Sam and I got married! He did not wear his navy regalia; it was a civilian ceremony; but it was a joy that several of Sam’s former colleagues from his last boat and their wives came to our wedding. Those friendships were a happy outcome of an otherwise challenging boat assignment.
However, this blog is meant to be a pressure valve for life as a navy spouse, so let me relate my first moment of angst as a navy wife:
Why is it that now that Sam and I are married, people I have just met no longer ask me what I do, but if I work? This question always confused me regardless of the context: People are really asking whether you work outside the home or are a homemaker/mother. Both roles are work, only mothers and housekeepers are not paid and recognized much.
It happened first on our honeymoon. An artist whose photographs we purchased as a souvenir learned that Sam is a naval officer. He then turned to me and asked, “And how about you? Do you work?” The same thing happened with a woman my age, herself a doctor, whom Sam and I met at a wedding. When I told her what my job was she raised her eyebrow and said “oh,” as though she were taken aback that the wife of a submarine officer would have not only a job, but a professional job with its own long hours and travel demands. She asked me if it was hard for Sam and I to see one another, with my being abroad so much. There was was no question about whether the demands of Sam's job presented obstacles to our being together.
It’s an innocent enough question: Do you work? The annoying thing is that no one ever asked me this before I was married, and it’s safe to assume that far more military than civilian wives have to field the assumption that they are the support staff for their service member spouses. (I’d bet politicians’ and CEO’s wives have similar experiences.)
Later on at the wedding, I was chatting again with the doctor and she asked me how married life is. I told her it was great, except that the funniest thing has happened: people keep saying these presumptuous things to me, like asking me when I’m going to change jobs and relocate to be with Sam; telling me how important it is I take a leadership role in the spouse’s group of Sam’s next boat, and—would you know it—asking me if I work, whereas they never had before. The woman’s eyes widened on that last point and she said, “Oh my gosh, how presumptuous! I can’t believe anyone would assume that just because you’re married to a military officer, you wouldn’t work!” I said, I know.
I think that my response from now on is to smile quizzically at the next person who asks that question and say, “You know, no one ever asked me that question before I got married to Sam. They always assumed I did something useful with my time. Why do you think that is?” Probably not a great idea.
But it feels good to imagine that kind of scenario in writing. It’s amazing, the assumptions and expectations that get thrown over you by others like a heavy cloak when you get married. It doesn’t have to be your husband. It can come from the surrounding community. The fact that you are not only a wife, but a navy wife, makes those expectations all the more intense. The only thing that will turn these small but meaningful interactions from annoyances to a kind of game will be to dash peoples’ expectations by being myself, and by writing about it later.