There are so many resources for military spouses and service members, but the military girlfriends and boyfriends are often forgotten. In military dating life, the best resources possible are the men and women who have been there, done that.
After mentoring a young military girlfriend, I realized after the fact that the experience may have done me just as much good as it did her. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own journey as a milspouse/girlfriend and see the many obstacles I've overcome in the process.
My husband and I dated for nearly five years before we got married, which included living together for three and a half years. To be honest, this felt like forever, especially since we moved from the East Coast to Alaska during that time. We never experienced the carefree dating experience that some do, as I was a single mom already when we met. I moved to be closer to him within months of the start of our relationship and knew no one in town. I had a minor emergency one day and called him in a panic. He couldn't physically help me at the moment, but he remembered that one of his coworkers happened to live in my neighborhood, so he connected me with the spouse of said service member. Long story short, she saved my day!
I will never forget my first encounter (as a military girlfriend) with a military spouse. She dropped what she was doing to help out a stranger in need. She told me afterward if I ever needed anything to never hesitate to reach out, and she meant it. She sprinkled snippets of wisdom over me during the next two years whenever our paths crossed. She was brutally honest about the things that frustrated her about military life, but she always did it with a laugh and a follow-up of something she loved about that same life. Fifteen years and many cross-country duty stations later, she is still there on the other end of the line (or Facebook messenger) whenever I need her. Both of us are more "seasoned" now than we were all those years ago, but the truth is we still have value to bring to each other's lives and military journey. I will be forever grateful for her influence in my life, and I truly feel it set the pace for how I've approached every military spouse or girlfriend ever since.
Here are seven ways to mentor a military girlfriend:
1. Remember that girlfriends matter too.
We've all been there; just some spent much longer unwed than others. Give them hope. Share your pride in your journey. All these new trials are temporary. Some will resurface again from time to time in your military journey (hello PCS), but let her know that with each experience, she will grow and be better prepared to handle it next time. Whatever she's stressing about, it's likely you've been there. You'll find yourself after this counseling session with a renewed appreciation for your own experiences.
2. Pay it forward.
Someone at some point in your journey held your hand and gave you strength or advice when you needed it most. There's no one better than a seasoned military spouse to do this as long as you're mindful and empathetic, not condescending. Sometimes a military girlfriend needs to be reminded that ALL military spouses have been the outsider at some point…no one gets married before spending some amount of time first dating that lucky hero. A good deed like mentoring will always leave you feeling full of gratitude for all who mentored you along the way.
3. Know that you’re both worth it.
Simply by giving your time, you are rescuing another from loneliness in some form or another. YOUR soul will benefit from that quality time with her as well. Valuable life lessons you've experienced are worth talking about. You never know when your story may help someone down the road. We often have no clue what battles others are facing or when they will arise, so when you take the time to share your personal challenges and victories, you are offering value whether you realize it or not.
4. Good vibes.
Teach her to focus on the positive while still being aware of the potential negative. Don't allow stress to cloud all judgement. Release the weight of what you can't control, and not only will your life outlook change, but so will your LIFE. Hello? We all need this reminder!
5. Share your strength.
Unpredictability may be totally new to her. Help her see the perks and seize the opportunities that come her way. No better excuse to "just do it" than knowing that the chance to do so may not last long. Military life offers the perfect time to see just how brave you can be, and in the end, it's totally empowering!
6. Give her resources.
You'll find yourself digging through your internal toolkit and will be amazed at what you pull out of there for her! Links, groups, and ideas will all be helpful, and you'll likely run across a few you forgot existed but quickly realize how handy they will be in your own life again now that they've resurfaced.
7. Show her love.
Teach her about military spouse bonds and how vital it is to build relationships within the community. It's okay that she isn't yet married, many of the issues she's facing don't discriminate between married/unmarried couples. Show her that she's never alone and remind yourself of the same while you're at it. Sometimes we allow ourselves to forget that one, and it's one of the most important lessons of all.
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