This is just a short blog about what it means to me to date a service member. I hope to listen to others' stories to find out what exactly it means to join the unofficial ranks.
If you're reading this, you're either a Military spouse, a Military girlfriend or are curious about the life that we have chosen... if you're the latter, thanks for your curiosity. If you're a girlfriend, welcome and good luck, we all have lots to learn.
Summer 07, I knew NOTHING about the military. I could name some of the branches; I knew "we" were at war, but nothing in my life changed (except for yellow ribbons popping up around town). I didn't know much at all; military wasn't part of my upbringing either. ROTC recruiters didn't come on to my high school campus. My best friend in school was dating a Marine based in Camp Pendelton but I learned nothing about USMC from her. I thought that the "Semper Fi" sticker on a friend's car was just some band or something I wasn't interested in... I knew guys in camouflage were pretty attractive though... How life has changed since then!
When I created my twitter name @dateamarine, it wasn't because I wanted to start a dating service for Marines. It was my hope, that one day, I would have a network of incredible women (and men) and with those individuals with rich experiences, I would be able to start a service that would help people who were in the dating stages of their relationships with a service member.
I get it. There is something attractive about a guy in uniform. If you look one layer farther though, the realities of dating military make the fantasies about the uniform fade quickly... To say that dating a service member is the same as dating any other man (or woman) is simply not true. I won't get hoity toity on you but it's been a HUGE eye opener to join this crowd of people who choose to learn and endure for love.
There lots of services available to family members (think Military OneSource) and especially spouses of military members but there aren't many resources to warn potential future spouses of military service members of the complexities of dating and marrying one. I wanted to learn enough to become that resource some day. I'm only one of MANY MANY women who have dated active duty and reserve service members. We each have a lot to learn once we earn the title of military girlfriend... Watching "Dear John" doesn't make you proficient at understanding the challenges of this lifestyle.
Here are my top 5 things I think one should be aware of when dating military:
1) Duty comes first: This is a hard one to come to terms with. Duty isn't a job. It is a lifestyle. The mission that needs to be accomplished always comes first. This could mean that he has to go to work at 3:00 am every day. It could mean that he doesn't get weekends. It could mean that he will volunteer himself so that he may get jetted off to Afghanistan. If you're pregnant with you're first child and you want your husband to come home from a deployment, sorry... you both will have to wait until the time's up. You might feel second. But you'll also feel proud; these are the sacrifices that all of our service members live through to protect our country.
2) Be Flexible: Even if you have plans for valentine's day, they might get messed up because a last minute field training comes up. You might have had plans to go out of town... unless his leave was approved, he'll probably have to stay for something like last minute duty. FUN!
3) Shhh it's a secret: There's a lot that your boyfriend might not be able to tell you. It really depends on his job but even in jobs where there aren't super secret info floating around, there is still sensitive information. He might not be able to tell you everything about work.
4) Don't talk to his superiors like they are your friends: I think this is pretty straight forward but some people don't get it... I attended my fiancee's unit's USMC Birthday Ball this year. There were a lot of younger Marines who had brought dates. I overheard a girl literally say to a higher ranking Marine "could you let (my Marine) have some time off so we can go celebrate our 5 month anniversary??" Wow. Also don't talk to anybody higher ranking in general without professional courtesy. Even if you're at a mandatory fun event, you are representing your service member. If you make a fool of yourself, that reflects on him... seem easy enough right?
5) Learn about the service and its protocols as much as you can: If you know the monster, it's easier to fight it. Not that the USMC is the enemy for me, but it's easier to understand my challenges if I have a clear picture about what I am getting myself into. If my partner is planning on being in for longer than the 4 years (enslisted), what does that mean? Where might he go next after this duty station? Could he get deployed? Show curiosity and learn proactively so you can familiarize yourself with what could come next.