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For the Women Who Wonder

16 December 2022

One of the things I carried that I didn't know how to remove was a significant amount of guilt in my relationship to Michael. I felt GUILTY about the sacrifices Michael had to make to be with me. Prior to our big move to South Korea, Michael had a very secure job where we made about the same amount of money, at a company that adored him. He had been with this company for 7 years, and despite his high performance in the company and their willingness to allow him to work remote anywhere in the U.S., they were not able to accommodate his employment while living in Korea. While Michael accepted this decision, it was still a difficult transition letting go.

Internally I wrestled with this question of what does this mean for us? One of my mentors explained how Michael could get a job in Korea and how two years isn’t a long time. He'd be fine and we would have the time of our lives as newlyweds exploring the country. I asked my dad if he ever felt bad about mommy leaving her job and home, and life in Los Angeles to follow him in his Navy career and he said no. I asked how and he said, "Because I knew I'd take care of her." I tried to look for other examples of this pairing, "civilian man follows military woman". Three of my peers, a handful of enlisted Airmen, and only one senior officer. All the other couples I saw were arranged as the woman follows the man or the couple are both serving in the military. So it does happen, just not often. The men I knew didn’t seem to be too phased by their wives following them, at least, from the conversations I had with some of them. If they were, most of them just didn’t express it to me. I on the other hand felt immense shame and crippling guilt. Could I be worth Michael's sacrifice? How do I make his sacrifice worth it? I thought of my dad’s words and said to myself, "I take care of him."

When we first moved to Korea, I saw the toll the move had on Michael. My mom, a veteran military spouse, told me that I could be supportive of Michael by letting him do things at his own pace. Whether that’s being social with other people, doing activities within the base community, looking for work, etc. Let him do things at his own pace. I took my mom's advice and tried to be as supportive as possible. Michael told me repeatedly that his sacrifice is worth it if I am able to benefit from it, so I did everything I could to make what he gave up worth it by doing my best at work. During our downtime, we dove into opportunities within the base community to explore the country before I was hit with news that started my initial stream of depression. Michael joined a soccer team and gained a huge community and fulfillment from it. What he didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be for him to find a job. Rejection really sucks. Watching the person you love being rejected repeatedly for months and months and feeling like you are the cause of it, really REALLY sucks. I watched Michael submit 52 job applications go through 11 rounds of interviews each of whom told him NO. After eight months of trying, he finally heard yes and we celebrated.

I would often look around and wonder, who would want this life? The majority of Michael's spouse peers out here are women. Many of whom have children or are pregnant. I move every two years, are we supposed to go through this type of disconnection and lack of community with each move?

I observed first-hand how difficult and isolating this life as a military spouse could be. Why would anyone choose to go through this? Dropping their life and coming second with every move and every assignment. I am not worth that kind of self-sacrifice, I told myself. It was at that moment where I recognized the sexism that lived within me.

While I love Michael and it was a good thing for me to have compassion for what he was going through and have appreciation of the sacrifice he made for us to be together, Michael was not experiencing anything different than what women who are military spouses have been experiencing for YEARS. Pretty much since the creation of a military. The loss of jobs with each move. The strain of packing up and unpacking a home in a new city or new country. Getting reacquainted with a new community. Coming second in a relationship as your military spouse must be ready to answer the call to their respective service at any fleeting moment. This is nothing new. Somehow (from what I saw) my male heterosexual peers and mentors didn't seem to question their worth or harbor insufferable guilt for the difficult sacrifices their wives made daily for them and their family. Why was I? Why was I allowing this guilt to be a source of nourishment to my severe depression?

I realized that my guilt came from a deep-rooted place. I feared that by being with me, Michael would develop resentment towards me for sacrificing his career. I feared that during the periods of time he was without work that he would feel emasculated. I feared that others would judge him for not working. I feared that all of this would put a strain on our relationship. I feared that he wouldn’t find people to relate to. I feared that one day I would grow to judge him. I feared. I feared. I feared.

After going through this I realized that all this guilt and fear I possessed came from one place: insecurity. Because our relationship is so poorly represented externally, and I have not cultivated an internal worthiness within myself, I felt insecure. What I’ve learned is, while external representation can bring a HUGE sense of comfort and reassurance, the only source of comfort I had control of was within. Within the confines of MY OWN relationship. Just the two of his. Michael is a very secure man who does not attach his worth to external things. Knowing this I had nothing to worry about with him, other than just being my normal loving self.

I ask myself, Kristin you've done all these things, you have so much to be proud of and reasons to be confident, why are you so insecure? Why are you having such a difficult time seeing the worthiness within your own self? I’ve realized that to be true to myself, I will continue to navigate spaces where I am not represented. So those comforts and reassurances that others are externally surrounded by, I have to repeatedly build these things inside myself. I kept trying to make Michael's sacrifice worth it but the truth was, it was always worth it because he was leaving to be with me and me alone. I was always worth it, not from anyone else’s say or external conditions, just me as I am. It's OKAY for me to trust that he can make his own decision. And it’s OKAY for me to trust myself that I AM enough.

So for any woman or person wondering if you are enough for someone to follow you in your career, or to do anything not 'traditional', I want you to know that you ARE. You always were and always will be. It takes very secure people to be with people like us. And it can take a constant flow of encouragement and care to ourselves to remind ourselves that our SELF-WORTH comes from WITHIN-NOT ANYTHING external. So in those times of wonder, don't ever feel like you need to dim your shine for someone to choose to be with you.


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