Q. My boyfriend of three years is leaving for basic training and I’m kind of freaking out. He’s always been the only person I could talk to about my feelings and he’s the only person who really knows what to say to help me. I feel like I’m losing my best friend. Help me.
A. Get some girlfriends! You can’t rely on one person for all of your emotional support and you are in for a ride. I’m sure you are an amazing person with all the love your boyfriend has for you. Share it with others around you and develop some outside interests. That will help you be the strong partner he needs.
On the front of how to do this and cope with the unique, challenging and rewarding situation of partnering with someone in the military, I have some answers from three amazing women who have shared what they have learned on support and friendship. It is touching reminder on the importance of selflessness in any relationship. One of the women was married to a marine and in the Navy herself. Another who was married to someone in the Navy and lastly a woman who collaborated on a book about the NAVY SEALS who can provide some insight on the ultimate test of partnership. Some great 40:20 insight for all.
Dear 20- something:
I saw both sides of this, being former Navy myself, and having been a Marine wife. One thing that amazed me about Marine wives was how welcoming they were. There are wives’ organizations available everyplace you might be stationed (and some girlfriends attended the meetings as well). They instantly include the new spouses, and are incredibly supportive of each other. When I had my first baby, people I barely knew brought us dinners and offered to run errands for me. Unfortunately, I knew people who were injured or killed, and saw firsthand how the wives rallied around to help the family get through difficult times.
You didn’t say what branch of the service your boyfriend is joining, but I’ve seen this type of bonding among spouses of all the branches of the military. Try to meet some other women whose boyfriends or husbands are in basic training too. They will understand exactly what you are going through. And if your boyfriend stays in the military and you marry him or move with him, join the wives’ organizations wherever you get stationed. It is a great way to meet people in a new place, and they really do welcome everyone.
Now, for the downside: many people who join the military find that the experience changes them and their priorities. Be prepared that he may be different when he is done with training. He may have even joined the military because he was looking for a major change. It is best, while he is away, for you to think about who you are and what is most important to you. Even if he is exactly the same man after basic training as he was before, it is a heavy burden for one person to carry to be your only emotional support. Being in the military is stressful enough without having a partner being completely dependent on you. Military wives support each other, but they also are, for the most part, strong and independent women who can deal with a lot on their own (because they have to). Think about that before you follow him anywhere, married or not.
It was such a different time when we were in. There was no Internet, no cell phones and only a few of the Captains had satellite phones. So we were forced to make friends, (which was good). I do not know how I would have survived if it weren’t for the officer wives group. That being said, if your boyfriend is going out of state you may not have that option.
So I would recommend getting involved in a church group, or maybe even take some classes at either a recreation department or local college. I am not sure of your means, but I know most community colleges offer classes at convenient times and are for sure affordable. I know I sound like a commercial but if you get involved in something like that you would meet people as well as learn something fun or interesting. It could be anything… an upholstering class, a knitting group, a local Veterans group or volunteer organization.
It’s so important to expand your friendship circle. It could be difficult, and challenging. Scary too, when you have been so dependent on one person for friendship. But even with mobile phones and email, you may not have the opportunity to “chat” if he is out on training or assignment.
And a word of caution about his return. We did not have this problem, but I know that the Navy addressed how difficult reunions can be. The one at home has done everything, from bills, to household upkeep, child rearing. etc… and then the Soldier comes home and feels like they have lost all control and can be very stressful. You will need someone else for support if that happens too. He may think, “Oh yeah! Honeymoon” but in reality things have changed and people have grown. He will have a very different outlook on his life for sure.
I hope some of these ideas help. You should be proud of him for what he is about to give to his country. One final thought is that you may face people who say nasty things about the military or war or whatever. But he is already a hero for deciding to serve. Remember that and stand up for him. Congrats to you both. He is already a Hero in my book!
Lastly some insight from a 40:20 interviewee and photojournalist who has had a rare glimpse into the incredible sacrifices Navy SEALS make as well as the unique sacrifice and strength given by their wives and girlfriends with her book SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice. Please check out www. http://www.sealtheunspokensacrifice.com for the whole story or The Huffington Post for a bit about Stephanie Freid-Perenchio’s inspiration on the journey she and Jennifer undertook.
Here I share a brief background on the book, what Jennifer learned from her experience and her advice.
SEAL: The Unspoken Sacrifice, by Stephanie Freid-Perenchio & Jennifer Walton is a collection of mostly black & white photographs and narrative that sheds light upon a culture most people have never seen nor fully understood. In the aftermath of 9/11, Stephanie and Jennifer were given the rare opportunity to observe the Naval Special Warfare community and its inner workings in action. Their book provides a fascinating behind the scenes window into the world of Navy SEALs and succeeds in expressing the complex web of emotions these men experience.
SEAL wives/girlfriends experiences vary greatly during training and deployment. Some are very connected to the community and get through it together as a shared experience. It is their own “unspoken sacrifice”. Others stay on a very regimented schedule of work/family/school/etc,, rarely putting their heads up in order to contain the absence. The loved ones “left behind” need to stay strong, focused, and responsible. As this quote from an anonymous SEAL wife shows:
“When I met my husband he had just begun BUD/S training and we learned a lot about the Teams together, which I believe helped me understand it so much more from his point of view. I also saw him work very hard to accomplish what so few men can and it made me have a greater respect for him and the job he does.”
For perspective, during BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training) the student has one goal – to take care of himself and his Teammates. There is no “I” in “TEAM”. This is a 24/7 endeavor.
On what she learned from the wives and girlfriends during her experience and the community they form: Strength!
“It was witnessing women face deployment, death, and learning how to raise their kids on their own. During this crucial time they are dealing with their own growth and the growth of their family. These sacrifices are not something a lot of us do easily.
If they complain at all it is always within a group of women who you don’t need to explain why you hurt today. That gave me perspective on relationships and marriages. I believe this is how they bond – with shared experiences. Not all marriages in the military are amazing every day.
A lot of them have this attitude of ‘I will continue to be the strong force of nature at home and I will make it so that he doesn’t need to worry about the plumbing or what happens when the dog dies.’ She takes on everything. Everything. Often women endure deployments of nine months or longer, and routinely, year after year. For many it feels as though they are single women with children.
It is a certain type of woman who is able to do that and wants to do it willingly. I think they must get their satisfaction knowing that they are capable. It’s a sense of, ‘I can do that.’ There are women in their twenties who are learning how to do that.
My personal take away is that you need to be strong and learn how to support someone who is working on THEIR dream or goal, so that he can do the same for you. No one wants to call home and hear an ‘I need you’ voice. They want ‘hi babe – how was your day? I’m good and I’m here when you need me ALWAYS. Be a fabulous friend AND lover. My last suggestion — be part of something good.”
Thank you to all these women for sharing their advice and good luck to you and your boyfriend!