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Dating Advice #188 - Military Marriage?

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

She's Air Force, he's Army. Can they find a common ground?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm a 31-year-old woman on active military duty stationed in Southeast Asia. When I came here I hadn't planned on dating anyone, because of the low probability of finding a 'nice Jewish boy' during my one-year rotation. I was pleasantly surprised when I met a terrific Jewish man at a Passover Seder. I wasn't really attracted to him at first (and was reluctant to start a courtship here where we have a deadline), but we hung out together out of a mutual desire for Jewish company.

After a while, I became aware of his good character and positive qualities, and we began dating. Due to our work schedules and being at different bases, we only see each other on weekends and have short phone conversations during the week. We both have similar values and goals.

One dilemma here is that I'm in the Air Force (committed for 5 more years at minimum) and he's in the Army (for 5 more years minimum). Many military members get married quickly so they can get a joint spouse assignment. If we don't get married we will probably be stationed far apart (in different states, or different countries). Even if we do get married there is no guarantee we'll get the same next base.

I have seen too many military marriages where people got married quickly and regretted it later. I understand we are in an artificial environment, away from home, family, friends etc. He has met my mother and I will meet his this fall, but I feel that nine months of dating in a foreign country isn't enough. I would like to see him with his friends and family, and on a regular basis. How do I know what I feel for him is real?

Another issue is that we both love our jobs and want to keep doing them. However, I strongly feel that one parent should stay at home, or work only part time, while the kids are young. He feels there is no problem with putting the kids in daycare. I don't want to be the one to give up working, because my dad left my mom for another woman after they were married for 31 years. I am afraid of being financially dependent on a man -- and then being abandoned, having to start a career after staying home for many years. He doesn't want to be a stay at home dad. How can I give my future kids (with anyone) the stay-at-home parent they deserve, without feeling completely vulnerable to the fortunes of a man who may not always be there for me (through death, divorce, etc)? Or is it just too old fashioned to think that kids need a stay at home parent?


Dear Shelly,

Your letter raises a number of points that we feel you must address at this point in your life, not later.

Point # 1 - Before you even consider whether this man is right for you, please clarify if you really want to get married at this point in your life. If the answers are yes, then consider the fact that in modern times it is extremely difficult for most people to find someone with whom they can envision building a life. It becomes particularly harder as a person gets older.

At 31, you are at a prime age for marriage, and you are also fortunate to have met someone who has the qualities you are looking for in a mate. Although we believe that there is more than one potential life partner in this world for most people, through the years we have seen that meeting and developing a courtship can prove elusive. That's why when you find someone who increasingly appears to be right, you should focus your energies into moving the courtship forward in a direct manner.

At the same time that you date and enjoy each other's company, you should also make your dates purposeful by discussing your hopes and dreams for the future, the type of home you want to have, how you want to raise your children, what values are important to you, how each of you handles challenge and stress, people you would like to emulate, etc. By adding purpose to your dates, as the emotional connection between you grows, you will also develop a good sense of whether your values, goals, and outlook in life are compatible.

While we do not recommend that anyone rush into marriage before reaching a level of trust, understanding, and emotional intimacy, there are certain factors in your situation that encourage you to accelerate the focus so that you can come to a decision more quickly. We work with many singles who are able to decide on marriage in a shorter time than the nine months you've been dating. The fact that most of these people have very good marriages has demonstrated to us that couples can decide on marriage relatively quickly, as long as they have compatible goals and values, and understand what marriage entails.

Regarding your concern that the circumstances under which you are both living are somewhat "artificial": In actuality, when the two of you spend an extended time together on a weekend, you have the opportunity to learn a great deal about each other -- how you act each when you are tired, happy, bored or frustrated; the way each relates to people you live with and interact with on a daily basis; each other's level of patience; whether you perform acts of kindness for others; and even something about each other's daily rhythms. You probably know a lot more about each other than you think.

Point # 2 - While we don't know what went on in your parents' marriage, we can see that the fact that it ended after 31 years, with your mother being left by your father, has scared you to the point that it is hard for you to trust your instincts about the man you are seeing. Your mother has met this man -- that's a good start, and you are right that it is a good idea to see him with friends and family. But it isn't absolutely necessary when geography stands in the way. What's important is for you to work through your fears about marriage so that they don't stand in the way of your moving forward at the right time. You may be able to use a self-help book, or have some conversations with the base chaplain or a therapist, but we urge you to address these concerns.

We also recommend a book by Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, The Good Marriage, which explains how hundreds of couples have made their marriages succeed.

Point # 3 - You are jumping far ahead by trying to foresee what life will be like when you have children, and think that there are only a limited number of options available. It is a mistake that many non-parents make. Marriage and parent-hood are much more fluid than you envision them to be. You may not have a child for a few years, you may be able to work part-time, you may have excellent child care options available, or you may be able to return to the workforce after a self-chosen period of time at home.

There are innumerable ways to ensure that if you stay at home for a while, you will have marketable skills when you re-enter the job market. Modern women reinvent their careers all the time and it is perfectly acceptable for them to do so in most fields. This flexibility is as important in parenthood as it is in marriage.

Point # 4 - The logistics of where the two of you will be stationed in the future are indeed a problem for you, especially as the military cannot give you any guarantees. That's why it's important for you to accelerate the focus of your courtship so that the two of you can soon decide if you are right for each other. If you decide that you are, and can work out viable options for future work assignments, you should consider yourselves blessed to have found each other, and can begin building a beautiful life together.

Rosie & Sherry


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