Should I buy fancy underwear? WHAT KIND?
September 17, 2007 4:24 AM   Subscribe

Besides the glaringly obvious, what might a soldier home on leave like to do?

My boyfriend (we're this couple, and he has graciously agreed to put that particular discussion on hold until he lives in this country again) is coming home on leave from an unpopular war, soonishly.

I live in LA. He will be flying in and spending a bit over a week with me before flying off to visit his parents and then going back.

I'm kind of freaking out about it. I like him very much, and I'm really excited to see him, but I also haven't seen him in quite a while now, and I feel weirdly shy.

Also, I don't know what the hell I should prepare for. Should I stock up on DVDs? What kinds? Would he want to catch up on Heroes? It's a really long trip: will he want to sleep as soon as he gets here? Should I not plan anything (even dinner) the first day? Should I buy a lot of meat and charcoal in case he wants to be manly and grill?

I'm trying not to freak out at him, of course, and he's said very polite things about how he'll just be happy to sleep in a nice bed with nice sheets, not get shot at, etc. But I'm sure there must be some things soldiers home on leave like to do. (Besides the obvious ones.)

Basically: I want to be supportive. I want him to leave my house relaxed and happy. I want him to go back feeling like he had a good leave, and like he's got his head right to face the next few months until he gets to come home.

Also, I want to learn the magic trick of not crying when I say goodbye, whatever that is.

I may be seriously overthinking this. Should I just buy a lot of milk and cereal and plan on not leaving the house for five days?

(Ack, see, now I'm overthinking that, becoming convinced that I'll be all over him and he'll go "You know... a man comes home from a war... he doesn't want to be pawed all the damn time like he's a piece of meat...")

SEE? I'm a wreck. Help!

PS: I hope I don't need to say this, but please don't be a jerk about the unpopular war part. I'm not excited he's there, either.

PS part II: The discussion being on hold doesn't mean that we don't like each other or anything. It's complicated. Someone has to give up a career for it to work out, so we're still figuring out the puzzle.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, to answer what appears to be the main question here...

Yes, OF COURSE you should buy fancy underwear.
posted by peacecorn at 4:45 AM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

how about picking up some big fluffy new towels for him, too? i would imagine that a very long hot fabulous shower and toweling off with a plush towel might be pleasantly lush after living in desert conditions.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:17 AM on September 17, 2007

Give him a really, really nice back massage. Actually, give him lots of really nice back massages and make breakfast in bed for him at least once.
posted by banannafish at 5:19 AM on September 17, 2007

I have no experience with this. But I guess he will just want to relax and spend lots of time with you. Go eat at some really nice places since he might not have been eating much but MREs. Sleep late. Seconding breakfast in bed. DEFINITELY get the fancy underwear as I bet after a shower that will be his #1 priority.
posted by schroedinger at 5:22 AM on September 17, 2007

I think it's okay to acknowledge that it might feel a bit weird when you first see each other. It happens, especially when you've spent a long period of time away from each other, and pretending it doesn't exist is only going to make it weirder and harder to reconnect.

I can't speak from direct experience, but I would imagine that someone on leave would probably like a feeling of returning to normalcy more than trips to Disneyland and "let's do this and this and this". He probably wants to see you, be with you (agreed with the fancy underwear), and for the most part, feel like he's as far away from the war as possible. I'd stock the fridge with beer, snacks, comfort food, and maybe a couple nice ribeyes you guys can grill outside while drinking beers together, and just chill out with him. That way, if dinner is out of the question, you can eat something quick or that doesn't require a lot of preparation, but if he's into it, you guys can cook together.

Of course, once he gets there, takes a nice long shower and perhaps sleeps for 15 hours, you could ask him what he'd like to do. It's probably "have sex with you a lot."
posted by mckenney at 5:24 AM on September 17, 2007

Jetlag does different things to different people. He may want to stay up till 3am and wake up at 7am.

Also, I've done long-distance reunions after several months a half-dozen times at least. Sometimes you can just jump into each others arms and feel wonderful, sometimes you need a little while to warm up and feel comfortable with each other again. Whichever it is, try not to feel bad if you need time to work up to your usual level of togetherness.

I've been overseas in deprived conditions for nearly a year before (not a war situation, so I'm not saying I know how he'll feel), and some of the things I really enjoyed doing when I was home:

Watching a movie in a movie theater.
Sitting in quiet, clean air-conditioned rooms.
Driving on nice orderly highways.
Speaking normal English to cashiers and waitstaff, being understood.

Essentially, for the first few days, I liked doing banal shit that can't be replicated overseas. Fancy underwear couldn't possibly be a bad move though. Good luck, have fun, hope he can be home with you permanently soon.
posted by bluejayk at 5:30 AM on September 17, 2007

I am a soldier, albeit not for much longer.

It's going to be up to him, and you really shouldn't freak out too much. Honestly? Ask him if he wants you to plan things for him. He may enjoy that, or he may enjoy not being told what to do for a while. He may or may not have been eating MREs, that depends on MOS and what he's been doing in-country.

I wish I could be more helpful, but different people are... different. Just relax, be there for him, and it's ok to cry at partings. It can be embarrassing, I know, but you don't need to feel bad about it.

Thanks for having the courage to love a soldier and stay with him during deployment. It's hard for everybody, and I'm convinced very few people realize just how hard it is for those that stay behind. The polite things he's said aren't necessarily just "polite," he may very much want to just sit there and not do a whole lot -- optempo can be very fast and very demanding.
posted by kavasa at 5:40 AM on September 17, 2007

No experience with this, but I really like the grilling idea. Be sure to fire up the grill at least once.
posted by mdonley at 6:19 AM on September 17, 2007

Put all that nervous energy into a zillion contingency plans, so that no matter what he may want to do, you've got a great idea. (Any plans not used during his stay can be recycled next time you see him.)
posted by desuetude at 6:30 AM on September 17, 2007

Ask him if he has any particular wants or desires. He might want to see LA specific sites or some such. If he's an outdoors type, he might enjoy a drive up the coast. Is there a particular food he likes? If so, find a good example of it in LA and take him there.

he'll just be happy to sleep in a nice bed with nice sheets

Get some really nice sheets and change them everyday. Fill the fridge with stuff he loves. Buy fancy underwear and wear a different piece everyday.

But mostly, just relax and enjoy him and his company, while pampering him a bit (hence the changing of sheets everyday, though you might need to that anyway) He's been dirty, tired, worn out and shot at. At this point, clean sheets in bed probably sounds like paradise. Throw in some fancy underwear, a stocked fridge and no pressure to do anything in particular and he'll be fine.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 AM on September 17, 2007

One magic trick for not crying: raise and lower your eyebrows, from surprised look to scowl. This seems to pinch off the tear ducts. In conjunction, look just over his shoulder, not in his eyes, and fixate on something neutral and not moving (a corner of the ceiling). Breathe deeply. Think of some mundane but multi-step task that has nothing to do with him, and mentally go through every detail. Say, washing your car. This will distract you enough so that you're not completely present in the goodbye scene.

But hell - life is meant to be lived, not avoided. If you're prone to crying (as I am), then cry. It's you he's in love with, not some stoic creature. Don't whine or make him feel guilty for leaving, but do what comes naturally. Also, send him away with something he can take over there. A goofy picture of you two, the fancy underwear in question, etc.
posted by desjardins at 6:38 AM on September 17, 2007

in my experience, fancy underwear is good, but no underwear is better :)
posted by kidsleepy at 6:43 AM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thanks for having the courage to love a soldier and stay with him during deployment.

What kavasa said. You've done the hard part already. Don't make this part any harder on yourself. I'd have some nice sheets, towels, and a stocked fridge, as mentioned, but then just take it easy. Be cool with whatever he wants to do. Be cool with working on planning things if he asks you. Just keep asking what he wants to do, and try not to over-think things or be too emotional, just try and take it real easy while he's there, so that you are relaxing to be around.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:58 AM on September 17, 2007

Cry your eyes out. You only ever regret the tears you don't shed.
posted by jefficator at 7:03 AM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I liked to do the perfectly normal, banal things (when I came home from peacekeeping in the Balkans). Try not to do or plan too much, if he's not the intense type who has to be "on" all the time. Just getting a dose of normalcy might be what he really wants.
posted by Harald74 at 7:40 AM on September 17, 2007

Don't freak out. Just relax, take it easy, ask him what he wants to do, and realize that "what he wants to do" may be "sit on the couch and do nothing." Or go to a movie. Or the beach.

A lot is going to depend on what he's been sitting around, fantasizing about, while he was deployed. Personally, I always used to think about going to the beach; but I never got stuck in a place that was hot and sandy. If I had, I might have dreamed about air conditioned movie theaters. Or the Arctic.

I don't think there are any generalities here. What people like to do to unwind is intensely personal. I knew guys who used to go directly to a favorite fast-food joint (although depending on where he's been, he may have had access to a lot of fast food and be sick of it). Other people want to go to nice restaurants and enjoy being civilized. Other people just want to stay at home and eat cereal out of the box and not have anyone tell them what to do or when.

And nth the fancy underwear.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:45 AM on September 17, 2007

Although it's wonderful to plan a few surprises, please ask him what he wants to do. A lot of things you are brainstorming about buying, you can still buy after he arrives. He'll probably be really tired and want to sleep; maybe you could head out to Costco then. :-)

When I read your question and saw all your enthusiasm I was reminded just a little of Dorothy Parker's short story "The Lovely Leave." [Boyfriend on leave in WWII. Girlfriend buys dress, plans fancy meal, etc. Boyfriend arrives late IIRC, mainly wants to take a bath and feel comfortable, human, etc. Leave gets canceled early.] Don't be that girl. Be the one kavasa and allkindsoftime write about.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:52 AM on September 17, 2007

From experience: give him room and allow him to decide what he wants to do. I have to disagree with people that say that normalcy is the thing to aim for - it is not. The thing to try and create an idealisation of normalcy. When you are only home for a week, and you have been looking forward to it for a long time, you start to build up an idealisation of what you will do and find when you return. If you can give him the things that you know he will enjoy (and some space to relax or just stare at the ceiling) then he should enjoy his leave. I would also recommend that you try and manage his expectations to an extent so that he doesn’t expect you to welcome him home in a dressing gown and not much else and you have instead laid on a nice intimate dinner.

Be flexible – I know that I have, in the past, had grand plans about what I wanted to do when home on leave but these plans didn’t survive the door opening. But please, for his sake, do not try and give him a return to your normalcy (please take out the rubbish, mow lawn or so on) or other things like that unless he indicates that’s what he wants.

Another tip from our phycologists for next time, they recommend that getting away from your “home” location for a period during your leave is good as it removes both of you (or the entire family) from “normal” and “routine”.

Enjoy his leave and help him recharge for the rest of his tour.
posted by dangerousdan at 8:04 AM on September 17, 2007

Nthing the comforts-of-home advice. Fluffy towels, a happy partner in fancy underwear, sandwiches on demand... A recent nytimes article mentioned that soldiers eating MREs day for days on end truly miss pizza and beer, so definitely do pizza and beer at least once.
posted by mochapickle at 8:20 AM on September 17, 2007

this seems to basically be something that can be treated like any long distance relationship

the key is to not freak out, not overthink and to not let the pressure of spending the time wisely ruin your relationship

just relax and do the sort of fun, relaxing things you always wanted to do or would be doing if he was just home

*note, obviously ptsd and other factors unique to military duty make this different, but it is paramount that you not get too worked up over the time together
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:33 AM on September 17, 2007

When a friend of mine came back with medals and some probable PTSD we did the following (it was spring time):
-Wander into nice temperature outdoors with grass, a stream, and trees. No cars or people.
-Play extensively with a really cute puppy that loves fetch.
-Hang out with normal people who complain about their minor, banal problems. Laugh and flirt. It works better if they don't know he's a soldier.
-Take some mushrooms and play frisbee.

They have TV and DVDs over there; it's not a selling point of home. Home has wide unpolluted spaces (vs the green zone). There's nothingness here to enjoy and innocents who don't know anything about war.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:44 AM on September 17, 2007

Nthing relax as much as possible and roll with whatever he needs. It's a tricky kind of dance to be sensitive and adapt to his moods and needs on the fly. You can make it easier on both of you by not hovering or fretting.

Especially if he's the introverted type, he might want some time to himself. And you'll probably need it too. Head out for an afternoon and go do your own stuff so you can both have some solo downtime.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:06 AM on September 17, 2007

And don't underestimate how much he might like physical contact. I don't just mean the obvious thing we are all talking around, but less salacious things like hugs and holding hands and cuddling. It is one primal human need that is just not met in the military on deployment.

One of the best days of my life was when I got some leave from the military after being in training for a really long time (5+ months). I had a fantastic vietnamese meal, and then sat and had my head gently rubbed by my girlfriend and her housemates for several hours. I don't know that I ever felt more comfortable and relaxed. But then, I like having my head rubbed when my hair is Army short.
posted by procrastination at 9:31 AM on September 17, 2007

Maybe drive up into the mountains for a bit or out into the country. I would go to see some things that he simply can't see overseas. You have a large set of options in LA.

Heck, maybe even do a tourist thing or two. You know, the kind of stuff you never do when you live somewhere, but everyone that visits does.
posted by slavlin at 11:15 AM on September 17, 2007

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