Editor’s Note: This is Part Two in an on-going series on dealing with PTSD. For Part One please see here. For the Introduction to the series please see here.
Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational. Hugh Mackay
Assumptions are the termites of relationships. Henry Winkler
Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for. Bob Marley
People change and forget to tell each other. Lillian Hellman
This article is a minefield that is definitely going to blow me up. More than once. I made a deliberate decision not to write about my love life and or lack of it over time. I was asked by others to write this article. I had already decided to avoid this topic as I failed miserably while in the military in selecting and managing relationships with a partner. Many of my pursuits for adventure ceased while I was married and perhaps that may have greased the skids and become a catalyst for my failure. I know it did in one of them. I was certainly able to chase and discover new sources of adrenaline faster when I was single. I had all my time to spend doing what I wanted without considering the wishes of another. It is however a key to many of my successes as well as the failures. I was not able to concurrently effectively manage my work, chase adventure and relationships well.
If you have read some of my previous articles, you know the difficulties that I had with some of my military related relationships as well as my successes. I do not intend to repeat them here. I was always happy when I enjoyed my work. I could live with a boss that I did not like or respect if I loved the work. This philosophy does not work when the person causing you the stress lives in the same house.
I realized early that for me to be happy I needed the stars to align in 3 areas: my work, the location of my work and having a good partner. I also understood from experience that the minute all three were good, something was going to happen to one of the three. It was rare for all three to be good at the same time. Now that I am a senior, health is added to the list. Some days I am Superman, other days I could be the grandfather in the movie, Grumpy Old Men. On some days both, but always Superman when I start the day.
I finally broke the code. I worked hard to stay the same before, during and after a relationship. In those days, I drank, worked long hours, fished for marlin, scuba dived and travelled a lot for work. I was no different from 1982 until I medically retired. Many potential partners dropped by the wayside as my lifestyle and interests did not adequately align with theirs. That also led to loneliness at times. I used to joke that I couldn’t get a dance in the Legion at 1 AM in the morning if I was the last man there. I was also working too much to date anyone as well.
And starting the hunt and chase for what I perceived as an attractive mate certainly involved adrenaline rushes, especially when succeeding in the pursuit. I later came to find that I enjoyed the hunt more when I was the prey. That was a much clearer sign of success.
I remember greeting my squadron as they returned from 2 months of exercise in Germany. I had been the rear party officer. There were no cell phones or internet then. I acted as the liaison between the squadron in Germany and their dependents in Canada. I watched the soldiers arrive, get a hug and kisses and leave. They all left with someone, and I was still alone. I wasn’t lonely much longer.
There is no advice offered in this article. I never would have passed a threshold knowledge test required to start a course in this subject. I do know that I was not the only soldier in this position. There is a unit that at the time had a divorce average greater than 2 and the statistic included the single soldiers that had yet to get married the first time. I know of military marriages that lasted less than 3 weeks let lone 6 weeks.
I finally succeeded after I left the military. I did however notice how some of my peers had a wonderful partner while others failed faster and worse than myself. My first child was born when I was 35. I was envious of others and watched some closely to try to determine the why and how of their success.
The RMC bubble is very different from the rest of the world. I admire my peers that managed to marry well the first time to their RMC sweetheart. Several marriages of cadets to their date on Grad night dissolved by the first reunion. In the old days, a divorce ended one’s career progression. Times have changed as a streamer friend of mine made LGen and he was divorced. I have identified my 4 main factors leading to my relationship failure:
We did not have the same core values. It is too late to find out that your partner is a racist when you are already married.
I did not understand love and lust won the day.
I was lonely and fell into the trap of lust
I did not understand myself and need for adrenaline and the impact of being voluntold to drop my adrenaline seeking hobbies
I read all the books trying to understand. That was one of reasons that I had to leave Gagetown after my second operational tour. The number of available women for me to date was very small that met my initial criteria. I had travelled extensively by then. I did not want to go back to places that was their dream fantasy trip. Same in civie land. It was their impossible dream to go to Hawaii and I went there for work. I took her there 3 times in a year. The same rational applied to Disney prison in Orlando, Las Vegas and NYC. Work vs their dream vacation. I will never complain about too much travel to Key West, New Orleans, San Diego, or Asia.
I failed miserably in my relationships while serving. For many reasons. I succeeded in some of my jobs because I was single and could put in the hours. I was asked to write this article by others and had deliberately avoided it but it helps round out the series. One can be as tough as nails as a warrior and a weak-kneed bubbling crying heart broken baby over lost love.
I introduced several friends to their future wife. Some were successful, others not so much. One of my best friends and I fished together a lot. I introduced him to a woman and suddenly I was no longer fishing with my bud. She liked to fish as well.
Many military couples have different styles of relationships. Some are very open while others are so restricted that they would be suffocating for others. Some are built on trust while others have no trust but the couple remain together nevertheless. I deliberately tried to avoid a relationship with serving members. My initial short-term flings went well until they didn’t and that stopped any further adventures with serving members. I was introduced to an RCMP member whose job was too macho for me and I could not handle the discrepancy. I was still to young and naïve to handle the situation. As much as I loved the adrenaline rush, I did not want it in my personal life as related to my mate. I wanted peace and calm without any adrenaline causing tsunamis. Examples are as follows:
- When 4CMBG deployed to the field for major USA NATO exercises, the USAF occupied with the Lahr airfield with a fighter wing from the USA. All those planes meant many more airmen. Many of the wives stayed home some did not. Some of their husbands partied, most did not. One of the Bde wives was injured partying one night. As the days progressed, the rumour mill moved the injured wife to my Regiment, then squadron and finally my troop. The family was sent back to Canada 2 weeks after the exercise ended.
- One of my soldiers in Gagetown begged to not be sent back to the field. He had finally found a girlfriend but was afraid he would lose her if he was gone for a week.
- By the end of the 70’s with the myth of free love (baloney by the way), officers had started cohabitating with potential life long partners prior to marriage. A new CO arrived and issued an ultimatum “Marry now or move out”. It is now called common law marriage.
- Some officers put duty and work ahead of family so much that their partners selected other officers as their partner. This never ends well for everyone. I can say that those that I am aware of that went on this journey are stilled married 40 years later.
- I wanted children but with the right woman. That ended relationships.
- Some chose to never marry. One veteran buddy was engaged to three different women three different times. He preferred to run away back to the war. He figured it was safer to get shot at.
- Another veteran air force buddy was engaged to 3 different women at the same time. This was before the internet and mobile phones. They were all in different locations thousands of miles apart. He was having an engagement party with one of them (Wing Commanders daughter) when the other two flew into surprise him as they knew he had a long layover in Hawaii. Surprise, surprise, surprise, because no amount of tap dancing could get him out of the meeting of the three. His career in the Wing ended.
- Some soldiers fooled around when far away (the unwritten rule was a quarter on the map of the world) while others fooled around in the home station area. I had trouble dating one woman let alone being married and chasing others. I never fooled around when married but made up for lost time when my marriages were over. I gave away three houses and furniture.
Not all my failures were all my fault. I attended a weeklong course in Kingston and then a Bud’s wedding in Montreal on the way home. The wedding convinced me that I should consider proposing to my current girlfriend. I can only assume that she did not trust me because she believed that I was fooling around because I had not invited her to the wedding. She fooled around and then blamed me for fooling around. I could go to Germany for 2 months no problem but away for 2 days was trouble. Mutual trust is critical for deployed soldiers for a relationship to work.
So military relationships are no different than Hollywood movie stars. Hopefully your indiscretions do not make the nightly news like theirs do. I have seen military partners contribute to the success of a military career as well as derail it.
I met my current wife in 1997 just as my world tour of adventure and fishing was ending. Our relationship succeeded for several reasons. Some are listed below.
- Our core values were similar
- She likes adventure and adrenaline rushes as well
- She is independent, self sufficient and speaks her mind
- We had trust in each other
- She survived my descent into non-functional alcoholism and PTSD
- She attended my rehab from alcohol and joint PTSD courses with me and assisted in my recovery including my psychologist
- She has a great sense of humour and does not tolerate BS including mine
- I became sober almost 6 years ago which she considers a miracle.
- She reeled me back in when my PTSD was leading me astray. A 60 plus year old man should not consider fighting ISIS or Russians in the Ukraine.
- Her mother worked 110% to help us succeed as her brothers and father were not happy with a Gringo trying to steal the baby of the family
- Despite the many obstacles to our relationship (I would not drive 150 km for a relationship but had no issues commuting to a different continent) I continued the pursuit. If the PER says determined that means they like you. Stubborn means the same except that they do not like you. I was determined. I had a mission, put a good SMEAC and plan together and executed on it. Life in the military can teach skills besides how to shine boots.
- I was no longer in the military. That would have been a showstopper for her.
- My first CO stated that he would kill me if the marriage did not succeed as he could not handle me single again.
I had long scraggly hair and a bird’s nest in my beard when we met. I had a hole in one of my large toenails that was full of sand. My fingernails were longer than a tiger’s claws until she introduced to a manicurist. She jokes that she knew I was a diamond in the rough and that after 25 years she is still looking for a hint of the diamond.
She went deep sea fishing with me and scuba diving. We fed dolphins together as a secondary duty at a remote resort. That gets boring after a while, an hour at a time, twice a day. We went jet skiing over two m waves and she was driving. I was hanging on for dear life, she was laughing as she raised her butt knocking me off the seadoo with a backwards somersault. That’s when I knew that she was a keeper.
Communication. It is critical to understand the meaning of specific things in different cultures. I often get into trouble when receiving gifts. A belt given to a man by a woman in some countries means that the man is now hers. You are not supposed to lend that belt to another man. A watch given as a gift also means something besides telling time. It took me a long time to recover from refusing it. I am a terrible soccer player let alone watch it on TV. I find it incredibly boring to watch on TV unless my wife’s country is playing. I learn new curse words in Spanish every game we watch. I watch her not the game. She yells and screams better than most RSM’s on a large parade square. I found that a book called Kiss , Bow or Shake Hands to be a life saver on many occasions.
I believe that luck is defined as 90% hard work and 10% being in the right place at the right time. That is how I was able to find a partner while continuing my chase of adventure. She understands that my mistresses are now called marlin fishing and ammolite mining. Good luck to you if you are in the same boat as I was. Now that I have given you luck, work hard and smart in your endeavours in this area.
I was enjoying one of my long leaves working at a Club Med as a scuba diver. Another Canadian woman had decided that I was to be her new beau. I was not interested and unfortunately her room was very close to mine. The same French Dr. that is in the training article and I went lobster poaching one afternoon. Free diving without tanks is legal but we were using scuba. We were having zero luck when I saw a coral head moving in the distance. It was by far the largest lobster that I have ever seen. Catching it is a whole story by itself. A live lobster is a safe to eat and we intended to broil it that night on the beach. Lobsters can live out of water for a surprising length of time. I put it under my bed in the dark to calm it down until dinner time.
I had already had the girl up by her feet and dunked her head in the pool. The mother’s pursuit continued. The woman and her 4-year-old daughter harassed me one more time and for some reason the woman left and her daughter was with me. I asked her if she believed in monsters hiding under a bed. She stated that monsters did not live under a bed and I said that I had one under mine. She demanded to see it and I obliged but not near as well as the lobster. As soon as the bed skirt was lifted the lobster charged toward the daylight directly at the by now screaming girl. I was thereafter left alone but regret scaring the girl. The lobster fed 10 people with some left over. It’s legs were the size of King Crab legs.
Jeff Foxworthy is an American redneck columnist who expresses his opinions in a style I am now going to copy. You know your military marriage is in trouble (all of these statements are true) when:
- You arrive for breakfast and the bacon and eggs plus the cast iron frying pan with hot grease flies over your head
- Your bride leaves you three days into the honeymoon
- Your wife hides behind a door and hits you with a 2×4 when you walk by
- She tells you to go back to sea because she wants you gone from the house
- She pulls a knife on you when you return from home and say hello, how was your day?
- You find someone else’s uniform in your house
- She asks you why you have all that army looking stuff and you have been together a year.
- You come home and all your clothing has been thrown onto the street.
- You deliberately take courses and volunteer for extra work in order to not go home.
- The highlight of your week is watching Love Boat on TV.
All of these things happened to friends of mine or myself. These one liners are incidents from 7 different CF members.
The wife of a Col from the USMC divorced him just before retirement. He was the oldest active porn star in San Diego the last time that I spoke with him. Talk about a significant reclassification and change in career paths.
I was just finishing my world tour of fishing and adventure (1997) when I met my current wife. We were on a beach and I was giving her a back massage with some fantastic massage oil. I was approached by another tourist and asked to massage her when the current massage was completed. How much did it cost for an hour massage? Rather than become upset, my future wife thought it was funny. Others I know would have been very unhappy.
My daughter was getting married in a resort in Mexico. I decided to give many different gifts to the bridal party of about 25 people, jewelry that I had bought or made. I had been giving gifts on most days to many people. The night of the wedding, I got the attention of the maids of honour and said showed them what I was also giving them. They saw knock off Pandora beads and necklaces and bracelets that looked like the real thing. Some were solid silver. They gathered before me and I gently placed hundreds of beads and bracelets on the ground. The six bridesmaids gave the rest of us a laugh as they scrambled to get the most of them that they could. My wife knew what I was doing and was at the bar getting me a cold drink when a young woman who was the wedding photographers assistant approached her. She wanted to know about the rich older guy throwing around Pandora jewellery. Was I single, did she know me, what was I like? She perceived that I was a possible sugar daddy but picked the wrong person to ask for intel. Had she really known much about me, I expect she would have run away.
I had just returned from marlin fishing. I had caught and killed a marlin to give to the boat Captain for the New Years Party that night. My clothing was covered with sweat stains, fish blood, and I was also wet from wading in the ocean. I saw my wife at a pool bar in her bikini looking quite attractive. I approached her and started asking questions as if I did not know her. She responded and the jaws of the two young bar tenders started to lower closer to the ground. I then asked her to go for a walk with me and then come back with me to my hotel room. She said yes and the jaws of the two bar tenders hit the ground. We had totally sucked them into the plot. They believed that this much younger good-looking woman had just been picked up an old grimy man. They later admitted that we had really fooled them.
I attended an RCD Mess Dinner with my current wife in 1999 in Petawawa. It was her first Mess Dinner. The night was early and my wife and I were having the preliminary drinks in the bar before the meal. A Lt had been getting ready in the bar for a while as he lost all his inhibitions. In front of me, he proposed to my wife. He told her to dump me and he would marry her the next day. When she left me, find him and he would marry her. His words of seduction continued for several minutes. Eventually, his buddies led him away. My wife was afraid that I would attack him. I couldn’t. I was laughing too hard. I had been that Lt. 28 years before but was only chasing a girlfriend not a married woman. He was very polite, meant well and showed true Regimental spirit, dash, elan and certainly had courage. I hope he is still not waiting. She has several wannabe boyfriends today at the Veteran’s Association Food Bank in Calgary where we both volunteer. Most are 80 and just love to talk with her. She loves to listen to their stories rather than mine. The last few incidents demonstrate just how much fun partners can have when they are working well as a team.
Thanks Karmin, for this article and the many that preceded this one. It takes serious BALLS to bring this sh** into the public sphere, and I salute you for your willingness to do so. Bass fishing on Loughborough kind of pales in comparison to the billfish, I guess…