I was sitting at a spouse dinner the other night, getting to know a brand new wife to our area and to our squadron. She had a ton of questions, all of which I felt I could accurately answer. She asked about deployments, TDYs, amenities and services around the base, etc…and I could answer her. It hit me; I was that spouse, the “old spouse,” and I was perfectly happy with it.
I remember some of my first experiences meeting other military spouses. I was only 18 years old when I married my husband and moved to our first assignment, so of course I was a young spouse. I was introduced to other women, all of whom were very nice and informative. I could not help but notice that there was a difference between us; they were the old wives.
Let me clarify. I do not mean that they were old in years but old in experience. These wives had been through so much more than I could even fathom. They had survived deployments in varying lengths of time and locations. They seemed to know every acronym in the military dictionary. These women knew how to navigate military healthcare and the best doctors/clinics to go. They were a wealth of knowledge on everything in the area, especially on where to get a good military discount. Nothing phased them. NOTHING – no short-notice TDY, midnight recall, or late travel voucher payout could frighten them. These “old spouses” seemed to handle it all with a shrug or a laugh.
I could not imagine being like them. I wanted to – but their level of calm and knowledge seemed daunting. Would I ever reach a point where every uncertain was just normal? When would I be that person who knows the right answer to every question? Who would trust me to be that source of wisdom and guidance? I would have to earn the distinction of “old spouse.”
Through every deployment or extended time away, I thought I was gaining my rank of seasoned spouse. When I learned to fix a toilet, how to tinker with an old Italian radiator, or to put together IKEA furniture by myself, I gave myself some more wife credit. For every holiday, birthday, school event, or life milestone I experienced sans-husband, I gained a little more. I did the moves, the travels, and the inconsistencies of military life and still felt like I was not a part of that elite spouse community.
Then I became a Key Spouse for the first time. People were literally seeking me out for support, knowledge, and experience. I was the person who would guide others to the answers they needed. I would be their welcoming face during every arrival and homecoming. I would be their social coordinator, their shoulder to cry on, or their sounding board. I thought that this was my moment – I was the “old spouse.” Still I did not feel I warranted the title. Even with a second foray as a Key Spouse and my 7th move, I had more to learn. I have moments where I feel like I might be there, but I’m really not.
Perhaps this is the real lesson and something I did not learn from my “old spouses.” We are all still learning and never really stop. We may seem cool and collected on the outside; we may have all the answers for those that need them. But all of us are still figuring out this crazy yet rewarding life. Tomorrow, I may need to consult my original wife friends for help with a teenager problem. In a week, I might be helping a newer spouse figure out which health clinic she needs to seek out. A month from now, I might be helping run a squadron event with other spouses, old and new (that is actually happening sooner than that). No matter what it is or where it is, we are all still learning and helping one another.
So for all of you military spouses – old, new, experienced or not – give yourself a little more credit, ask a question or two, and know that we all become the “old spouse” at some point. Embrace it!