…more about me than her

“This is Carly, she bathes our dog.
Oh!  And her husband works for your son.” 

This was my casual introduction a woman made to her in-laws, the clearly indifferent parents of a high-ranking officer in my husband’s squadron, as we crossed paths in the grocery store aisle.  Despite my love for my part-time job at the local kennel, the pride I take in our high quality of animal care and the pure joy I find when interacting with animals—I never enjoy being defined as “the girl who bathes your dog”  When introduced to a mutual acquaintance, I’m fine with the mention of “She works over at the kennel,” this explanation can be a conversation starter or provide a point of recognition for either of us–since it’s a small base, and if the person has a pet, I’ve probably met it.

My coworker cuddling an 8-week-old-puppy fresh from her bath, 2012
My coworker cuddling an 8-week-old-puppy fresh from her bath, 2012

However, something in the situation made me feel inadequate and a little embarrassed.  As I smiled and nodded at the two people in their late fifties, I felt as if she were basically saying:

“Meet Carly, she is the lowly girl I pay to bath my unclean dog, I would do it myself, but I have far more important-busy-officer’s-wife-work to attend to—which leaves me with no time for such demeaning work as dog bathing.  Oh!—Yes, and her husband, whose name is utterly irrelevant, is one of your son’s many minions!”

Of course, this interpretation says far more about me than her.  In reality, she’s a lovely enough woman.  She’s been nothing but sweet and cordial to me every time we’ve met (and we have literally met several times, since she didn’t recall having previously met me until about our third introduction.  In her defense, as the spouse of a higher-ranking official, she meets a lot of other spouses, subordinates, and their spouses.  Therefore, I truly can’t and don’t fault her for not remembering me.)

What did bother me was the awkward unwarranted introduction?  I think if a person doesn’t know me well enough to know I’m also a working artist, or that my husband and I have different last names—maybe she shouldn’t bother introducing me to her apathetic in-laws?  We live on a small base where everyone seems to know everyone who knows everyone else.  Maybe she just wanted to demonstrate how friendly and personal our little base community is? In turn, it’s a small base community, I’ve displayed my work at several base events and well as displayed in buildings on base.  I’ve had my own local art show, and several people on base have bought or commissioned art for me.  My point is, I’m not being an arrogent-don’t-you-know-I’m-an-artist!-person, it’s just equally likely that people are familiar with my art as they would with my work with animals.

Possibly, this interaction merely emphasized how uncomfortable I remain in my role as a military spouse.  Despite six years of practice, I struggle to accept and properly adhere to the expectations of this social dynamic and subculture that are now my life.  The world of military spouses seems to vary from base to base, and Lajes as been a far more positive experience than my previous base.  Spouses groups offer support and resources to both women and men of active duty members, as well as helping to connect spouses with mutual interests.  However, the subtle undertone of the spousal hierarchy structure, based on the rank of their spouses remains clear.

I’m very proud of my husband’s work.  However, I—like most people (I assume?), would rather be evaluated on my own qualities and achievements.  I  prefer to be viewed and appreciated as my own individual person.  Is this simply a part of being married, I don’t count as my own person anymore?  Do male military spouses also notice the implied hierarchy, or does our patriarchal society help protect?  Are women often defined by their husbands in the civilian world, as well?

Ultimately, I’m mindlessly defensive on days when my mood is a little off.  For the most part, I’m very happy with where I am in my life.  However, sometimes I do feel insecure and I dislike being defined by characteristics in my life that don’t provide an accurate representation of the whole of who I am.

4 Replies to “…more about me than her”

  1. Like when, upon meeting a new spouse, they ask what your husband’s rank is and that answer immediately defines their relationship with you? I have never answered someone when they ask what rank Stephen is because I don’t wear his rank. I know how you feel. I even tried to fit in and join the spouse clubs. I found that it resembles a kingdom. The higher rank your husband wore mirrored your own “rank” in the club. I don’t mean to disrespect those ladies. Some of them were very nice, but unfortunately, as it could happen anywhere in any situation, there is a spouse who thinks higher of herself because of the title her husband has.

    I would have felt the same way had she introduced me that way. Now, having experienced 3 shorts years in the military community, I feel the need to branch out and meet people who are not in any way, shape, or form associated with the military. That’s hard to do overseas.

    I remember my first encounter with “THAT SPOUSE” and I will never forget the experience. I was new and invited to an open house for one of those in-home businesses for decorations for the home. It was in the home of an officer’s wife and I kid you not, she leaned over to a mutual friend, very close within hearing distance and asked about my husband’s rank. When our mutual friend answered her, the spouse then said “Well, why would someone invite her here?” Just imagine that astonished look on her face wondering why someone would invite an AIC’s wife to an officer’s house.

    Those words will stick with me forever. I joined a club and learned it was no different, but not wired to quit, I stuck with it for 14 of the 24 months that Stephen was stationed at Lajes.

    I don’t know why spouses associate other spouses with the rank of husbands. I don’t know why my life is centered around who Stephen is. I am still very much my own person. I don’t know how these women gained the idea that it was okay to associate other spouses with their husband’s rank, but it’s sad. I really wish that people could just be people. We could just all get along.

    Rest assured that I will NEVER look at a spouse and judge her upon her husband’s rank. Asking someone’s rank will never leave my lips because it is simply not my business.

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    1. Ha ha! You noticed that too huh? I know sometimes people do ask to make conversation, because an active duty husband is something you two will inevitably have in common. But there are very much those situations where it is very clear they are sort of sizing you up.

      Exactly, I love my husband, I my association with the military is based solely on the fact that I love him and want to spend my life with him. The military is just there, I didn’t choose it, I chose him.

      I assume that sort of hierarchy would occur with spouses in a big corporation or something? Or maybe a place where “real housewives” exist. But with the military there is really no disguising it.

      I have never been a military spouse stateside, and I think existing on your own terms would be much easier there. However, one of the perks of military association is being able to live abroad. So it is important to take the good with the bad and try to focus on the good, I guess.

      That is appalling–about the “Why would someone invite her here?” I hate situations like that because I am too polite to call out someone like that, even though she was being so rude to begin with–I worry about hurting her feelings.

      I do miss seeing you around here. It is weird because we didn’t hang out much, but I always genuinely enjoyed your company. You are a neat human.

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  2. Yea, that’s why when people say “WHAT! You moved to an island where tsunamis and earthquakes can happen? That’s insane! Why would you do that? How does the island keep from tipping over?” I always say “Because my husband got based there and I happen to love that guy.”

    Okay, so that question may be an exaggeration. I’ve never received it all like that, BUT I have had each of those questions asked to me by different people. I’m serious about the island tipping over part. Yea. That happened.

    We haven’t experienced a stateside base either. I’ve been to a few, but haven’t lived on any of them. I like to believe it’d be easier because you can work off base or at least meet people who aren’t in the military community… unless your a hermit and live on base and never leave your home. Yea, you could do the same in a foreign county, but the language barrier can sometimes hold you back.

    I actually find myself intimidated by foreign people, especially the Japanese, because they are generally nice and caring people and I’m afraid they associate me with the obnoxious group of Americans. I always try VERY hard to be nice and learn their customs and language. I really want Japanese friends. Is that weird to say?

    You are totally right. You take the good with the bad and there really isn’t a way around. You are definitely more than a dog washer and I hope you NEVER let anyone’s words get to you.You are awesome and if someone can’t recognize how much of a great person you are, than they are seriously missing out.

    Aw, Thank you ha. I’m really just weird, but I have a great sense of humor so that kind of cancels out the weirdness… until my sense of humor gets weird.
    I really wish we did get to hang out more, but the future is ahead of us. Who knows… we could end up on the same side of the world one day :)

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    1. I worked with a woman at my last base who made several very close Japanese friends when she was stationed there with her husband. I think it is good to try to get out of your shell and get to know local nationals. I am just so self-conscious, I really struggle with it.

      I am weird too–but I always hope my sense of humor cancels it out as well—as long as people get it.:)

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