What Joss Whedon & Army wives can teach you about being a future military spouse

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Bravo
Pop Wed Co - Michelle & Megan
Photo by Maggie Winters.

Being raised by hippie feminists, educated by women's colleges and women's studies classes, informed by Jezebel.com, cultured by big cities and traveling the globe creates well-rounded individuals. My fellow Army Wives, Echo and Kilo (who helped write this post) and I, are political progressives, feminists, and romantically involved with soldiers in the US Army. It's a crazy effing life. One might even say round pegs for the square hole of the US Armed Forces.

We are absolutely committed to telling it like it is as professional women with complicated sexualities, careers, aspirations, non-traditional religious affiliations, and cultural clashes with the military… as well as the love, support, and strength we draw from our significant others, ourselves, and our close and ever evolving friendships. And yeah, we had a couple o' gaps in our zeitgeist that we hope we can help you with.

In no particular order…

A is for Alpha, N is for November, P is for Papa, V is for Victor…

One needs to know the Military Alpha-Bravo, I mean, Alphabet. Why? Because no-one will be able to spell your (new) mutually-hyphenated last name in the Army without using it, and you will look like a tool if you can't do the same.

Here's a hot tip: Get on Netflix or Hulu and watch The Dollhouse. All the Dolls have call-signs in the Military Alphabet; NOVEMBER sex plots + Joss Whedon = LEARNING! Or download this Militaryspot.com article on the formula and history of the Military Alphabet to your Smart House touch-screen wall and have it follow you around reciting itself. Whichever works for you.

Consider getting married before your wedding

We did a poll, and 97% of all military couples we spoke to were legally married before they had a wedding. Now for full disclosure that's a sample size of 3 plus a >3% margin of error. So yeah, we all did it. Not a one of us planned to have two wedding dates, and while Bravo thinks of her wedding date as her anniversary, Kilo thinks of the marriage date as the anniversary. One of us is in the closet about it. Why? Because families are strange. Oh, why did we get married before we got married? Simple: Recognition, love, ability to live together, healthcare, spousal benefits, dire need, inability to finance the wedding without Basic Allowance for Housing, hospital visits, recognition, love, shared responsibility, practicality in the event something terrible happens.

Don't try to impress anyone but you… and bend, don't break

Know that life with a partner in the Military is full of surprises and be ready to roll with it. Embrace the reality of your friendships and familial relationships, and your budget, and uphold those specific parts of the experience that will make you joyful on your wedding day.

Echo had a military wedding including a Sabre Detail on a farm with all-vegetarian food and cinnamon buns for dessert. Bravo got hitched by not one but two female rabbis — first in her parent's living room and then in an IMAX theater (hey, the seats were built-in). Kilo is having her wedding at a restaurant so locavore and seasonal she doesn't even know what the menu will be at her reception in a month's time.

Keep your personal documents close

Need that Military Dependent ID? You will need your social security card, your birth certificate, your spouse, your spouse's ID, the signed marriage certificate… my Master's degree diploma might have been involved. Just make sure you know where all the things are before you get hitched. Put all the documentation together into one or more safe, fire-proof, lockable locations where you can access it when you need it. And make copies for when you misplace it all in your safe, logical location. You WILL need it. 

Say "yes" when you can and say "no" when you can't

Living this army life means saying yes to new friendships where you find them. And it means drawing a hard line when things aren't for you. Try the Family Readiness Group. Try the Young Professionals group. Try Meet-up.com. Try Sunday Google-hangouts with your distant buddies. Try new Amtrak routes. Try coffee shops and hiking trails in your state. Try planning the wedding where you can have control. Try trusting your friends and family to help you plan, run reconnaissance, taste-test, negotiate, haggle, threaten, pray or pay where you can't. Trust in the adventure. This is not a boring ride. 

Own a ball gown, or a professionally-appropriate outfit in which you feel comfortable being introduced to high-pay-grade people

If you own a handbook — and see, I do because when my husband proposed I thought I could use some self-help — it will use professionally negative language. Sometimes even nasty slut-shaming language. See "Top 10 Tips for Choosing a Classy and Not Trashy Ball Gown" in which you are advised not to pick a dress which requires boob tape or duct tape or tape of any kind. Wow. Not at all insulting. Check out a post I wrote on my blog about new dress codes at the Commissary, for more on the Army's attitude on how to train 18+-year-olds from poor, working class, and middle class backgrounds on how to be "professional" without using those words or implications or any sort of clear expectations. At. All. For visual confirmation watch Army Wives Season 1, Episode 1… otherwise known as the Ball Scene.

Research. Comparison Shop. Ask.

Why do Military Discounts exist? Because your spouse's pay sucks. Why do Military weddings exist? Because they allow people to take their unique circumstances and implements a full wedding program, fast and inexpensively. Why do Military couples have specific tax regulations or are exempt from registering their cars in their current state of residence? Because someone fought for making your life just a touch easier at some point in the past. Do your homework but there are vendors and venues out there who look out for Military families.

You signed no agreement and made no commitment beyond loving and honoring an individual

So you're marrying an Army member… Big Army is going to tell you that you are entering the FAMILY, mafia-style. Oh, and by this act you are also adopting all the protocol and standards of behavior that your partner is expected to adhere to, minus actually experiencing Basic Training yourself.

This. Is. Bullshit.

You signed no agreement and made no commitment beyond loving and honoring an individual. You can participate if you'd like. You can look for a Government Service (GSA) job on Post if you'd like. Think of your role as that of a Political Spouse… is it wonderful if the Senator's hubby accompanies her to a Party Fundraiser or comes to watch her vote on the Floor? Yes! But really, he's got his own thing most of the time and her job isn't his job. Be you. Act like you. Speak like you. Try not to deliberately insult or embarrass your partner. Be aware that some people in the Military still believe boys and girls can't be just platonic friends. Beyond that, love and honor and keep it real. 

Learn how to fight fair

Love is something you will always feel for your partner, but sometimes when you live with someone who shaves/irons/gets up at zero-dark-thirty every day, and speaks in ACRONYMS, and is gone for long periods of time… Yes, Virginia, love and severe annoyance are flip sides to one coin. So what should you do?

The best advice is this: LEARN HOW TO FIGHT FAIR. Followed closed by: FIGHT FAIR, JUST DO IT. Some things can't be un-said once spoken. Winning some battles means losing the war — or trust — the real heart of your relationship. Breathe deeply. [Editor's note: Read this post from Offbeat Home & Life.] Think before you speak/act/throw things. And always remember: no hitting.

Future and current Military spouses: What are your ABCs (Alpha, Bravo, Charlies) of marrying into the Armed Forces?

  1. Brilliantly written! Thank you for sharing. Dollhouse is amazing, I wish they didn't rush to finish it…(it seems that way to me).
    I had to learn the phonetic alphabet to work on the railway. My other half got me to practice with him as we played over xbox live (gears of war, halo and borderlands). It's a handy skill!

  2. Love this, thanks for the post!

    FH is a Navy reservist now, Air Force active duty when we met. It is definitely a whole new world and can be pretty tricky/hard at times to swallow the shit sandwiches that come our way as a result of having the military as the "third wheel" in our relationship. Servicemen and women have very different expectations compared to civilians, there is no "work is left at the office" concept in the military. What you do when you're theoretically off the clock, the ways people perceive your spouse, and whether or not you have financial problems are all things that can affect your career. At times my internal feminist rages at some of the BS things that are said to significant others, including myself (I hear you on the female targeted dress code thing!). I had to take DEEP breaths recently when I got a lengthy "his career is your career" conversation at his re-enlistment ceremony for the RESERVES from FH's superior. Really!?! Even when it's a part-time reservist duty where we're talking ~$400/mo? I am not busting my ass in graduate school right now because "his career is my career." Anywaaaaays….

    As you may have picked up, I am definitely challenged at times being a military spouse. And while the delivery and premise of "his career is your career" rubs me the wrong way, there is an element of that statement that I agree with. That is supporting each other equally to meet individual goals (professionally and socially) is extremely important to a relationship. When I met FH, he had a foot halfway out the door and was planning on getting out of the military altogether. However, when push came to shove, the military was such a huge part of his identity, I don't think he could fully give it up. FH has told me a few times that he would leave the military if it makes me really unhappy. But here's the thing, it makes him happy. So I choose to willingly suck it up and support him. It's been hard at times. He missed many weddings and a funeral (which was particularly hard) because of seemingly BS reasons like training and filling out paperwork. Obviously deployments are particularly stressful and hard. But being in an equal relationship means that both of us have to make compromises. He's made many compromises as he has supported me as I start my journey going back to school, and I've supported his journey transitioning to a *more* civilian life. It hasn't always been easy, but it almost always has been worth it.

    Anyways, that's my two cents to add to this string. You post is very insightful! Thank you again!

  3. Tell your husbands thank you for his service from me. My husband was already out of the Marines when we met, so I don't have anything to share or add about being a military spouse. Except that the military changes people, in good ways and bad, and a part of the military always stays with a vet.

  4. I've been a military spouse for just over four years now. My husband has been active duty for five and a half years – longer than I've known him. The most important thing that I have learned is that there are as many different types of people in the military as there are people in the military. There may be stereotypes about the type of people in the military, but my personal experience has shown me that the people actually in it run the full gamut of possibilities.

    Also from personal experience, most people don't care what the spouse wears. Match your formality level to your sponsor's uniform (ABU/BDUs = business casual, service dress = semi-formal, mess dress = cocktail/formal) and don't worry about the rest. I've been one of the only girls in a cocktail dress at a Formal Dining Out and no one took me (or my husband) aside to fuss about my breach in protocol. Keep it classy, have fun, and don't worry about the rest.

    Your career will suffer. There's no way around this. The military only offers so much flexibility. When they say move, you move. Sure they let you make lists, give you options, but the needs of the military will always win out and you'll go where they need your spouse. I'm not saying to give up on having a career, just to realize that some assignments (hello southern Turkey) do not bode well for continuing in a specific career field. You have to be flexible because in this the military won't be. Your job, promotion, or move to a new location will not be factored by the military.

    What you give up and what you gain are a trade off. We've missed a lot – births, deaths, weddings, funerals, graduations, holiday dinners, and all the thousands of things that are part of being in someone's life. We've also gained a lot – friendships that transcend time and distance. Holiday meals shared on the cold, dark, side of the road that are served out of the back of a pickup to the on duty members while you all gather into a shivering circle to share what you're grateful for that year. Always leave yourself open to the possibility of what might be – we've made some of our dearest friends within weeks of us or them leaving the country.

    It's going to suck. Your sponsor is going to not come home on time. You will move to locations that you absolutely hate, where the only good thing you can say is only 1 year, 10 months, and 22 days left in this place. There will be long days followed by nights where the phone never stops ringing. There will be special meals out, interrupted by a phone call where you finally let yourself rage righteously about what you give up to be a military spouse and there will be your spouse coming home to tell you that your squadron is burying the second service member in a month. There will be good commanders and there will be bad ones. There will be highs and lows. This is not an easy road.

    Let the people you walk this life with make it better. I'm not saying that you enter into a mafia style family where you shoulder your sponsor's rank and responsibilities. I am saying that there is a shared connection in belonging to the armed forces. You'll meet people and they will get it, because they're there too. Take the support from your family back home – let them send you care packages, let them get up at ungodly hours to Skype you, let them be there as they can.

    It's an amazing ride, being part of the military. There are incredible opportunities and staggering burdens. Really, it comes down to the fact that you will get out of it what you put in to it. Find people to be involved with, find something that you do just for yourself, find what anchors you and makes you strong. And hang on, because just when you think you know where this life will take you, it will change and you'll be off on another adventure.

  5. I'm newly engaged to an Army "water dog" (I've learned more about water purification in the last year than I ever thought possible)
    I'm bawling crying, but in a good way. I have been expecting to walk into a sea of yoga pant wearing, stroller pushing Stepford Wives. I'm so relieved there are people like me out there.
    I've been a political – and sometimes anti-goverment – activist my whole life. Feminist, vegan, anti-gun, pro-choice, pro Affordable Healthcare (hot damn will free Healthcare be awesome)
    And I go to my first banquet, which my fiancee is in charge of, this weekend and I'm TERRIFIED I'm going to give a general a piece of my mind.
    Thank you so much. Just thank you. This has been weighing on me since I realized I was in love a week into our relationship. We met the day he was promoted to sergeant. We PCS anytime next year so wedding planning starts now.
    Here's a swoon for you: My grandparents had a courthouse wedding because my grandfather was being shipped off to WWII. They were stationed at the same post my fiancé is right now. We are going to have a courthouse wedding in the same courthouse (The. Same. Courthouse.) with immediate family. And then have a party with each extended family (because of course they're on opposite coasts. Haha)
    I'm still crying I'm so relieved. I was so terrified.

  6. I'd like to add: embrace the hurry-up-and-wait. It will happen repeatedly; it's just the way the military works. And there is space for offbeat in military dependents. You'll find allies as often as you'll find judgers. I say this as an Air Force brat (even went to military dependent school) and wife of a Marine.

  7. Omg yes yes yes YES and THIS a thousand times over to this post. Thank you and I only wish I had read it 2 years ago.

    A lot of people have commented on the specific military life side. I second all that but also wanted to comment on the marriage/wedding side.

    I had no idea we were of the 97% when we skipped from the engagement to the courthouse steps; and felt lots of mixed feelings about our legal marriage (I'm changing my name and signing these forms, etc etc etc) but he's away on deployment and the reality of the beautiful wedding and all it signifies hasn't (and won't) hit him until the actual wedding.

    I had a somewhat identity crisis – I was the new last name to military and select family and friends (for all the reasons you so PERFECTLY articulated and I wish I had been able to express when asked), but otherwise I was my maiden name because in our mind and per our insistence, we hadn't had the "real wedding" yet. Plus we hadn't exchanged our own vows. We never voiced exactly what our beautiful commitment meant to each other specifically, but played all the parts of completely committed individuals. The formal ceremony and reception surrounded by family and friends was extremely important to him and just wasn't feasible for us until he was out of the military that following summer. I felt like I was in limbo for almost 2 years. Married but not wedded…? And yes – there IS a difference.

    I guess I would have felt a lot more relief in realizing the normalcy of our situation. Especially the "fight fair" one too.

    My husband and I are extremely good at long distance (we HAD to be because almost all of our relationship was), but 2 months after the wedding, and 6 months since our last extended period apart (and none more in sight), we are having to fall in love and relearn each other all over again. We are NOT used to being around each other this much and it's evident where our communications often break down.

    It's hard to get "back to basics" when you're already expecting your relationship to be at a certain point that it just isn't at. We've had all the big talks most couples don't even have (power of attorney, will, realistic worst case scenario talks, supporting each other emotionally and mentally even when not physically present, having hours to just talk and creating intimacy via conversation, extensive and detailed future plans, time to dream up and talk about all the family dreams, etc) but we are severely lacking in everyday communication skills. He says this, but I hear that, and vice versa. It will take us lots of time that we have to continually remember to be patient for.

    Thank you again for everything you wrote. Military life and marriage and weddings are hard, and yes, also worth it. But damn are they hard. And hearing others voice why and how it's challenging is in itself, a grand relief and makes it easier knowing we are not alone in our sentiments.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.