I should have anticipated this entry would not be well received by some military spouses. My friend, who is married to a man in the Air Force, warned me. As did Ian (the husband about to re-enter the military).

“Yeah, sure, the essay ends well…but that first part…I don’t know. People might not see past the first part.”

“But it’s positive,” I argued. “It’s a happy ending. It’s about growth and–”

“Oh, we know, we know,” they might have said in unison if they had been in a room together. “But…”

There is only one comment at the end of the blog post, but I also introduced the topic on a couple of military spouse forums because I know there are other women married to service members who bristle at being called a “Military Wife,” and who will be chastised by certain military wives (not all) for not taking pride in the title.

There is a wide spectrum of feelings about this, I discovered in the conversation about military spousedom, but the sentiments boil down largely to the following:

1. Pride for the spouse, but a lack of interest in using the Military Wife title.

2. Fine with the Military Wife title, but as one of many identifying titles (wife, mother, sister, doctor, and so on) that shape who the person is. Additionally, there is something unique about the military spouse title, or label, as those married to the military live a unique lifestyle. They move frequently, have to suffer the absence of their loved one during a deployment, and have to figure out what to do with their kids and/or  jobs when it’s time for either a deployment, TDY, or a move.

3. Being a spouse is a lifestyle choice, a job, and being the spouse of someone in the military is an incredible source of pride.

The second sentiment was the most prevalent.

What also happened is I received more than a few responses that indicated to me I didn’t do justice to what it was I was trying to communicate. Or, maybe the “before” part of the contrast used to illustrate the growth was a little too incendiary for some.

In any case, the larger message was not (for the most part) absorbed.

A few responses pointed to my having a hang-up about titles and labels, and because I spent so much time saying “Army Wife” and “Military Wife,” I can see how that happened.

The larger message in the entry – which, again, I now realize I probably didn’t communicate very well by using titles and stereotypes formed in childhood as a vehicle to take us there – is that it was a “I didn’t see the forest for the trees” situation.

Being with Ian made me see the military in a completely new way. He has a very deep respect for it, but it was difficult for me to perceive the military as anything but ho-hum-whatever when it was something I saw every day as a child. The first time I was able to truly appreciate it was when Ian took me on a tour around Arlington, and we stopped at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I started to joke about something unrelated, and he tapped me on the arm and said, “Sh.” So I “sh”ed, and I watched, and I listened to the silence surrounding the tapping and the clicking of the guard’s shoes, and I thought about what it all meant, who the unknowns were, and the powerful symbolism of the ever-present guard protecting the tomb, his presence a constant reminder: “You’ve not been forgotten.”

And it took Ian’s leaving the military for me to appreciate the spouses and their community.

It often takes stepping away from a thing, or looking at it from a new point of view, before I can see it more clearly.

And the point is this: I’m so glad I did.

————–

Related post:

Military Spouses get candid about waiting through a deployment

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Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. […] An explanation re: “Just don’t call me an Army wife.” « From a little office… Says: January 19, 2010 at 13:49 | Reply […]

    Reply
  2. Jeez. I thought it was a very positive piece.

    Reply
  3. […] be lying if I didn’t say that, even after reading the whole post and the follow-up post to clarify her point, her words hurt. I caught myself saying to my computer screen, “Give them a break. Those women […]

    Reply
  4. At the risk of being offensive about a culture I have no contact with, the military, I heard an NPR report last night about the stress of military wives and it sort of applies

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/nation/story/82329.html

    What struck me in the report was mentioning how there’s a stigma about seeking counseling for both military members and spouses, which is absurd, given that it’s the most difficult job on planet earth, or one of. I wonder if people hold to the label of Army Wife as a kind of armor given the difficulty of being in the military and being married into it – in the same way as saying, “I don’t need therapy,” as if to say we’re strong, we’re united, in the face of inevitable doubts and difficulties.

    It sort of like “support our troops” which doesn’t mean “support our troops” at all, it means “support our government right or wrong,” as if you criticize policy you criticize all of the military, which is B.S. But people hold to labels and slogans because they’re more comforting than looking at some hard questions about what war implies. It’s never all good or all bad, so to treat it as such doesn’t seem right.

    Given people’s overwhelming sensitivity about this subject, perhaps I shouldn’t even wade in.

    Reply
  5. Kristen,

    I have read your previous article and being an Air Force officer’s wife I was not in the least offended. I really enjoyed your article, and in some ways I can self-identify with it.

    I came from overseas and saw a lot of the things you describe. There really are spouses, not all, that do nothing but stay on base during an overseas tour and become depressed. As a result, many gain a lot of weight.

    It’s taxing having to move all the time. It’s also frustrating having a graduate degree and not being able to find a good job. I found myself at times not always being able to identify with other military spouses. I always felt the pressure to have many kids (I only have one child) or to blindly agree and accept whatever my husband were to do for the good of his career. I remember sometimes being encouraged to have no voice, to not speak up for myself and to just be the wife at home with the kids, waiting up for my husband. It’s sad because I love education. Yet I see many women who are married to a military man who do not pursue education or drop out in the midst to get married and follow someone around. Not to say that that choice is wrong, but I just can’t agree with it.

    I’m right now pursuing a teacher certification because I have decided that’s the career I really want. I also don’t want to move base-to-base and have to stay sulking at home all because I have no way of getting a job (in reality teaching and nursing are the only two fields military wives can depend on for readily-available jobs). I just want to be seen as so much more than my husband. I am not an extension of him, I am my own person. I just happen to be married to someone in the military.

    Reply
  6. I like to say Army wife, but I know ppl that don’t and I don’t see anything wrong with that. The reason I have no problem with it is that my husband and I said we will always support each other 100%. I can’t live with him right now, so this is how I show my support. He calls himself a mechanics husband ❤ 🙂

    Reply
  7. I just found your site & read the Blog & article. I have to say as a ” Army Wife” of 15 years I find Pride in using this title. I married my Soldier right out of college & never felt the pressure that Kristin above stated to have many children even though I have 4 boys. I have taught school in TN, AK, & WA now . It is difficult sure to move around but I love the lifestyle. I think that is the difference in the Military Families . Either you learn to embrace this life style & all that goes with it or you may flounder . Then you may not find that sense of Pride for your Soldier, your Country, & most importantly YOUR sacrifice as a Military Spouse/Family.
    It did take me a few years being married to a soldier to learn the ropes & find the way to get my voice heard on issues, but it is possible. I have found so many wonderful Army Wives who have helped & guided me along the way. With each Deployment my husband does I become more & more PROUD to be called an Army Wife.
    It is not an easy life we choose, but one of honor because not many can do it! Especially in today’s Military world of multiple deployments.

    “Distance is not for the fearful, it is for the Bold. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone, in exchange for a little time with the one they Love.It’s for those knowing a good thing when they see it – even if they don’t see it nearly enough.”

    Reply
  8. Sorry my first post I meant- that I never felt the need to have many children that the blogger speaking to Kristin stated.

    Reply

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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website: http://kristenjtsetsi.com

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