 million more spouses of US military veterans, according to the 2010 National Survey of Veterans.

We may all be known as “milspouses,” but our differences are greater than our similarities.

Military spouses hail from every branch of the US Armed Forces. They grew up in big cities and small towns in every state. They are of varying ethnicities. Some are shy, others outgoing. Some have traditional careers, while others work at home. Some are young, and others, like me, are … young-ish.

Also, like apples and oranges, our life experiences cannot adequately be compared due to variations in military communities. There are chaplains, aviators, culinary specialists, missile technicians, engineers, cryptologists, aircrew, submariners, infantry, artillery, tankers, and special forces, to name a few.  Each community has its own subculture, deployment tempo, platform requirements, work schedules and social traditions.

As a young navy spouse, I felt inadequate when compared to friends in other military communities who were enduring more deployments. When my husband deployed for a year in 2007, I thought it was my chance to earn some “street cred.” After the first six months alone with three kids, a huge dog, and endless home maintenance, I realized how silly I was for wishing hardship upon myself just so I would stack up to my friends.

Now, after 23 years as a military spouse, I appreciate the diversity of our individual journeys.

It’s not who moved the most, who lived in the worst base housing, or whose spouse had the longest deployment. Each of us has our own distinctive experience based on our military community’s subculture, our family make up, and our diverse backgrounds.

Rather than competing, let’s focus on what military spouses have in common. We are hardworking, dedicated, and resourceful. We are strong in the face of hardship. We provide a constant presence at home. We share our active duty spouse’s sense of duty, honor and patriotism.

Most importantly, every military spouse loves a US serviceperson, and like apples and oranges, they make all of our lives very sweet indeed.

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Comments: 4

  1. Karen September 30, 2016 at 11:37 am Reply

    My husband and I met and fell in love in college and married shortly after he commissioned. His initial plan was to get out after four-years (hahahahaha) so because of this, I often shunned other military spouses at our first duty station because I didn’t want to be grouped with ‘them’. But when the unit deployed for 16-months, I learned real quick that the diverse group of military spouses were a great source of information, comfort, and lifelong friendship. Now that I am considered a seasoned-spouse, I always make sure to highlight just how great the military spouse community can be.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 6, 2016 at 3:41 pm Reply

      Karen — I am a “seasoned” military spouse too, and now I’m trying to learn how to be a civilian spouse. There is not an instant community in the civilian world. It’s much harder to negotiate. Fodder for an upcoming column!

  2. energywriter September 30, 2016 at 8:28 am Reply

    I don’t think I felt sub-standard because of any of the things you mentioned. I felt sub-standard because of my husband’s rank. I felt supported by our common (milspouse) experiences and missed that when I returned to a civilian community. No matter the rank we all endured deployments, living in base housing and sending our kids to the base schools.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari November 6, 2016 at 3:42 pm Reply

      Well said, Sharon.

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