The term “geo bachelor” gets plenty of use in the military community to describe someone who lives apart from his or her family for reasons other than deployment, TDY or training. This may be a misnomer. After all, Iraq and Afghanistan are full of “bachelors” in the geographic sense.
What we usually mean by geographic bachelor is someone separated from the family by choice, not just distance.
Perhaps a home has to be sold before the family can move, or a child is in the midst of a crucial school year, as happened with our family. Sometimes employment for a spouse is the issue.
So we describe these separations as voluntary, a matter of choice. Of course, in military life, most choices we are offered are a product of military orders one way or the other.
Having been through such a separation a couple of years ago, I wanted to learn more about the experience from other families. Twenty-five spouses responded to my survey about the reasons they would consider a voluntary separation, and their experiences when they did.
Sixteen of the respondents had experienced a family separation at some point for reasons other than deployment or relationship issues. Eleven of those were for reasons related to children and school. Other reasons included waiting to sell a home, job location for a spouse and displacement by Hurricane Katrina.
Most of the separations were across 1,000 miles or more, some even on separate continents. A few, like my family, were divided by a day’s travel or less.
The duration of these separations were from three months to three years, and almost 70 percent were together for only special occasions or vacations during that time.
Having experienced multiple deployments, I thought this kind of separation would be no big deal for our family. We would spend weekends together, and no one would be shooting at my husband. While deployment has fears and worries all its own, I learned that any family separation is painful.
In fact, survey responses were divided exactly down the middle on the question: “Compared to a combat deployment, was this type of separation harder or easier for your family?”
One spouse said a voluntary separation was harder because “It is easier to understand the needs of a deployment versus the needs of different job locations.” Other difficulties mentioned were:
- Parenting and decision-making over long distances
- Travel expenses, which are not covered by the military
- No formal support system for this kind of separation
All but one respondent said, in spite of difficulties, their decision was positive, and they would do it again. They offered advice to other families considering the same choice, most emphasizing communication.
In their own words:
- “Be sure that you realize this will upset the balance of your family life. Sit down and talk about the challenges when friction arises.”
- “Plan specific times to communicate – chat, e-mail or Skype – send letters and care packages … Blog your daily activities. Plan vacations together to ensure you have family time. Find time for yourself, alone and with friends.”
- “Always have (more time together) scheduled before the end of the last one. You have to be able to hang your hat on when the next visit will be.”
- “Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions to give your family a better living situation. Make the decisions together … As with any separation, communication can be the maker or breaker … Express your needs and concerns to each other.”
See more survey results and thoughts from spouses in the two blog posts below ...