People think it’s easier for single soldiers to go to war. In some ways, I believe it’s harder.
Many married people can’t wait to get away – whether it’s because they crave the Corps so much or can’t stand their family is irrelevant, what mattered when I first started contemplating this years ago was that they were relieved to be anywhere other than “home” and/or were particularly happy living in a war zone. I was single, yet I still yearned for home as deeply as anyone else; I intensely missed my family and every dear friend I had while I was deployed. One of the worst parts of “going to war” was the simple fact that I was away; it wouldn’t have mattered if I was in a combat zone or vacationing in Eruope. Being in Iraq meant being removed from everyone else’s lives and hovering in suspended animation while their worlds kept turning and mine was Groundhog Day.
I empathized with the Marines who’d left spouses at home, though. I felt for them then, and I feel for them now when I think of being separated from someone you chose you marry. Moreover, the Marines with children were the ones I really felt badly for and knew I couldn’t imagine the pain they felt from that kind of separation. But for many of the young Marines, “spouses” were little more than that than by title alone and more of serious (sometimes not even that) girlfriends in reality. Yes, technically, they were married, but Marines, male and female, entered into early marriages in order to provide a sense of the relationship being secure. Also, and I think sometimes most importantly for some couples, marriage made the relationship valid in the eyes of the Marine Corps. And when you have the DEPLOYMENT black cloud constantly looming above you, you will grasp onto anything that seems solid. So I knew many of the nuptials were sure to leave one or both of the partners wanting before the deployment was over, and simple immaturity coupled with prolonged distance was usually the culprit.
It bothered me that some relationships were given more validity than others, and that those with newly minted marriage bands held themselves above those who hadn’t taken the plunge and certainly thought better of themselves than those who had already and “failed.” Shortly after my divorce, I remember a fellow female Marine comrade at TBS looking at me with disdain, then speaking of her marriage as if it were a model to emulate, pity in her voice. She had no idea what had caused the death of my dear relationship, yet she openly judged it…and me. (Now that my post about the assault I suffered in 2003 has been published, I do not have to obtusely reference that as the main event whose ensuing emotional chaos caused the eventual split of my betrothed and me). Ironically, she, too, was divorced less than a few years later and, as far as I know, under no more dire circumstances than the stress and separation the Marine Corps graciously bestows upon all of its members. But I could be wrong; one never always knows everyone else’s story and I do not intend to judge as I was judged.
Like anything in the Marine Corps, even the holy sacrament of marriage can be made into a competition. Who’d been married the longest, had the most babies, etc. I even had a civilian friend with a former Air Force pilot father recently tell me his father told him to ask me if I’d ever been married because all Marines had been married and divorced. The stereotype existed for a reason, and I couldn’t go around telling everyone my story and explaining that I’d taken marriage more seriously than most. I’d evaluated the union logically and emotionally and it made sense. Spiritually, we prepared by attending pre-marital counseling with our pastor. Intellectually, we grilled each other on what we thought would breed success for us and why others failed. Personality-wise, we were both active, outdoorsy, and loved our families. As a sociologist, I recognized our common education, socio-economic class, and general background. We thought we’d made it through the roughest patch anyone could imagine and came out mostly whole on the other side of it. We were each other’s’ firsts for a lot of things. If anyone could do it, we could. But little did we know that my taking legal action in regards to aforementioned “rough patch” would cause havoc that would forever bombard all aspects of our lives.
Back to others…I knew of more than a handful of cases where lieutenants met at TBS and were married by the time their MOS school was over in order to offer each other some sort of guarantee before they went off to war. These less-than-a-year-old relationships were looked upon as more of a relationship than those that had been together for years simply because they were labeled differently. It disgusted me to know the cycle would just keep repeating itself as I talked to Marine friends – male and female alike – who rushed to figure out if they should marry their current dating partner. Furthermore, it made you appear more grown up, responsible, and as a new officer whereby you were often younger even than your junior enlisted Marines, this was yet another plus on the pro-con’s list for getting hitched.
Few and far between, I know of some couples in the Marine Corps who have been together for years without getting married yet. I admire them because the combo of good old fashioned institutional peer pressure coupled with what you believe to be sound, logical reasoning can lead many a couple into early matrimony. Those who resist, though, often do so for all the right reasons. I wish I’d had someone like that to talk to before Matt and I got married. I literally thought, “Being married will help keep us together when we are apart.” (Gimmea break, I was 22 at the time!) When instead (and what I now tell people) I should’ve taken a step back and thought, “If it’s going to work out, it’s going to work out regardless of if we’re married. If we stay together through the PCS’s, deployments, and various other crap, then we’ll stay together whether or not there’s a license saying so.”
Back to deployment…Many of the unmarried and married Marines in the Squadron solicited me for relationship advice during deployments. I particularly related to one handsome Corporal. He was more like a college buddy type man than most of the other Marines. I knew his young union was doomed before we returned to the States. What he told me about his young bride sounded familiar and his aspirations reminded me a lot of my Matt. He genuinely loved her and wanted things to work, but felt compelled to marry quickly based on the circumstances. His relationship was one of the few that I perceived to be genuine, and so I felt deeply sad for him knowing it would probably end in separation soon after his return. Sadly, we think we’re doing our partner a service by legally joining them to us, but things sour, it makes the split that much harder.
Back to more general thoughts…I wish the Marine Corps honored the inherent value of committed partnerships. I wonder now with the repeal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell how the same sex couples will feel. I wonder if they will flock to states that legalized same sex marriage to get that stamp of approval. I wonder if either group – the committed unmarried couples or steadfast same sex partners – realize how much they have in common. I wonder if now that the gay and lesbian couples can come out, if that will inadvertently help the dual sex couples.
Thoughts on marriage beyond the Corps…When you’re single and constantly deploying, how can you hope to have anything other than a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am type relationship? After years of 24-7 training, then MOS school, then pre-deployment exercises, followed by the actual deployments, your entire life is structured on intensity. Every relationship I ever had while I was in the Marine Corps started as an accidental whirlwind romance and typically progressed through the highest highs and lowest lows before going down in some semblance of a ball of flame. Now that I’m out, how do I reconcile that? How do I have solid healthy relationships and give them the time they deserve to blossom without getting frustrated that the guy hasn’t proposed to me – or at least seriously discussed the option with me – in under a year like everyone I dated for seven years? It’s ridiculous that I’m even thinking like that! J (and don’t worry, I’ve figured some of this out by now ;-p)
Thoughts on forcing people into one institution whilst already fully enveloped by another…For those of you for whom the shotgun-style wedding works, grows, and lasts – bless you. I know your year by year ticking off of marriage achievement is something you wear like a badge of honor, and I am truly am happy for your “success.” (I’m afraid this sounds sarcastic, but it’s not). For those of you who really tried to make something doomed for failure work, I commend you. For those of you abusing the system to get benefits and favor, shame on you. For those of you too confused to know the difference, I wish there was more sound guidance available or an institution that didn’t prematurely push the bonds of yet another on you.