IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Couldn’t Handle Life as a Military Girlfriend

The prospect of a life spent in small towns where I couldn't make any connections beyond my relationship seemed like a prison sentence.
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Kate Bigam
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The prospect of a life spent in small towns where I couldn't make any connections beyond my relationship seemed like a prison sentence.
I was trying my hardest . . . but it didn’t seem to be working.

I was trying my hardest . . . but it didn’t seem to be working.

My boyfriend and I had only been dating for six months — all of them long-distance — when I decided to move 14 hours away from my home to live with him in a small town on the New Hampshire seacoast. He had been stationed there with the Coast Guard for two and a half years, with a year and a half left to go before the military assigned him someplace new.

Before I decided to move, I spent two weeks visiting him to be sure I liked the idea. I found Portsmouth, New Hampshire, situated a few miles inland of the Atlantic Ocean, to be quaint and quirky. 

During my visit, I fell more in love with my boyfriend — and with the idea of starting a life together in New Hampshire. I dreamed of going on adventures and exploring the local scene, growing closer to one another and calling this small town my home.

But almost immediately, I worried whether I'd made the wrong decision. Despite my best efforts, I found it nearly impossible to make friends, and because I worked from home, I didn't have an office full of coworkers to serve as friendly faces or help me acclimate to the area. 

I tried working out of coffee shops, which helped me feel connected with the outside world, but I wasn't exactly befriending baristas or broadening my social circle by sipping lattes at my laptop — so I spent most of my time in our apartment, with no one but the cat for company. 

My boyfriend was my only friend, and though that was fine by him, I struggled with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and, eventually, resentment.

Then came the deployments. My boyfriend's ship went out to sea for two-month stints, during which time we could only communicate by email (and a phone call or two when his shipped pulled into a port like Key West or Cartageña). 

While he was away, I busied myself with work and traveled to visit friends and family elsewhere. Still, I couldn't seem to make friends in town, so I spent the majority of time by myself. I tried taking classes at the library, participating in groups on Meetup.com, and even finding new people on Twitter, but nothing came of it. Eventually, I became so disheartened that I quit trying.

I loved my boyfriend, and he loved his job, but military life started to make me miserable.

I loved my boyfriend, and he loved his job, but military life started to make me miserable.

Between deployments, my boyfriend was home for two months at a time, and when he was back, we were attached at the hip. We didn't want to waste any of our precious, rare time together, so we spent every evening and every weekend together — even if it just meant me writing on my laptop in the living room with him while he watched a football game next to me. If ever I suggested that I needed a bit of alone time — to write, read, or just recharge — he convinced me to put it off and hang out with him instead. I'd soon have plenty of time to myself, he reminded me, when he deployed again.

For me, this all-or-nothing lifestyle was incredibly stressful. We'd spend 24/7 together for two months, then I'd spend the next two months in total isolation. 

No one else factored into the equation. I didn't have coworkers of my own, and my boyfriend didn’t want to hang out with his, so the times we spent with other people were few and far between. For him, an introvert who was happy to spend all of his spare time with his girlfriend, this wasn't a problem; for me, a people-person but also an only child who valued my independence, the extremes of our lifestyle began to take a toll.

I began to resent him, lamenting our lack of a social life and begging him to befriend the guys he worked with. Though he was sympathetic to my loneliness and said he understood, he never really grasped how toxic the patterns of our relationship were for me. No matter how much I loved him — and I really, really did — I felt trapped in a life devoid of other meaningful relationships.

I told myself things would be better when he was re-stationed someplace new, where he wouldn’t deploy anymore and would just have a normal, everyday job on a military base. We hoped to end up in a city where I either had friends or could make them more easily; we listed Boston and New York as our top preferences and waited eagerly to see where we were headed next. Finally, a social life seemed within reach, and I knew it could be the ticket to rescuing our relationship.

When we received his next assignment, though, it was not the news we’d hoped for: The Coast Guard was sending us to the Jersey Shore, an 80-minute train ride from Manhattan. Though I had close friends and even an office in New York City, the time and cost of a regular commute was infeasible. 

And so our life in New Jersey was, like in New Hampshire, quaint and quiet. My boyfriend liked his new coworkers, so we spent the occasional nights out with them, but I still struggled to find people with whom I really connected. And because he didn't deploy anymore, I found myself with less alone time than ever — which was ironic, given my extreme loneliness. It was just us, all the time, seemingly in perpetuity. I felt suffocated — never alone but always lonely.

Though military spousal communities are notoriously close-knit, I never felt that to be the case at the bases where my boyfriend was stationed. I quickly learned that being a military girlfriend doesn’t carry the same social "in" as being a military wife, and on top of that, the women I met were not my type of people — they couldn't understand why I wanted a career, or why we weren't yet married with kids. Even if my boyfriend and I were to get married, I couldn't envision myself being part of that crowd.

We had, in fact, been talking about marriage, and I knew he had an engagement ring tucked away somewhere. But the prospect of a life spent in small towns where I couldn't make any connections beyond my relationship seemed like a prison sentence. 

We were bound to the military, so there was no guarantee we'd ever live in a city, the kind of place where I thrive; there was no guarantee our relationship would ever have the opportunity to flourish like we felt it could under different circumstances. 

And after three and a half years of not getting it, there was no guarantee I would ever be able to get my boyfriend to understand how smothered I felt by our constant, unrelenting togetherness.

So instead of getting engaged, I got out.

It took me a near-breakdown to convince myself to leave, and it was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. There are few reasons to leave a relationship that are as painful as, "I love you so much, but there's just no way to make this work." The reality, though, is that, as that old song says, sometimes love just ain't enough. In the end, I had to do what was best for me — and the life of a military wife wasn't it.