Felice is a newlywed trying to make sense of her two new marriages, one to her husband and one to the military. Her current unemployment weighs heavily on her, and makes her feel “defeated.” She is struggling to find a way to stay positive and keep her own career a priority. In order to protect her identity, I am not using Felice’s real name. The following are excerpts from my interview with Felice in Germany.
I’ve always been the type of person who gets my self-worth or self-fulfillment from achievements… I grew up in a two-parent household where both my parents worked. My mother was a nurse and she ran a hospice. She was the director of a hospice. And my dad worked at a national laboratory, and he did all the budgets. So very highly educated people, very busy. They had five kids and they both had to work. My mother loved her job, absolutely loved her job. And then she came home and raised her five children. And that was something that was instilled in me from such an early age. I’m the youngest of five children, and when I was born she went back to work. My whole childhood, I always saw my mother working. So worthiness for me comes into play because I saw that she did everything, and she loved her job. And there were times that my dad would say, “Well you know, you don’t have to work if you don’t want to.” And she would look at him like he was crazy. “I have to work because this makes me feel good about myself.”
So having that as a mentor…
Worthiness to me is based on achievement.
My mother achieved a lot and still had the family and still had all of that…So I felt like I should always work because if she could do it, then I could too. And always be the best of the best of the best. Because I felt like that’s when you get recognition. Being in such a large family, you get recognition when you stand out.
I’ve always been on a path of high outward achievement, but now I’ve had the time to step back, because I’m not working, and say, “What do I really want?” And to be honest with you, I don’t know. I was very nervous from the work perspective (when I got married), but I decided in my head that it’s okay. You’re going to marry this person. You are not going to pass this up (when) you don’t know what’s next for you in terms of work. So I thought, okay maybe I’ll come here and get a Masters degree so at least I’m furthering myself or doing something. Or maybe it will be amazing. I’ll find a job and all of that. But again, until I’m living it, until I’m in the situation, you can try to warn me and talk to me about it a hundred times. My husband does that very well. Here’s every single situation that could ever happen. And of course, I was listening to him at the time but until I’m living it on a daily basis I couldn’t always make those connections.
The biggest thing that is really difficult about being here (in Europe) is that it’s the double-edged sword of time to travel and not work versus what’s going to be on that resume when I go back to the states next April and it has nothing on it. I come from HR, I come from recruiting, and if I saw that resume I would put it to the side. Because realistically I’m not going to put down that I’m a military spouse or that I moved based on being a military spouse. Because as a recruiter, (you know) that person is leaving in 3 to 5 years.
This is not just marrying someone who has a job. This is marrying the military. And this is a very hard thing.
In my opinion, it is two marriages because there is something that dictates where you are going to live and what if that area of the country doesn’t even do what you do? You know? I don’t know. Or (if) the job doesn’t pay what you were making, that’s another difficult scenario as well.
What’s my self-worth if I’m making $8 an hour when I was making $55,000 a year?
I went for an interview (when we got here), and I was very over-qualified for the job. It was a front desk position, really not handling a lot. The position paid $7.50 but they said they would give me $8 an hour. There was going to be no time off for the first 90 days, just like any normal job. But they knew I was over-qualified. I mean, I had done more than what the director of the program was doing at the time. And I kind of felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want her to feel like, “Who’s this person who knows more than I do?”
So I really tried to dumb myself down. Even though it showed I’d done all this stuff on my resume. And I just was like you know, “I am willing to take an entry level type position.” That was a question they asked me. So I went for the interview.
I felt pretty good, but I brought it home to my husband as well. This was the first time I’ve ever asked someone else’s opinion on my work stuff, which felt uncomfortable, but I said, “Now we’re a team. So I guess this is a decision we both make, you know?” And he was like, “I just don’t know how you can feel good about that. I mean you were making this amount. Now you’re going to make $8 an hour, and we’re going to lose all our flexibility. You’re not going to be able to travel. What if you don’t have the same days off as I do?” And I bought into it. I said, “You’re right. We’re here to travel. This is our time.” We just got married, all of that. So I bought into that, and I was okay with that. And then I got the call for the second interview. And I know I would have gotten the job, but I didn’t accept the second interview.
And then as the months have gone on, of course my husband and I travel. Of course we do that. We’re doing 3-day weekends, that type of thing. My husband moved from a position where he was working in one area and then he was actually promoted to be an exec to a commander. So now he’s much more busy. Now he doesn’t get home till 7:00 or 8:00 at night. Now he’s not even home. And here I am holding off not getting a job, regretting not going for that second interview, and if I was offered the job, not taking it. Because really, was the 10 days of travel that we’ve done in the last 5 months worth it for me not to be working?
It’s hard. There’s resentment towards my husband that isn’t his fault.
This is his job. This is what he’s doing. But then I’m watching Oprah or I’m watching Dr. Phil and I’m saying to him, “I already saw that this morning.” And he’s like, “Must be nice to watch TV.” So then you have this power struggle of saying, “But I listened to your advice. And you decided with me that it wasn’t a good idea to take a job because we would lose on our flexibility. But now I don’t know when you’re coming home from work. And I’m alone all day, and yes I can go have lunch with people, and live this weird lifestyle.” I’m not putting down anybody by saying this, but I’m like the lady who lunches. You know? I don’t have any responsibilities. I don’t have anything to do. I don’t know when my husband is coming home from work, so sometimes dinner is made, sometimes it’s not. I get to it when I get to it. I clean our house, but I don’t get gratification out of cleaning my house. That doesn’t make me feel like I’m giving to my relationship. Also the factor of money, none of this money is mine anymore, in my head. This isn’t money I brought to our marriage. And that’s really difficult. I want to buy something and before when I was single and working, I just bought it.
It’s our money, and my husband doesn’t feel this way, but I feel that I have to be telling him what I buy. And I don’t like that. I have so much guilt about it. Where really he’d be like, “Honey, I don’t care. That’s fine.” But you know the $100 pair of Coach shoes I bought? Do I really need those? And why do I feel so guilty for not telling him I bought them? He sees the Discover bill. It’s not like the guy doesn’t know I buy stuff, but I have this guilt because I’m not contributing.
I’ve never been in that space where I didn’t support myself and it’s really hard on the esteem for me.
Because like I said, I base things on achievements. Cleaning my house is not an achievement. I’m not saying there aren’t things for me to be doing. I just kind of feel scared, which I’ve never felt before.
(I’m scared that) I’m not going to be awesome at (what I do), or that it’s not going to work out, or I’m going to fall in love with something and as soon as I get in a rhythm and feel good, we’re going to get orders and go somewhere else. And it’s also building connections with other women as well. You build these connections and then, “See you later.” So how much do you really give of yourself? How much do you really invest in relationships with other people?
And how do you not complain? My husband has taken an oath to do this.
This is a very honoring position, what he’s decided to do with his life. And here I am spending my 8 hours a day complaining about it. I chose this. I really own my choices, and I’ve been that person where I commit to something full force. But like I said, I have controlled everything in my life. Now I literally feel like I have no control.
I’m compensating for not being busy by buying things. (My husband) had told me this a while ago. Before we were married, he’s like “Yeah, some of the guys come to work and they complain about how their wives just spend all this money.” And I understand why now. Because they have nothing to do. And they need to validated, so when they see something they want, or it’s a trip to the PX, it’s somewhere to go. I thought, “God, that’s so lame.” Now I’m that person.
And I think what’s difficult too, is that I am newly married.
So this is a formative time for my relationship and here I am in shock mode.
Oh my gosh, this my life and how will I ever have a job? How will I ever do this when everything right now is based on him? So it’s coming together as a couple, but it’s also like I said, the two marriages. Realizing this thing is the military, that’s the marriage.
I’ll ask my husband how his day is, and I know he appreciates that. But when he asks me about my day, I don’t want to talk about it, because I’m like, “Well I didn’t do anything today. I sat on the couch all day. God, I’m totally worthless.”
I hope I can get back in the workforce and be where I was at. Because I don’t even feel confident to be where I was at.
I don’t feel confident to ask for $55,000 knowing I’ve been out of the workforce for a year. I don’t feel confident because from my perspective in the HR area, and recruiting area, I have a massive gap on my resume. So, I hope I find a job. Or maybe I’ll just go back (to school), so I can avoid putting that resume together to try to get a job.
I decided I was going to get a Masters while I’m here. And I go in to talk to them about it, and I tell the lady, “Here’s my $40 application fee.” And she said, “Well when’s the DEROS date? When do you leave?” And here’s where I get defeated. She said, “You can’t do the program. You have to complete the Masters while you’re here. It’s only an overseas program for counseling.” She’s like, “Sorry, that’s the policy.” So how are you really helping me, you know? You’re totally defeating me. I go over and above to see what I can do to make exceptions. There will be no exceptions made. Okay. Well now I’m not going to get a Masters while I’m here. Great.
A door is closed. And it makes me want to give up.
It’s this whole new life that I don’t control a lot of it, in my perspective. And my thought pattern is I just need to take the bull by the horns and just make it happen for myself. But when I try to do that, like I said, I get this defeated attitude. I don’t know where that’s coming from.
I feel like I’m the only one who can make it happen for myself. It’s not my husband’s responsibility to make it happen for me. It is my responsibility to make my own happiness that I can share with him. I told my husband I don’t think we’re going to have kids for 5 years. Because what do I have to bring to the table? I don’t have a job. I don’t know what I’m doing. I want my children to be proud of me. I want to have something so when they do go to school, I have my own thing going on. I need to figure that out. I need to go to nursing school if that’s what I’m going to do before I have a child. And I remember when I first came here, and all the women I met had children. Either their husbands were enlisted or they were officers but they immediately had children when they got in. And I said “Oh, I feel bad for these ladies. All they’ve known is kids.” But then that thought came into my mind the other day. Well maybe I’ll have a baby. No, you don’t have a baby to chart the course because you don’t know where the course is going. You have a baby because you’re ready to have a baby. But I can kind of see why some people made those choices. So of course I’m not going to bring another life here. But then I’m thinking to myself, “Well, what else am I doing?” And that’s kind of the crazy soliloquy that’s going on in my head, because I’ve got a lot of time on my hands to over-think and over-analyze every single thing. And then my husband will come home and say, “God, you look so stressed out.” Because I’ve been thinking about crazy things for the last 8 hours for this entire week, every single day.
Or I feel obligated to get up in the morning with my husband when he has PT. I’ll get up at 6:30 in the morning, because when we first got here, I was sleeping in till noon. Then he would come home and be like, “Oh my God, why is your hair wet?” Because I basically just took a shower 15 minutes before you came home. I didn’t do anything today. Now I try to get up and I try to stay up, (even if) I don’t have a plan today. So it’s just weird. I’ve never been this way.
I’ve never been like, “Oh my God, how am I going to fill the day?”
If I don’t have anything, he knows I’m on the couch all day. That’s not healthy for me. That’s not mentally healthy. I don’t have anything, so I’m kicking my fins trying to stay above water, because I feel like there is no control.
Well I’ve expressed this to my husband too. I know I felt more confident and had more self-worth when I had a job. So I don’t have a job, hence I feel this way. It also has other factors too. It’s not just being a military spouse. It’s being a new spouse. It’s all of those things.
I’m (not) just going to be living for my husband. That’s not who I am. I can’t just take a backseat on my own life because his job dictates these parameters or whatever. And at the same time, I want to be a good spouse and I want to be supportive of the person who is supporting us financially. It must be hard to be the one who goes to work every day. I try to look at it from his perspective too. I’m sure there are days he doesn’t want to go to work.
My hope is that we can come to an understanding that I’m going to be working and that I’m going to need to have something of my own. Because that’s obviously going to affect our relationship if I don’t have something of my own. It already affects our relationship now. And military spouses are the reason people stay in the military. We are a retention piece. So if we are not happy, we make the military member unhappy and maybe they’ll get out earlier. I don’t want that for my husband. I want him to have the most amazing career. I want him to do everything he possibly can.
I do want everything that he wants for his career. I want him to want that same thing for me though. And I don’t know how that’s going to work.
I feel like you have a lot of professional women who are marrying military members who have their own things going on. How do we keep that for them? How do we do that? That’s something I’d like to see how it goes throughout the years. I hope there is more support for those people, myself included.