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Military spouses’ lives too diverse to compare

By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: September 29, 2016

I know what you’re all secretly wondering about me. So, why don’t I address it right off the bat.

Yep, your suspicions are correct — I do weigh more than 150 pounds.

I’ve worn double-digit sized pants since the eighth grade, I have a brick of Velveeta in my fridge, I can’t remember my times tables when put on the spot, and I never dust the ceiling fan blades.

There, now you know, I’m not perfect.

Isn’t it strange that humans instinctually size each other up, as if we’re all part of some Darwinian survival of the fittest scenario? What’s even more interesting is that competitive instinct affects military spouses differently than our civilian counterparts.

Often, civilians compete on a material level — who has the most expensive handbag, the best lawn, the best-dressed kids, the fastest car, the biggest house, the highest-paying job, or the coolest vacations.

But in the military, uniforms broadcast rank and pay grade. Many of us live in identical base quarters, we take our trash to communal dumpsters, wearing the same lounge pants we all bought from the same PX clearance rack.

Since our spouses’ incomes and benefits are a matter of public record, the playing field for military spouses is entirely different than it is for civilians. We don’t compare material possessions. We want to know: Who has moved the most? Who has lived in the worst base housing? Who has suffered the most deployments?

Instead of tit-for-tats over who has the best Pottery Barn curtains, we military spouses wrangle over whose life is, strangely enough, harder.

But the matchup over military hardships breaks down, when you consider that military spouses’ lives are really too diverse to compare.

According to the 2014 Military One Source Demographics Report, there are 665,619 active-duty military spouses and 381,773 selected reserve military spouses. There are also at least 326,000 surviving military spouses and a whopping 15 million more spouses of US military veterans, according to the 2010 National Survey of Veterans.

We may all be known as “milspouses,” but our differences are greater than our similarities.

Military spouses hail from every branch of the Armed Forces. They grew up in big cities and small towns in every state. They are of varying ethnicities. Some have traditional careers, while others work at home. Some are young, and others, like me, are … youngish.

Also, like apples and oranges, our life experiences cannot adequately be compared due to variations in military communities. There are chaplains, aviators, culinary specialists, missile technicians, engineers, cryptologists, aircrew, submariners, infantry, artillery, tankers, and special forces, to name some. Each community has its own subculture, deployment tempo, platform requirements, work schedules and social traditions.

As a young Navy spouse, I felt inadequate when compared to friends in other military communities who were enduring more deployments. When my husband deployed for a year in 2007, I thought it was my chance to earn some “street cred.” After the first six months alone with three kids, a huge dog and endless home maintenance, I realized how silly I was for wishing hardship upon myself just so I would stack up to my friends.

Now, after 23 years as a military spouse, I appreciate the diversity of our individual journeys.

It’s not who moved the most, who lived in the worst base housing, or whose spouse had the longest deployment. Each of us has our own distinctive experience based on our military community’s subculture, our family makeup, and our diverse backgrounds.

Rather than competing, let’s focus on what military spouses have in common. We are hardworking, dedicated, and resourceful. We are strong in the face of hardship. We provide a constant presence at home. We share our active duty spouse’s sense of duty, honor and patriotism.

Most importantly, every military spouse loves a serviceperson, and like apples and oranges, they make all of our lives very sweet indeed.

Read more of Lisa Smith Molinari’s columns at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com.

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