This is not a post about 1980s sitcoms or Kirk Cameron. My apologies.
The job listing to find my replacement at work went up a few days ago. And, despite the entire year of prepping I’ve done to ready myself emotionally for being purposefully unemployed, my fear of change is making me constantly want to vomit (or that could be all the flaxseed food from Trader Joe’s I’ve been cramming down my throat, because saying goodbye to that grocery store is one of the more emotional parts of my life).
In the spirit of candor and honesty, the following is something I wrote nearly a year ago. I’ve gone back and forth about whether to publicize the rampant over-analyzing/rationalizing I’ve done since I began this life-adventure with Jonathan, but (honestly and candidly), this has been my biggest struggle in pre-transitioning to army wife life, and I can safely say that I’m not the first person to struggle with it. And, anyway, the last post I wrote for this blog was about poop, so I figure if you’re reading this you’ve already got a high tolerance for bullshit. Or at least monkey shit.
Because I thought Jonathan was just going to be a nice boy who took me out for pasta one time, finding myself in a committed relationship with him was beyond terrifying. I’d had difficult relationships before (long-distance, high-school-to-college transition, college-to-real-world transition, boyfriend-to-stalker transition, etc.), but this one was immediately raising all kinds of unique warning flags. For instance:
- Long distance
- Cross-continental long distance
- Days and/or weeks not knowing if he is alive long distance
- Dietary differences
- Camo print v. leopard print
- (See also e.g. Johnny Cash v. Death Cab For Cutie and football team v. marching band)
- My lack of US history knowledge
- My irrational fear of the Southern United States
- Having met him at a bar
- Having met him at a bar on five-dollar pitcher night
- He’s probably a serial killer
And although each of these gave me understandable caution, what scared me the most about Jonathan was knowing what a long-term future with him entailed—or, more specifically, what it entailed giving up.
I spent the beginning of our relationship in denial that continuing the relationship would eventually mean compromising everything from flexible career aspirations to my penchant for non-tornado states. We were in love, so we’d find a way to make things work. I’d never have to quit my job. I’d never have to move to Fort Campbell. I’d never have to then follow him to places like Kansas, or Texas, or anywhere south of the Mason Dixon Line other than Maryland, since there’s a large Jewish population in Baltimore and the Electoral College votes almost always go to the democratic candidate.
But since Jonathan was deployed during that begging stage of our relationship, I was more immediately concerned with his ability to make it home safely than with forcing our lives to make sense together. We’d have to talk about it at some point, if we made it there, but there was always the possibility that the casting director for a Ben & Jerry’s commercial would discover me walking out of a frozen yogurt shop and be so stricken with my ability to eat inhuman amounts of dairy products, that he’d book me as the spokes model for their new line of Greek frozen yogurts and I’d run off to Hollywood with a dairy cow named Caroline and never look back.
But in case that somehow didn’t happen, I decided that I was too emotionally unstable for a big life change, so Jonathan would have to work around whatever was going on in my life, instead of me working around the limitations of army life. To facilitate, I suggested some alternative career options for him that involved more flexibility and fewer hand grenades:
- Professional wrestler
- Elliot Stabler from “Law and Order: SVU”
- Guy at Ikea who helps people purchase furniture when they are clearly not capable of heavy lifting (job does not currently exist)
- Serial killer
- Wilderness survival TV show host
- Homeless guy who pees in the stairwell at Shady Grove
- Cowboy boot salesman
- Dread Pirate Roberts
At the beginning, the idea of our ideology-crossed romance was easier to laugh about than to worry about; I spent equal time trying not to dwell on the it-will-never-work-out as the wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-it-just-did?
So while Jonathan fought the bad guys and I learned that when you’re on the phone with a soldier in Afghanistan and he says “I have to go” he actually means “I have to go RIGHT NOW” and not “Sure I can stay on the line for five more minutes to hear this adorable story about your cat,” I’d also been struggling with a post-college-depressed-economy-existential meltdown of my own (textbook Generation Y). I was trying to figure out how to marry a degree in drama and writing with the desire to have things like food, and soap, and health care. The immediate result was a job I didn’t love with benefits I did love, a cave-cricket-infested house I didn’t love with roommates I did love, and Miller Lite at happy hour. But with enough hope to be thankful for those things (and for $1 rail drinks at Sign of the Whale on Fridays from 5-6). I was too busy buying bug traps and business-casual summer suits to stress about the long-term effects of an army boyfriend. He didn’t fit neatly into the picture of my would-be young professional life, so I fell back on my tried-and-true tactic for when things are difficult.
I ignored it!
A few months into ignoring a future with Jonathan, I was forced to stop ignoring that, despite graduating from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. A symptom of growing up, it turns out, is that sometimes your dreams grow up along with you. And although my height-related growing pains stopped around the fourth grade (bye-bye, hopes of being cast as Cinderella at Disneyland), I was at the height of my career-related growing pains. I grew up as an achievement-oriented child with career-oriented parents, and I wanted a life with passion and fulfillment, but also with vacations, and dental plans, and fancy cheeses in my fridge. There had to be a career that balanced these things; and it would be cool if it came with a fully-vested 401k after my first six months.
And while I can look back at that time now and feel calmer about it, there were very few days during Jonathan’s first deployment that I would actually describe as calm. Okay, basically I was a lunatic, and everyone in my life deserves a medal just for putting up with me most days.
While I existential crisis-ed, I continued to work, and I continued to annoy the shit out of my friends by failing to remain optimistic and constantly reminding them that LIFE IS TOO HARD AND WE’RE ALL DOOMED. I spent my days at work letting angry lawyers call me an extortionist (and other colorful words) over the phone, and I passed my downtime by finding grammar errors on those lawyers’ websites. Who’s incompetent now, LAWYERS? That’ll show ‘em!
Of course, it didn’t, and each day was a new experiment in disillusionment and comma splices. I sunk into a rather self-pitying rut (Deployed boyfriend! Can’t afford live theater! All of my novel attempts have ended up as Harry Potter fan fiction!), which was fueled by the fact that I’d been tolerating Miller Lite for almost two years now and it still tasted like piss. I flitted back and forth between worrying about my career, and trying to decide what I was going to do about Army Boyfriend (as Jacki can attest, that’s what I called him for nearly a year).
When Army Boyfriend came home from his first tour, I decided to start calling him by his actual name, and we decided it was time to have that talk I’d been ignoring. A talk during which I cried so hard that I think Jonathan said things like “I’ll leave the army” and “How about some baked brie and a basket full of Goldendoodles?” to persuade me to stop. A talk during which I explained that I’ve always based my worth on my ability to be successful, and that was something I couldn’t just abandon for love. Love was something I had pretty much decided was fleeting. Something that, in itself, was a gamble. And the one time I’ve actually gambled, I lost all my money on a Sex and the City slot machine in Vegas, so it’s not something I try to make a habit of.
Jonathan tried, through his bias, to understand. He has two older brothers who are both in the army (who are married to fabulous, smart women who give me a great deal of hope), and a literal army full of friends who are also in the army, so this was a natural progression for him. You fall in love. The girl you love compromises parts of her life to become part of yours; you compromise parts of your life (most importantly your Call of Duty time) for her. You get married. You live happily ever after and try really hard to bottle up your feelings but still avoid PTSD. He’d never planned on loving a girl who at age 18 considered registering Green Party, and whose mom once told her if she turned out to be a lesbian that would be totally cool. The idea of giving up a traditional career and allowing a man to support me—even temporarily—was nauseating, and so was the steady flow of snot dripping down the back of my throat.
Jonathan went to the coffee shop across the street and brought me back a muffin. Two muffins later, I stopped crying.
I got a new job eventually. A job at a magazine. A job that involves pointing out lawyers’ misplaced hyphens and comma splices, and getting paid for it. And although I’ve been happy with that part of my life, I’ve come to an important realization in the past three years of loving an army guy—there is more than one definition for success. I’m young, and I have the time to experience many of them; I’ve been given the chance to experience many of them. And some of those chances will disappear with time. And, of course, sometimes all it takes to realize you don’t need something is to have it for a while. Which I didn’t understand until very recently—until I woke up one morning with a diamond on my finger and a man with a buzz cut drooling a little bit on the pillow next to me. And, once I cleared the mucus from my throat, I realized it was worth the gamble.
Every day this decision feels more official. But, if I’ve gained any perspective since that day with the snot and the muffins, it’s that decision is the wrong word to begin with. I still don’t know all the things I want to do with my life, and I doubt I will anytime soon; there are an entire butterfly-effect of paths I could take from here, but all of those paths include life. And love. And potential for happiness. Those are not things I decided, but things I was lucky enough to be gifted. And, like the leopard-print ballet flats my mom bought me for my 22nd birthday, they are not a gift I intend to under-use.
P.S. I’d like to point out that Jonathan actually doesn’t drool in his sleep very often. But one time when I had a sinus infection and bronchitis, he woke me up to tell me I had fallen asleep on him and a small drool puddle had been forming disgustingly on his arm for the past few hours. STAND BACK, FELLAS; I’M TAKEN.