One of my most vivid memories of military life was during a time when I was a military girlfriend. Nearing our thirties, my boyfriend and I had been together for several years already. In the beginning we were long distance, and after almost two years together, I moved from the Midwest to Coastal North Carolina to be with him. It was such a special time. Our relationship grew and flourished despite the fact that he was preparing to deploy a mere six months after I moved down South.
And then the reality set in…
He was leaving soon. The deployment was less than a few months away, and he was preparing for especially dangerous missions. It was such a hard time. He was leaving, and the risk during the upcoming deployment was real.
It. Was. Too. Real.
We talked about death and dying, and what he would want to happen if he didn’t come home. We talked about the exact funeral he would want. We talked about where his belongings would go. We talked about everything. I wasn’t just some girlfriend. I was his confidant, best friend, and go-to person.
I was the girl who he spent nearly all his free time with. The girl who helped him pack his bags. The girl who wrote him a special letter and tucked it neatly in his pack before leaving. I was the girl who took him to the bus and held it together with every ounce of my being as it drove away disappearing in the distance. I was the girl who loved him with all my heart.
And yet, in the eyes of the military I was just a military girlfriend. When I went to the pre-deployment briefing, I got a “special” folder and jumped through hoops to make sure I was on a notification list in case something happened during the deployment. Even then, I still questioned if I would be notified because I wasn’t next of kin. I simply didn’t have the same rights as married spouses.
When you feel like the most important person in someone’s life, and you are labeled as just a girlfriend, it stings.
One inauspicious day, near the end of the deployment, I received an email from my boyfriend that made my heart sink deep into my stomach. If I were just a girlfriend, I probably wouldn’t have recognized the secret message conveyed behind the words written in the sentence, “There are no words to describe how much I need you right now.” This would probably be an ordinary sentence to just a girlfriend. Maybe she would think it was so cute and sweet that her boyfriend would say something like that.
But I knew better. I knew something was wrong that would change our lives forever. I later learned that my boyfriend had lost a dear friend. My boyfriend—one of the strongest and most resilient men I know—was in his darkest hour. Life changed in an instant. I felt helpless, sad and hopeless all at the same time. Losing his friend was something, I don’t think either of us thought would ever happen. It shook us to the core, and the lines of girlfriend and boyfriend were no longer relevant. We clung to each other for dear life in that moment and every moment thereafter. Nothing else mattered.
So if you are a military girlfriend, I just wanted to tell you that I get it. I understand what you are going through. I know you are so much more than just a girlfriend.
When certain formalities of military life make you feel like you are just some girl, know better. When you feel the pressure to marry prematurely before a deployment, know better. When it all just seems unfair, know better.
As a girl who went from military girlfriend to military wife, I can tell you it is worth the wait. Shortly after my husband returned from that deployment we were engaged and married less than 6 months later. It was that time as a girlfriend, during that deployment, that both of us learned our relationship was meant for marriage. Because when you survive the darkest days together, you realize that you are more than just a girlfriend.
In moments like those, you realize that…
You are the most important girl in the whole world to a man serving his country.
You are his rock.
You are his stronghold.
You are his love.
Down the road, years into your military marriage and life as a military wife, you will just look back and appreciate the time that you had as his girlfriend. That time served great purpose to build and nurture the foundation of your future marriage. That time strengthened and solidified your relationship into what it is today. That time is a testament as to why your military marriage is actually going to last.
And that is a beautiful thing.
Want more on military life?
- The Deployment Diet No One Talks About
- 57 Things Military Spouses Can Stop Apologizing For
- The One Thing You Miss Most During Deployment
- The Best Advice for the Military girlfriend