Help me give informed consent about being an Army wife.
January 16, 2007 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Help me give informed consent about being an Army wife. Ridiculous amounts

(Caveat: this is really long! I get totally rambly. Sorry. I'm working this out as I go along, man.)

I’m an early-thirties girl in a serious, long-distance relationship with a late-thirties career Army officer.

He would like us to get married.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to say yes, and the larger part of me feels really good about this choice: I love him; we’re a really, really good fit – sexually, emotionally. We find each other hilarious, and we just really like each other. I want to have his babies. He’s excited about knocking me up. We have dovetailing thoughts on how marriage and parenthood ought to be approached. On matters of opinion and preference – religion, politics, whether tuna sandwiches should involve pickles or not – we either agree or are fine with disagreeing.

The smaller part of me is going “OMGWTF?!?”

What’s giving me pause is not the fact that he’s in the Army, per se. I don’t have political issues with what he does. I am not preemptively terrified about his safety. I’m a largely upbeat, not-anxious girl, and I’m okay with being apart from my partner for long stretches.

He thinks I’d be good at being an Army wife, by which he means: I’m cheerful and naturally happy, I’m independent, but I also really like to be the person in the support role. I think he’s right about that part of it.

But I’m also from a liberal-hippie California background. I’m not a registered Democrat because sometimes I vote Green (BITE ME.) I’ve lived in big cities all my life. I’m a writer. I drive a hybrid. I like to go to indie-rock shows and I shop at pretentious organic farmer’s markets.

…also, I’m not as much of a jerk as that makes me seem, I swear. I mention those things because my concern, in thinking about marrying the dude, is not about the… political or philosophical differences between my life and his. It has more to do with the social/community aspects.

I think I have a pretty good sense of what it will be like to be married to him, but I’ll also be sort of married to the military, and I have no idea what it would be like to be an Army wife, particularly the specific variety of Army wife I’d be with him.

The dude works in a very, very male-dominated environment. The only ladies are the wives and girlfriends of the soldiers in question. On my visits, he’s introduced me to various couples and families, and my perception is that this is a pretty gender-segregated and often quite formal environment. The menfolk work in this tremendously macho setting, and the wives… are referred to as “the wives”. They have book clubs. The commander’s wife apparently has teas.

I’m actually okay with this. I think. I’d just like to know what I’m getting myself into.

As a bachelor officer, the dude is not the best source of information on what goes on among the families and wives. Frankly, I suspect he’s as mystified by “the wives” as I am. On his suggestion, I’m reading The Army Officer’s Guide, which is interesting, and would be really useful. If I wanted to be an Army officer. (Bless him.)

I’ve thought about asking his best friend’s wife, but I’m aware of a certain amount of “OMG HOW DO YOU HANDLE THIS LIFESTYLE?!?” judginess in my attitude, so I’d really rather get my head around this before I ask real women for tips.

I’ve flipped through a few other books directed toward military wives, and found them unhelpful. I don’t need advice on how to throw a formal tea. I just want to know what my day-to-day life will be like if I say yes.

I’m looking for ANYTHING that accurately portrays Army-wifeness: personal experience, memoirs, advice books, novels, blogs, etc etc. I’d be especially pleased with anything that’s sort of bright and funny and sarcastic, and approaches military life from an outsider’s perspective. The memoir-type books I’ve looked through struck me as not-terribly-smart. (Sorry.)

I’m asking this question anonymously (mostly because I don’t want it connected to my published stuff) so I set up an email address – - if you have questions or wanted to mention something not-in-public. I promise to keep whatever you might like to say in confidence.

But since I can’t publicly respond to follow-up questions, here are some more factoids:

*He’s not going to leave the Army, I don’t want him to, and I wouldn’t ask, any more than he would ask me to stop being a writer.

*Our marriage will be more complementary than equal, in terms of our careers. Part of my job will be to support his. I’m okay with this, and being a writer makes it a lot more feasible, but I’d like more information on it before I commit.

*Living together before marriage isn’t something I’m willing to do. I guess I could temporarily move near him and scope things out for six months or something, but geez, at some point I’m still going to have to take a leap of faith, you know?

*This is going to sound kind of dumb. Um. But as a pinko-hippie Californian, I have certain expectations of pregnancy and childbirth. How likely am I to find a midwife and a doula in Georgia?

I guess the above is actually symptomatic of the main thing I’m wrestling with: will I find People Like Me on an Army base in the South? (…that totally makes me sound like a judgmental jerk. Sorry. I’ve never lived in the South, or on an Army base, and I don’t know. I’m trying to learn! Help me!)

Finally, if you have a lot of anxiety about FASCIST POLICE STATE and the military and things like that, that’s fine, but I hope it’s clear from my question that I’m not asking your feelings about the military or Iraq in general.

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up on, or right beside, several military (Navy) bases. Base life is safe, especially for kids, but boring. Off base life in towns around major Army and Naval bases is middle class, to lower middle class, due to military pay scales, and the kinds of things military families, who are frequently transferred, are looking for in local communities, which are usually schools, and cost effective retail establishments, rather than upscale amenities and erudite lunch companions.

The service ethic is one of shared sacrifice, and expected loyalty. You become an Army wife by demonstrating an understanding of your husband's service ethic, and a personal willingness to sacrifice, and do things the Army way. Being an officer's wife comes with certian community responsibilities, and your willingness to accept and perform in those roles will reflect on your husband.

In some ways, my Dad's career in the Naval Reserve was a partnership for my mother. She became President of Navy Wives at one of the largest Naval Air Reserve bases in the U.S., which is no mean feat for an enlisted man's wife. In that role, she had some really difficult tasks, not the least being that she was the one sent to go to the homes of some families whose husbands had been killed on a training excercise, and help them arrange to move, as they lost their base housing billets on the death of their husbands and fathers. But this was back in early '60s, and the military has assumed a greater role in the family support mission, I'm told, in recent years. And yet, here in Jacksonville, FL, where there is still a large Navy presence, military families continue with the same kinds of economic struggles and life choices that they always have. It's tough on kids when Dad goes away 6 or 9 or 12 months at a time, and that is what happens. It's tough on Mom when Dad comes back, and wants to pick right up being Dad.

It is, at times, anything but easy.

But I think both my mother and father found it rewarding, and when they died, I found in their papers hundreds of letters, documents, and addresses of other Navy personnel, who they kept up with for 30 years after my father retired from the Navy, which demonstrated the fondness that they continued to have for their Navy "shipmates" right up until they themselves died. If it is really going to take a mid-wife and a doula to make you happy to bear his kids, you might want to think things through a bit further. You can probably find a mid-wife and maybe even a doula around Ft. Benning, or Ft. Gordon, but it might not be as a result of referral from other Army wives.
posted by paulsc at 9:40 PM on January 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I came across a great blog (Slate Diary?) from a military wife. Funny and snarky. She laughed about how the wives actually organize themselves according to their husbands' hierarchy (e.g., it's the commander's wife who gives teas). But sadly, I can't find it. Just writing to hopefully jog someone's memory... Anyone? Good luck with your research and decision.
posted by salvia at 9:46 PM on January 16, 2007

FWIW, I'm a registered Democrat and have voted for several Green candidates. How far away will you be from Atlanta, Savannah, or Athens? I'd think you could find midwives/doulas
posted by brujita at 9:48 PM on January 16, 2007

My two best friends from high school married each other a few years after college. She grew up in the Village, her dad was Ed Koch's speechwriter, she went to Vassar, she was a intelligent and assertive liberal. He is from Queens, Navy ROTC in college, went career Navy, and last time we were in touch was a Commander.

I'll break this to you hard: last time we corresponded they were both near-complete Bushies. Still splendid people but, by our standards, raving right-wingers. Life on military bases changes people, and if the community you're living in and raising children in has one point of view held fervently by an almost total majority, you'd have to be utterly committed to any opposing view not to drift towards them over the decades.

I'm not saying you're going to abandon your principles; I'm suggesting that if over 20 years that girl became a patriotic pro-war conservative, then so probably does just about everyone who starts out at all politically moderate or uncommitted. So you are not really likely to find more than the occasional lefty feminist among the wives.

Or among the men: remember, you're moving into a world where all gay men are closeted. If you've been living the urban hipster latte-drinking organic-produce life, you're probably used to a lot of the cool men you meet being gay and proud, and you may miss that.

Also, and sorry: but when he's overseas, and you're raising the kids, the fact that he wouldn't ask you to stop being a writer won't help you find time to write.

All that said: you love the guy. If you didn't marry him, you would always know that you gave up this chance for real happiness because it might be otherwise awkward or difficult. And that's enough to know, to know that in the balance you're doing the right thing.
posted by nicwolff at 10:10 PM on January 16, 2007

Salvia, is this the piece you read?
posted by concrete at 10:17 PM on January 16, 2007

AirForce brat in the 70s and 80s.

Will you find people like you on an Army base in the South?

Well, unless things have changed, where the base is shouldn't make much difference. Base is base is base, a little slice of generic-but-somewhat-excessively-southern America wherever it gets put. If anything, I would expect that you might find life on-base to be somewhat more liberal and vastly more racially integrated than you might find off-base in the rural south. Most of the modern military, AFAIK, is ruthlessly and intolerantly integrated and family life is expected to follow suit.

I can't promise that you'll find a lot of people with liberal-hippie tendencies. But when I was a kid and adolescent, there were a lot of smart, active, with-it women who were military wives. Often strong and independent in their own ways, even if their independence might have been sort of compartmentalized.

Unless things have changed or he has an odd job for the Army, one thing you don't mention is that you can expect to move every 2 to 3 years, 4 at the outside, until he retires. Right now he's at Fort Benning, or wherever in GA he is. In 2 years, you might be setting up house in Baumholder or K-town, and 2 years later you might be in DC, or Fort Sill OK, or White Sands. Repeat ad nauseam.

Unless things have changed, DoD schools overseas are generally quite good. Not likely to be the best school ever, but very very unlikely to be bad.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 PM on January 16, 2007

concrete, that diary was interesting, but not what I remember.

I've been searching around more... What I read might've been something by Karen Houppert. Here's an interview, and an article called Against the War But Married To It. Hmmm... The blog or article's protagonist (at least for a couple paragraphs or entries) was someone just on the borderline of doing what it took to fit into military wife propriety and cracking, and pretty funny, too bad I keep striking out.

But a lot of stuff has similar content on what the propriety entails (or used to, anyway). Check this out. Also, I'm sure you found SpouseBuzz?
posted by salvia at 10:30 PM on January 16, 2007

My father was in the army for twenty years and, though she never wore a uniform, so was my mother. The army demands a tremendous amount of sacrifice from military wives, both formally and informally. There are definitely teas and "coffees" that you'll be expected to attend, as well as other events. And believe me when I tell you that your absence at them would be noted and relayed to your husband's commanding officer by his wife. My father once got called into his boss' office so that his boss could express his concern that he didn't see my father in church more. That's the level of blurriness between personal and professional life that we're talking about here.

You'll also have to take on pretty much all of the childrearing and housekeeping duties yourself. When your husband's "in the field," it's not like you can call to say, "Honey, Johnny's sick and needs to be picked up from school."

Living off-post helps keep the army culture at arm's length, though that may not be an option if you choose to take an overseas tour at some point (which I highly recommend.) Also, in some housing markets, military housing is too cheap to pass up.

You don't mention concerns about raising kids within the military culture, but I must say that I loved being a military brat (that's a pretty accurate and informative article, by the way). Living all over the country and the world was absolutely the best part of my childhood. I'd been to every country in Europe before I graduated middle school-- how many kids can say that? I think I also developed a certain degree of worldliness and a strong global perspective, both of which have certainly reinforced my liberalism in adulthood. ;)

As for texts...
This article was fairly accurate. If you can get your hands on a paper copy at your local library, you should-- I remember that the pictures were pretty telling (and hilarious).
This essay seems to parallel your situation pretty closely.
posted by chickletworks at 11:18 PM on January 16, 2007

Approach the South with an open mind. People here can tell pretty quickly if you think Southerners are all racist red-necks. I live in middle Georgia, and there is an active pagan list for local people, so there are liberals and the like even here. I grew up in California, too, and yet I like it here better. It isn't for everyone, though.

I also didn't notice you talking about how you'd raise your children. Would your potential husband be in the military for the child(ren)'s entire childhood? That is far different than you being the single parent for an x number of years you worked out in advance.

You sound like you will be happy, though, so congrats.
posted by Monday at 11:23 PM on January 16, 2007

I am not an army wife, but I am an expat wife living on a very small island in South Korea. I am 26 years old, my husband is 33, and he works in an industry where he is on the very far side of young. In other words, the majority of women I have access to are old enough to be older than my mother.

I am a lot like you — independent, very liberal, brash and outgoing and outspoken, and I wondered for a long time how I, a square peg, would fit into a micro-society where wives are expected to fit into a nice round hole.

We have been living overseas for near two years now, and this is what I have found:

Do not expect to make profound friendships. It may happen, but most of the people you hang out with will simply be your peers, not your friends, and once circumstances change, you'll now longer have anything in common with them.

You will, however, be surprised at the variety of women and (men) you will meet. These are women just like you, some with more experience or different values or hobbies or whatever, but you will be able to take many lessons away from your relationships with them.

You considered yourself to be pretty open-minded — if that's true, then don't judge these women on some preconceived stereotype when you haven't even met them. And don't knock the book clubs (for the ladies in my town, this is their one change to really have a "night out" away from kids, husbands, housework, stress, whatever). You will find things that you love, no matter where you are.

As a housewife you'll have unlimited time and experiences to put towards your writing. You'll also have opportunities to see parts of the world that few people can even imagine.

The question I asked myself was this: would I be happier at home, alone and without him, or would I happier with him, no matter how miserable the place we lived was. I decided that i would be more miserable without him, and so I said yes. We got married, and then two weeks later we moved. Lucky for me, I love my current situation, but I wasn;t sure it would be that way until I gave it a chance.

Lastly, keep this in mind — the two of you will be committing to a life together. To me, the experiences we are having as a couple now, without kids, without worries about money, with work basically taking care of our housing and bills, leave us free to enjoy each other and get to know each other (as well has develop memories and stories for later) better than any ordinary situation would have.
posted by Brittanie at 12:00 AM on January 17, 2007

If you do go through with it, you simply must report back. For Posterity!
posted by alexei at 12:18 AM on January 17, 2007

I don't know what I'm talking about, but I do know enough to caution you: Take his career planning seriously. Not everyone is allowed to retire from the military, and those who are often have serious health problems in the first retirement years.

Get married. Enjoy each other. Keep an eye on the long term.
posted by ewkpates at 3:04 AM on January 17, 2007

I have no experience with the military, but I will urge you to reconsider your stance against living together before marriage. Part of loving someone, I think, is seeing them every day, warts and all. Suddenly living together, married, after being in a long-distance relationship is a recipe for disaster in 99 out of 100 cases.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:37 AM on January 17, 2007

"the wives actually organize themselves according to their husbands' hierarchy. . ."

A friend of a friend is actually struggling with exactly this problem right now. Honestly, that is one of the things that would bother me most about the whole thing, and I would really have to think about essentially having my friends chosen for me by rank. If your guy's peers' wives aren't people with whom you have anything in common (say, if you were an architecht and they were all SAHM's with no college degree, and YES, I'm generalizing, and I know that's terrible, but I need an EXAMPLE) then you may have a hard time of it indeed. Even if you mean well, something as stupid as your vocabulary may alienate someone, and that's just out here in the real world.

If you are on an Army base in Georgia, I'm gonna guess Fort Benning or else whatever the base is in Savannah. If you are close to Savannah, then I think you have a better chance of being okay. Savannah has Savannah College of Art & Design and tends to have a little of the pinko commie of its own, like any town with a large(ish) art school. Ft Benning on the other hand gets protesters every year about the School of the Americas and is in the middle of nowhere. I may be wrong, but the comparison holds up -- if you are near to a real population center, then you have a fighting chance of being able to make it.

Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:44 AM on January 17, 2007

There is a good documentary about military brats called "Brats: Our Journey Home" that I recommend watching. While meant for the children it'll give you a great idea of how things work on the inside. The stories aren't endemic to everyone, but overall there is a subculture that can be seen. You sound savvy enough to navigate it with ease once you know all of the components.

If there is one thing I could point out to you, it's the diversity you will find in the military. Yes, along gender lines it isn't the best but race, background, even nationality... there are a lot of people in it. Navigating that is the hard part.

NMFA is also worth a look.

I'm a brat and about as liberal as possible, which is to say you won't be alone, others like you are out there, though you might need to meet them halfway. e.x.: I find shooting to be a wonderful meditation. I control my breathing and still my thoughts and body, before depressing the trigger. That's a meditation, and I get a fairly detailed record of it too.
posted by jwells at 5:16 AM on January 17, 2007

Books you might read (I do hope your snark at book clubs was humorous):

Going overboard : the misadventures of a military wife by Sarah Smiley.
Home fires burning : married to the military -- for better or worse by Karen Houppert.
Today's military wife : meeting the challenges of service life Lydia Sloan Cline.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:25 AM on January 17, 2007

marry him but wait a few years to have kids. if you really hate the military wife lifestyle, breaking up will be much easier without kids involved.
posted by matteo at 5:32 AM on January 17, 2007

The hierarchy of wives is less rigid than you might think.

Most officers have friends at the same rank. They are all about the same age, may have been to the same schools, and are facing the same issues at work and probably at home. When you're the same rank, you don't have to worry you might have to order some guy around tomorrow.

Their wives, also because they are probably close to the same age, and their husband's friends are the same rank, tend to group the same way. A Lieutenant or Captain's wife just having her first children isn't at the same place in life as a Lieutenant Colonel's wife whose kids are almost out of high school.

This can be a huge resource: at any time, there's someone around who has been through what you're going through, and can help.

The flip side is occasionally you'll run into a wife who people will say wears her husband's rank, and that can grate. Remember it's only temporary, and hope you do better when you're in her shoes. The Army is really big on what they call Family Readiness Group these days, which means the higher your husband's rank, the more you're expected to get involved. At a minimum you'll be expected to keep up with what's going on with the families of your husband's immediate subordinates.

If you want friends outside that structure, you're going to have to work on serious interests that take you away from base.
posted by atchafalaya at 6:02 AM on January 17, 2007

will I find People Like Me on an Army base in the South?

I doubt it, or very few at any rate. The problem is not the South, where there are all sorts of people and views, it's the Army. As others have said, Army bases have their own peculiar culture, rigidly enforced in all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and pinko/hippie/organic is definitely not part of that culture (unless things have changed a lot since I was familiar with it). I'm not saying you'll be ritually murdered, or even ostracized, just that you're unlikely to find a community of people with whom you can interact in ways you've been familiar with. Likely outcomes: 1) you gradually adapt to the surrounding culture and become a (much more conservative) Army Wife, who enjoys doing things that your present self would laugh/sneer at, or 2) you stay who you are and become increasingly isolated and embittered (and perhaps turn to drink, a frequent remedy). I'm not trying to scare you, just provide a healthy dose of realism. The Army is its own world, and it resembles the one you're used to in very few respects. Do as much research as you can before you take the plunge; talk to Army wives if you can find some, read blogs and books, don't depend on your honey (who, as you say, is almost as clueless as you about what life is like for Army wives, plus he's coming from a very different perspective). Good luck, and I hope things work out for you!
posted by languagehat at 6:15 AM on January 17, 2007

If it helps any, one of my sisters is a former career AF officer. She got out of the AF in the mid-90s when the military was downsizing and when she and her husband (also an AF officer) were facing possible assignment to different bases.

She is a liberal touchy-feely Wicca. She questions authority, albeit she knows the value and place of authority within the military. She is strongly anti-war. She found friends within the military. She has found friends in off-base communities.

We grew up as military brats. My two brothers were also officers (Army and Navy) for years. My impression is that by and large, the time of "formal teas" for officers wives is over. It's true that a military spouse and family reflect back on the officer's career -- but I don't think that's any more so, these days, than in some corporate structures. It's a social organism. People have expectations, people gossip, yada, yada, but as in any other arena, you are responsible for and capable of making the life you want to have.

For a longer-view perspective, my 83-year-old mother was an AF officer's wife for 32 years. This was back in the days of formal teas, OWC (officer's wives clubs), etc. She went through the motions but pretty much thought and did as she pleased, and actually wrote a series of witty semi-snarky columns for the base OWC publications. In that sense, she established herself as the house iconoclast pointing fun at the same people she was entertaining. She is, incidentally, profoundly anti-war and disillusioned with politicians; for years, she said her main reason for voting was to cancel out my father's conservative GOP votes. Now that he is no longer voting, her motivation is anti-Bush.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:47 AM on January 17, 2007

Just looking at your question again:

The menfolk work in this tremendously macho setting, and the wives… are referred to as “the wives”. They have book clubs. The commander’s wife apparently has teas.

Gosh, this is pretty retro. My experience/expectation is that this sort of thing went out --years-- ago. I really don't think this is a common thing now.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:53 AM on January 17, 2007

*Living together before marriage isn’t something I’m willing to do. I guess I could temporarily move near him and scope things out for six months or something, but geez, at some point I’m still going to have to take a leap of faith, you know?

I wouldn't recommend going straight from a long-distance relationship to marriage in most conditions, and given your reservations about being "married to the army", certainly not in these conditions. You may think that you and he are on the same wavelength regarding everything now, but you need to live in the same zip code to see how the other person handles money, stress, their social life, etc, in a day-to-day manner. And, the only one who can determine if Army life is right for you is you. Moving to an apartment close to the base for six to nine months is an excellent way to get a feel for the place before committing your life to it. Scope it out for yourself. Marriage is always a leap-of-faith, so look before you leap.
posted by donajo at 7:28 AM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

The hierarchy of wives is less rigid than you might think.

I'll second this. My mother (wife of now-retired Marine) was friends with a woman when we lived near DC whose husband was *very* high up in command- they were running buddies.

My mother did what you're thinking about doing- married a military man after a long distance courtship. I don't believe she'd say she regrets it for a second. They didn't live together, either; they were barely in the same country before they got married. So, ignore the pressure on living together- do what is best for you.

Our family lived on base growing up- for a kid, it was paradise! Kids everywhere! Another thing about living on base is that just because the base is in the south doesn't mean you'll be living with Southern people- they'll be people from all over the country who have been stationed on that base, so you'll probably find more diversity than you think. On base in Japan, there were enough theatre dorks to have a fabulous community theatre group.

I can't imagine you're the only military wife to ever feel this way. And because of the built-in support of the military system, you'll be able to find someone to talk to about it- whether through casual friendships or support groups. And I think Brittanie is right on. I say go for it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:56 AM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

How likely am I to find a midwife and a doula in Georgia?

Google Search: doula Georgia: Also, Google Maps is your friend. "doula near [base location], GA" produces results — example with Fort McPherson.
posted by WCityMike at 8:04 AM on January 17, 2007

A couple of online things to read:

The Army Wives Club (article at The Morning News)

There are lots of blogs by Army wives, many of them not terribly well-written. Trying to Grok actually is well-written. Sarah, the author, cannot be descibed as liberal, but she loves being an Army wife; she has a master's (in literature, I believe); and she has run the gamut from living in on base in Germany to living off-base in the U.S. She's also very friendly--I wrote to her a few times and she was willing to answer questions. She might be easier to approach than are women you meet through your potential fiance.

I was a Marine girlfriend for four years, including two deployments to the Middle East. A few things:
To DNAB and the others who suggest that the OP live with the fiance before they get married, it may not be feasible. If he's living in Bachelor quarters on base, she can't move in with him there, and if he chooses to move off-base, he'll probably get a housing allowance, but it will be calibrated for a single guy, much lower than the allowance for a married man.
To the OP: He may be stationed in Georgia now, but there's no guarantee that he'll be stationed there for long. Even if you can find everything your lifestyle requires around his current base, you'll have to be prepared for many years of living in areas where those resources are simply not available.
I was going to write more, but I don't have time now. I will say this, though: For me, part of the survival/coping mechanism for getting through deployments was, to some extent, believing in the mission. I had to support my ex, which meant encouraging his morale, which meant being supportive of the work he was doing. You may be different, of course. He and I broke up 1.5 years ago; to say that my attitudes toward the war have changed since then is an understatement.

I don't know how much more I can help you, but feel free to e-mail me, if you want. Good luck.
posted by CiaoMela at 8:12 AM on January 17, 2007

The 'base location' link should go to this link. Demmit.
posted by WCityMike at 8:13 AM on January 17, 2007

It's not retro at all, Robert Angelo. It's military wives.

Most (not some) military wives wear their husband's ranks. It's a strict pecking order, from the top down, and if you don't get along with the wife of someone of higher rank than your husband, too fucking bad, you're going to smile and pretend you like her anyway, because if she starts badmouthing you to her husband and it affects your husband's career.....

The first thing a military wife will want to know is your husband's rank, and if her husband is tied with yours, the date he was last promoted (whoever was that rank longest is senior). That immediately establishes your relationship: either she is your master, or you are hers. Oh, you'll get along, you'll be friendly, but that knowledge will exist in the back of your head.

You will be Expected to Participate in wife social events. Not to do so is weird. Weird people and husbands who can't control their wives get passed over for promotion.

By and large, they'll be catty, not terribly well-educated, conservative, stay at home moms. Some may work, many in fact, but they won't have careers - they'll work at Walmart or the base PX bagging groceries. You'll find few people with similar sensibilities to yourself. I'm sure there will be a few - but only a few. You will not have any male friends.

If you do something silly like go to an anti-war protest or write an anti-war letter to the local newspaper, you'll be ostracized and it will be a black mark on your husband's career.

You will move every three years, sometimes more often. This will not be a move around the block, but more likely, around the world. Don't worry so much about Georgia - you won't be there forever.

He will be gone for weeks at a time routinely, for six months at a time occasionally, and for a year at a time at least a couple of times in his career (this is in peacetime, much less war!). Try these words on for size: "One year unaccompanied tour". That's a year in a foreign land without wife or kids. He'll kiss you and the kids goodbye when they're three, and kiss them hello when they're four. Kiss them goodbye again when they're eight, kiss them hello when they're nine.

Actually, given his age, he might be thinking about retirement. He'll be eligible to retire in five years or so. If you can insist on an immediate retirement (and a second career for him), the military problems have a foreseeable end. If he's a lifer, he could go another 20 years. You need to have a talk about retirement.

Every time a large unit returns from an extended deployment, the local courts get a wave of divorces and domestic violence cases. Around 1 in 100 married couples divorce each year. Around 5 in 100 married military couples divorce each year.

However, there are good aspects. While he's gone, you have only to show up at a local club without your wedding ring, and you'll find many strapping young men, all regularly tested for HIV, that would be happy to take you home for the night.
posted by jellicle at 8:15 AM on January 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have absolutely nothing of substance to add other than I laughed out loud (with you, not at you!) when I read sometimes I vote Green (BITE ME.) . And I wish I could find out what you've published, because I love how you write and would be really interested to read more of you! Maybe someday I'll pick up your stuff from a shelf on just pure luck.

I wish you all the best in this. FWIW, it sounds like you'll be totally fine in whatever you decide to do!
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:35 AM on January 17, 2007

I was beginning quite a novel on my perception of what my mother's experience was being a military wife, and my own experience as a military brat, but I think I can boil it down to a few main points and questions.

Are you fulfilled enough in a long-distance relationship to have his absence be a fact for the rest of your life?

He could be gone for 10 months, then home for three, gone for six months, home for two weeks, gone for a week, home for five months, and on and on and on. My father was most often out to sea in 6-week chunks, but some duty stations he was in port all the time and home every night. My perception of my parents' relationship while I was growing up was definitely that of a respectful partnership, of good friends who happened to be married. Whatever strong romantic attachment they may have had, it mellowed considerably during his 25 years in the service (they married right after he graduated from the academy). They had a life together, but much of their lives were separate, with their own rules, expectations, and goals. My dad was able to be home for all of his children's births and major events, not all military dads are so lucky. You will have to be okay with someone else having demands on him that outrank you.

Can you be a single mother? Are you okay with him being the "fun" parent?

When my dad was away, and even often when he was in port but still working, my mom was both parents. So Dad was fun. Being with him was a treat. He had no hand in daily discipline or making lunches or dealing with scraped knees and fevers for weeks, and then when he was home the mutual joy of being together of course meant dinners out and family field trips. Although my dad tried very hard (much harder than most military fathers I have known) to be involved in every aspect of our lives, he simply wasn’t there all the time. It sets up a very uneven dynamic of parenting in kids’ lives, you will not be perceived the same way as your husband by your children. As a kid I intensely feared disappointing him; I worried somewhat about enraging my mom. As an adult, I have a great deal of respect for and emotional/intellectual connection with my father; I have a strained but affectionate relationship with my mother. Other factors that may weigh in are gender and personality (I’m female, Dad and I have identical Meyers-Briggs types), but the influence of his job was always there.

"Part of my job will be to support his."

It shows a lot of insight on your part to have recognized this, but this won't just be your careers, it will be your lives. My mother changed career paths to be able to be mobile as a military wife. Although she denies it, I feel some part of her has always resented making that choice. She struggled to mold herself as a military wife and it wasn’t easy for her, but after he retired she was clearly lost and without a direction. Only several years after his retirement does she now seem to be putting together a self-identity separate from what my father does for a living. I think you will fare better, you became involved with your guy later in life and seem to have a solid sense of self-worth. But your entire life, from where you live to how your children will grow up to who you spend your evenings entertaining will be inexorably defined by the fact you are married to a man in the military. Whether you let that define your selfhood is up to you. If you can manage to maintain your own activities and career, have your own accomplishments to claim, and can derive personal joy from supporting your husband then the military life doesn't have to be a burden. Trying to go in with your eyes open will help you immensely. I wish my mom had been able to ask this question decades ago.

Your children will have a distinctly different childhood from you and from many of their peers.

This is a mixed bag. I personally think I gained a lot from growing up all over the country. I learned to be outgoing and curious about my surroundings. I am able to make friends with many different kinds of people and handle new situations and challenges with grace. I got to see and experience much more than other children my age. Even as a young child I had to learn to be polite and have some measure of self control. When we lived on base I was free to play outside unattended for hours, completely safe. I have to this day a close and deeply satisfying relationship with my siblings.

But I’m not “from” anywhere. I have adopted the state we were stationed in most often, but I don’t have a hometown. I find it alarmingly easy to let people go, to let communication drop and people from my past fade out of my life. I have had many many many friends from all background and places, but I can count on one hand my truly lasting friendships. I have a restless spirit; I have a compulsion to rearrange my life or at least my furniture completely every two years at least. But, my childhood was mine; I don’t know any other and it made me who I am so I wouldn’t change anything.

I don't think a military lifestyle is for everyone, but I think you can hack it. You seem to have the right kind of relationship with your guy to make it work in that context, and if you have to kowtow to the hens well you can write them in as antagonists in your novels. I do wish you all of the best, and do think having the foresight to know what you're getting into reflects very well on you. You should have a conversation with his best friend's wife. Does she seem like someone you would want to spend time with without the overt connection? You will want support within the military system, someone who can truly sympathize with what goes on in your life. Start building it now.

All the best to you!
posted by malacologist at 8:57 AM on January 17, 2007

You say you're comfortable in the support role. Will you be comfortable defining yourself first and foremost as a wife? How will you feel about joining the officer's wives club? How will you feel about living on a base, where the PX serves as a government substitute for Wal-Mart and the base movie theater shows big-budget Hollywood dreck exclusively?

My husband was an enlisted man in the Coast Guard for 10 years. He and I come from extremely different backgrounds, sounds kind of similar to Anonymous & Captain Anonymous's situation. I found base life unbearable and after a while insisted we move off base. I had nothing in common with the Enlisted Men's Wives Club. Granted, the officers are likely to be better educated than the enlisted troops, and perhaps less provincial and more interesting and open to new ideas, but I still found it a relief when he separated from the military and we could return to "private life." Anonymous, your mileage is certain to vary but I personally would advise you to proceed with caution.
posted by scratch at 9:04 AM on January 17, 2007

Ft. Benning is closest to Columbus, not Savannah as previously suggested. A google search of "doula Columbus GA" turned up plenty of hits.
posted by somanyamys at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2007

Ack, premature posting. Also wanted to wish you the best of luck. He'll be one lucky Army officer if he gets you.
posted by somanyamys at 9:41 AM on January 17, 2007

Okay, I have zero experience with being in the army, being related to the army, or even being near the army. However, I do have several close friends who are military wives, and a lot of what you'll hear above seems absolutely true -- the reporting back of YOUR behavior and attendance to your husband's superiors, etc.

I met these women mostly thru mailing lists and online parenting groups. If you do anything radical or slightly granola parenting-wise, you likely won't find a lot of support for it locally, so we find ourselves sharing resources and building friendships right here on the good ol' internets. Online friendships turn into visits and friendships in real time, and they are surprisingly deep and genuine. When the time comes, feel free to email me for some resources.

One thing all the "weird" military wives that are actually making it work have in common seems to be a sense of humor. Go thru the motions, put up appearances, and then feel free to snark about it all in an anonymous blog or by email or on the phone to your liberal-ass friends or whatnot. It won't be ALL bad -- you'll likely find things about your life and the people in it that you'll be grateful you didn't miss -- but for the less than savory parts, laughing a little can go a long, long way.
posted by houseofdanie at 9:50 AM on January 17, 2007

I second a lot of what jellicle says. Especially the By and large, they'll be catty, not terribly well-educated... paragraph. I'm a service member (Navy), and my wife won't have anything to do with the wives' club or anything like that. She's a professional, has worked in the real world for many years. They're mostly military-since-high-school, possibly with service industry jobs, moms. There just isn't much they have in common.

Turns out, though, that it doesn't affect me at work as much as everyone is saying. We have to go to the occasional mandatory fun event and pretend to not want to poke our own eyes out. She doesn't have to participate in the lame club events/fundraiser bake-sale thingys, and nobody thinks anything about it.

The only thing that would affect me is if she told off someone she shouldn't. So it's better she stays away from them as much as possible. Heh.
posted by ctmf at 11:23 AM on January 17, 2007

I'll second Lily Burana's Slate diary (linked to by concrete above). She also has a website, complete with blog.
posted by paleography at 1:40 PM on January 17, 2007

Okay. I've already responded via your email address but after reading some of the responses by people (most not even associated with the military) I feel compelled to say something in a more public forum. First, I am currently the spouse of a military member. My husband's been in the military for over 20 years and based on his rank, I guess that I'm the one who is supposedly having these mandatory "teas" and requiring other spouses to suck up to me. Let me just say -- no freaking way! The spouses I've met in the military (the vast majority of which are women) are intelligent, funny and most importantly, incredibly adventurous -- you'd have to be in order to be willing to pull up stakes every two years. I have never, let me repeat NEVER, felt forced to join a group or volunteer to do something or be nice to someone I didn't like already. Right now, we're stationed in the South and like you, I was slightly apprehensive based on my preconceptions about the area but even in this relatively small community, I've found a food co-op I like, a coffee shop I can loiter at, and a used book store I frequent. I am a registered Democrat and although I've been teased about it from more conservative friends (getting pictures of George W. Bush plastered to my car), I'm never felt that I couldn't express my opinions. At the base we're currently at, my neighbors (spouses only) consist of the following: a engineer (and vocal athetist) who works outside the home; a mexican-american stay-at-home mom who makes a fantastic chicken mole and pops in for coffee all the time; an artist and reiki practitioner who's kids are all grown up; and another stay-at-home mom who is a practicing vegan and has a child my son's age who I share food co-op pick up duties with. They're all fun people. At the last base we were stationed at, there were more stay-at-home moms and we had a weekly cocktail playdate that meant we got to pull up chairs on the lawn, let the kids run wild, and drink alcohol until our spouses got home. Not stuffy at all. I truly don't know where the more negative posters have gotten their information but if my experience was the same as theirs, I would have stabbed myself in the eye with a red hot poker a long time ago. Best of luck to you whatever decision you make.
posted by notcomputersavvy06 at 2:00 PM on January 17, 2007

First, I commend you for taking the time to really think this through and try to understand the various aspects of it.

Second, I'm pretty sure that you can safely relax and not worry nearly as much you seem to be.

The stereotypical "military wife" lifestyle of the 50s-80s is largely an optional thing, in the year 2007. My mother (and 2 stepmothers), married to my Air Force colonel dad, sometimes participated in "officers wives clubs" events, and sometimes didn't - back in the 70s/80s. In the 90s, the social pressure to conform and fit in really seemed to fade away, and has continued to do so - dramatically.

And now, as an AF officer myself for nearly 10 years, my wife has never - NEVER - been required or even "strongly encouraged" to fit in with the hen-like mentality of many of the base wives. My wife has, quite simply, lived her life, had her own job (off-base), and rarely interacts with other military wives (except a few that she really likes and enjoys in non-military-social settings). Hasn't affected my career one bit.

It *might* be a bit different for the Army - a few more decades of tradition, after all - but I really don't imagine that you would "have" to participate any more or less than you feel comfortable with.

And finding midwives - or virtually any other modern-day service, goods, or lifestyle buddies - isn't too hard no matter where you live nowadays.

Of course, if your soon-to-be-husband is a general (of any # of stars), then everything above is null and void. There ARE some specific rules and requirement for spouses of generals -- even paid training for them to attend "orientation classes" on how to be a general's wife.
posted by davidmsc at 5:04 AM on January 20, 2007

Also: yes, there are still plenty of military wives who adhere to the old rules and expectations - but that is because they CHOOSE to, or they think it will help their husband's career (not likely), or they simply enjoy that aspect of being a military wife. Or, in the opinion of my wife, they are simply hen-like idiots who enjoy wearing their husband's rank on their shoulder.

The bottom line is that you sound like someone who surely doesn't need any kind of "support system" or social interaction with those types of wives. You appear to be strong, independent, smart, and able to handle yourself quite well. You'll do fine as a wife to your husband - military setting or not.

Best wishes.
posted by davidmsc at 5:08 AM on January 20, 2007

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