When my husband returned from a yearlong deployment overseas, he was (of course) sent on a new military assignment -- in a different state. We found ourselves up against the modern military dilemma: which spouse concedes to the other's career?
Back when I first because a military wife in 1999, that choice was a no-brainer. It was still customary for people to urge us ("us" being new military brides) to consider careers that could travel.
Nursing and teaching were touted as especially military friendly because they are somewhat transportable. It was deemed incompatible to be a lawyer or doctor and marry a man in the military. How could you work your way up in the practice or firm if you had to move all the time?
Today, however, women are gaining on men for the status of primary bread winner. Women are holding more high-level positions in companies. Their careers don't always travel well. Their aspirations aren't easily put on hold or set aside.
American culture has tipped from one that automatically casts women as the homemaker to one that views successful, career-oriented women as a given.
In contrast, the military lifestyle has changed very little from the 1940s to now. Servicemembers still make relatively decent pay at a young age. They still look great in a uniform. And -- here's the biggie -- they still move every few years.
This dilemma is creating new and increasing difficulties for military marriages -- including dual military marriages and marriages in which the servicemember is female.
So far, the military hasn't changed the requirement for frequent moves. I suppose it can't. As my own military husband tells me, the military isn't in the business of making marriages.
But as women make more money and have access to better jobs, they will be less able -- and less willing -- to follow a man wherever the military sends him. Whereas the uniform was once an asset for eligible men, now it could be a deal breaker. And let's not forget: nothing aids service retention like a happy wife.
So when this question came up on the eve of our latest PCS move, we wondered: Should I give up everything I've worked for and follow him? Or should he give up on a 16-year military career and stay with me?
The decision-making process was agonizing. There were no easy answers. Dustin is within years of retirement. After a decade of following him, I'm finally on my way to building my own career.
Eventually, we came to a compromise: We would live in both places. We'll maintain a house in one city and an apartment in the other. We will commute back and forth. It isn't ideal, but it allows us both to pursue our goals without being resentful of the other.
We aren't alone. Many military families are making similar arrangements. In military-speak, we call it "geo-bach'ing." But these are short-term solutions. I can only agree to living in two cities at once for a single tour, not a whole career.
Luckily, because of Dustin's retirement, our arrangement will be brief. There are plenty of young couples at the beginning of their careers who will meet these dilemmas with less room for compromise.
Is the military ready to address this new, evolving face of marriage?
I doubt it.
The institution has proven resistant to change. Servicemembers will move every two to three years for decades to come. But the culture and the world around the military, especially as it pertains to women and familial roles, will continue to transform.
Military marriages, it seems, will have to adapt on their own.
Navy wife Sarah Smiley is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (2005) and I'm Just Saying (2008). She has been featured in the New York Times and Newsweek, and on Nightline, The Early Show, CNN, Fox News and other local and national news outlets. Her liferights were optioned by Kelsey Grammer's company, Grammnet, and Paramount Television to be made into a half-hour sitcom. Visit www.SarahSmiley.com for more details. To contact Sarah, you can also visit her Facebook page.