When I was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, I remember a male classmate and I talking about our futures with regards to relationships. While we both admitted that having a relationship in the military would be hard, he said something to me that I have never forgotten.
“Nicole, I just feel so sorry for you ladies in the military because no self-respecting guy will follow a woman’s career.”
This was in 2002, so it was not that long ago. But I confess that deep down, I too worried about my chances of finding a guy who would be willing to accept me and my career choice.
As I progressed through the ranks, the fear that I would never meet anyone who could accept what I did for a living would manifest every time another relationship ended. Perhaps my friend was right.
Then I met Nathan.
I remember the first time I met my husband. I was at the grocery store. He caught my eye while he was shopping in the produce section. I thought he was super hot. He walked off and I followed him to the tea aisle where I stood next to him until he finally introduced himself. We’ve been together ever since.
Now that may seem like a normal happily-ever-after story, but there was just one thing. Nathan was not in the military, nor had he ever served.
When I met him, he was the senior market manager for a Fortune 100 company. And despite the fact that my career forced us to move across the country twice, he still managed to maintain senior management positions in corporate America.
For three of the five years of our marriage, I have either deployed or was in the process of preparing for a deployment. We have spent just two Thanksgivings together during our marriage, a common fact of life for a military family.
People ask me all the time, what does your husband think about your military career? Is he okay with you leaving so much? Are you going to have children? How does he cope with following you around the country?
I suppose people find it strange that any man, let alone a Type-A male, would be willing to place his wife’s career above his own. The thing is, Nathan is my biggest fan. He constantly tells his colleagues, his family and his friends how proud he is of my service to the nation. It’s his love and support that has actually made me more willing to step up for competitive jobs in my career because I know that Nathan is behind me 100%.
And I’m not the only one with this kind of support. I wanted to see if I was the only woman with this unique situation so I asked around and found more than 15 female military officers from various services, all who are either on active duty or who drill regularly in the reserves. These women are either married or in a serious relationship with a civilian.
Nearly all of them said that their spouses actively encouraged them to pursue their military career and were willing to relocate or leave their own jobs to continue supporting their wives. What’s even more amazing is that all of these people had vibrant, active careers before they met their spouse and many still do, despite the difficulties of finding work due to frequent relocations.
Today, more than 200,000 women serve in our nation’s armed forces. It’s unreasonable to think that many of these women are either only married to other military members or are single. Yet the image that still comes to mind when the word military spouse is mentioned is the prototypical, military stay-at-home wife.
Not only does this marginalize the relationships of female military members, it also marginalizes today’s military spouses, both male and female. Servicemembers are married to a wide variety of professionals, from actors, lawyers, doctors, senior executives and yes, even men and women who choose to remain home to support their military member by taking care of the household and the kids.
As the ranks of women grow in the armed forces, and with the recent repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the new normal for families is the unconventional relationship. It’s no longer a rarity to see a female servicemember accompanied to a military social function with her male counterpart who is wearing a tuxedo. Nor should it be weird when a man chooses to stay home to raise the kids while his wife heads off to drive ships. These men are not emasculated, lazy or unsuccessful. They are some of the most manly and supportive partners on the planet. And they deserve to be recognized.
Nicole Schwegman is a Naval Officer currently serving in the United States. She writes on her blog www.scribehacker.com.