By Lizann Lightfoot

“Ohhh…you’re dating?” a co-worker asked curiously when I first mentioned my boyfriend was in the military.

I paused. “Not exactly, we haven’t been on a date for a while.”

“But you’re seeing each other,” another co-worker chimed in.

“Well, I haven’t seen him yet this year, but I do look forward to seeing him!”

These 7 dating rules don’t work for military couplesPhoto: DVIDS, Master Sgt. Michel Sauret

They looked at each other, confused. “So, you’re just talking, then?”

“Well, yeah, when he’s not deployed,” I said. “But he hasn’t called for a few weeks now.”

My friend threw her hands up in the air. “Then how can he be your boyfriend?” she asked. “He isn’t following any of the rules!”

Dating a military service member is not like dating a civilian. Military members sign their lives over to the government. They have very little choice about when they work, where they live, and how often they can check their phone for messages. This makes military relationships frustrating. They can still be worthwhile and successful, but you have to let go of some of the traditional dating rules. Here are seven dating rules that don’t work for military couples.

1. Don’t spend too much time together

Time from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Dimitris Kalogeropoylos, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

When my husband and I started dating, (before the military) my parents only wanted me to see him once a week. They didn’t want us to spend too much time together or become attached too quickly. The joke was on them. After he joined, we spent the next six  years dating long distance and only seeing each other a few times a year. When the service member is on leave, there is nothing wrong with dropping everything to see them every day! If your friends think you are spending too much time together, just tell them about deployment.

2. The guy should pay

split check from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Dan4th Nicholas, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This is no longer true in most cases but it is especially tough in the military community. At lower ranks, military service members often earn less than a civilian. Military pay can be disappointingly unpredictable for the first few months. There is nothing wrong with the significant other splitting bills or helping to pay for things. I once paid my boyfriend’s cell phone bill just so we could continue our long conversations.

3. If they ignore you, they’re not interested

Phone from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 KOMUnews, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Everyone expects instant communication, but service members don’t always have their phone or wi-fi. If a service member hasn’t replied to your message, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. They could be in formation, in the field, or waiting in line to use the phone. (Yes, the military does that!) During boot camp and deployments, I wrote letters almost every day. He… didn’t write as many. If I waited for him to send a message  before I replied, I would be waiting forever. Time spent waiting for someone else to talk first is time wasted.

4. Take turns visiting each other

Airport from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Jorge Díaz, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Some long distance couples alternate visits to balance time off work and the cost of plane tickets. Military couples don’t have that option because the military is not a flexible employer. The service member can’t take vacation days for your birthday. They can’t leave school early for a family vacation. They can’t even leave deployment for the birth of their child! When they do get leave, they might have to choose between visiting their family or you. Try to be patient if you are the one doing all the driving and flying. If your service member loves you, they will find ways to show it and make you feel valued.

5. If they aren’t spending time with you, they’re cheating

roses from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Eddi, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The possibility of cheating exists in any relationship, but military relationships require extra trust. Yes, military orders and leave dates do change at the last minute. Your service member probably is not lying to you. Yes, during deployment, a service member cannot use their phone and may have wait in line to use the computer for 10 minutes. If you see them sign on to an account but they don’t reply to your message, don’t take it personally. Often, the real mistress is simply the military.

6. If they are serious, they will introduce you to the family

Family from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 evanrudemi, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Maybe, if they are stationed near their family, or if there is a convenient time for you both to visit. I know married military couples who have never met their in-laws! Service members usually end up being stationed far from family and they move every few years. They could still be planning a future with you, even if they haven’t introduced you to Mom and Dad yet.

7. Moving in together is the next step before marriage

Boxes 1 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2005 Avi, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

For military couples, moving in together usually happens after marriage. Single service members are assigned a barracks room and aren’t paid enough to rent an apartment. Significant others can’t live in base housing until they have a marriage license. For military couples, moving in together is almost the same as a marriage proposal, especially when the move is across the country.

What dating rules work in your military relationship?