We did everything right. We took the classes. We talked to people who had already retired. We talked to each other. We (and by we, I mean me) discussed every emotional nuance I could think of in great detail prior to my husband’s retirement from active-duty service.
Retirement day came and it went. Just like any other 24 hour block on a calendar. I waited, counted to ten, looked at my husband and he looked at me waiting for whatever emotional reaction was going to come. The anxiety filled panic attack I thought might strike didn’t. I looked up and said “Nope, I’m good,” and we moved on. Literally, moved – on. New job, new state, new house, new schools, new allergies, new everything.
We had this retirement thing down. I’m not even kidding how good we were. Or so I thought. Then little things started happening. Things I was surprised by. In the beginning I brushed it off. Then I realized — no one prepared me for this. No one talked about being understanding and kind to people who made rude or snarky comments. No one told me I had to remember something. Something so vital to connecting with our new community that how could it have been neglected? If it was discussed, it was in passing and I obviously didn’t pay attention.
It first happened when my husband took me on a date — to a gym. I thought I was getting a cupcake. I did not. I was not prepared as much as I thought to live where I was not the norm. My life, my experiences, my frame of reference, none of it was really identifiable with so many in my new community. Oh yes, there are lots of former military, retired or otherwise, but still. There are social nuances I didn’t expect and, more unexpected, were my reactions to them.
A spouse complains her husband can’t attend something. He is sitting next to her while she tells me this. She wants the event changed to accommodate their schedule. I just stare. What I say is “Well, I think we see things differently,” while what I wanted to say was “Really? I don’t care. You are talking to the wrong lady.” Every missed event seemed to run across my mind in a millisecond.
Someone else makes a snide remark to my husband using his years of service as a dig. “This isn’t the military; we can’t just spend whatever we want.” I guess they never heard that saying “Marines — do more with less.” I wasn’t present for this one. Thank goodness. I would have liked them to sit in on an installation budget meeting.
Someone discovers what my husband’s disability rating is and then gasps and says “What’s wrong with him? He looks fine, shouldn’t he be missing all his limbs?” What I say, after a somewhat awkward pause, is “Um. A lot.” What I want to say is “Really? How is that even an appropriate question?” I guess the whole unseen injuries thing hasn’t hit mainstream America.
What I wish someone had told me was:
Kelli, you have to remember you have lived a whole life’s worth of experiences that many people have no way of understanding. You can’t expect them to see things from your perspective. You will be offended. They will make comments about things you would never imagine. It’s okay. That is their frame of reference and it’s unfair for you to expect them to understand a deployment, a move, an injury.
I also wish someone else had said:
Kelli, these comments will come from unexpected places — friends, former military and yes, even your family. They don’t mean to be offensive or unkind. And there will be those who have had experiences with military, some good and some bad, but it may be all they have to reference and they will make wide spread assumptions based on their perspective alone. Let it go.
We have lived in a unique subculture of the United States. We have our own language, for goodness sake. What I want to share are the following tips that are common sense, but somehow if you say them out loud they carry more weight.
- Don’t respond right away, if at all.
- If you have an immediate emotional response, it’s best to not say anything at all. Afterward, talk to your spouse or military friends and figure out why it bothered you so much. I was able to put the comments in perspective and not risk hurting a developing relationship. The last thing you want is for people to know you as that angry person.
- Manage your expectations.
- To expect someone who has lived in the same place all their life to understand or relate to you is unrealistic. Just like you cannot even imagine what it is like to live in the same place for forty years. You can bridge that gap with kindness, understanding and some allowance for different life experiences.
- Invest in your new life.
- Embrace the change, the people and the opportunities. Keep with you the skills and tools from life on active duty, but stay open to new ways of doing old tasks. This was highlighted in a professional environment. Processes and standards will be different. Don’t judge them too quickly.
So why did I react like I did? Because I know the life my husband has led and the sacrifices he has made. I know firsthand the experiences of my children and myself because of my husband’s service. All of that came welling up inside. The person offending me had no idea, nor could they, and truly they meant no offense. They will probably never have a frame of reference to completely understand what we as a family and as individuals experienced. It’s unfair to expect them to.
Face retired life with happiness, joy and kindness. The adventure continues.