Love

The Party That Saved My Marriage

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
The annual reading of General Lejeune’s Birthday message.

Even though my marriage was abruptly paused in August, it wasn’t enough to stop my November excitement-train momentum.

Because, more than any November before, I needed this one.

For fourteen of our 20 years, my husband and I lived an active duty marriage. Much of our time together was really time apart. Big blocks of our family calendar were dedicated to mandatory training which took him time zones away, and the ever-looming, Marine-coveted combat deployments which took him worlds away.

In between the extended absences, the Marine Corps gifted us mini-breaks — a couple of weeks in the field, a week away for business.

These intermissions kept our fragile bond strong enough to endure the cycles of breaks and reunions. Like the healing of a broken bone, our fusing became stronger during the time apart. They allowed me to create the husband I wanted and live the marriage of my dreams.

The reunions were a community event. We were a tribe of women welcoming home our warriors from the hunt. I didn’t just participate in this ritual; I was the hype-man.

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While they were away, I coordinated care-package gatherings, family potlucks, and baby showers. And when they returned, I was Jennifer Lopez from The Wedding Planner.

I made sure all the details were handled — messages with step-by-step instructions to the families explaining the process to get through the front gate guarded by Marine Corps Police, coordinated linens for the single Marine’s barracks beds, and notified the base newspaper so the photographer would capture the Welcome Home embraces.

This was my role in the tribe — to make sure the families had the reunion they deserved.

Each "Welcome Home" was another strip of marriage duct tape, holding it together long enough to make it to the next duty station, training, or deployment.

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When my husband retired, I was at a loss to find the roll of adhesive that would keep us bound.

The Marine Corps Ball became the glue that would keep us stuck. Both of us found what we needed at this once-a-year party. He got his fix of importance and nostalgia, and I got my hit of belonging.

The energy created by the black-tie event was the bonding agent that would pull us back together, year after year. When we were getting stretched apart, each move toward the Ball — room reservation, airline tickets, group emails with coordinating drinking meet-ups — created sticky anticipation keeping us attached.

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So, when my husband left, I was still stuck.

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My need to be a member of the tribe would not release me from moving forward with having the November I’d had for decades.

That year’s birthday celebration was a duct tape ball of enmeshment. It included all the elements of The Best Time Ever — a reunion of decades-long friends, Craps tables, and a personal friend who was the head of it all — the Battalion Commander.

Due to our long-standing friendship, my invitation was secure. Because I demanded it.

The more I felt this life leaving me, the tighter I gripped, forcing some of the people I love to rip away.

My need to belong blocked out my ability to show empathy for anyone else, so I put the Commander in the impossible position and asked if I still had a seat at the Marine Corps table — was I still a member of the tribe?

And, because he is a decent and good man, he would not be the one to banish me. Instead, he comforted me by confirming that my invitation to the Ball still stood.

His validation gave me the false boost of belonging I needed to stay unshakable in my pious stance of attending the event.

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Then the disinvitations started rolling in.

And I would come to realize, that just because you have an invite doesn’t mean you should go to the party.

The author has been a military spouse for over 20 years. She is sharing her story of becoming an active-duty Marine Corps wife, fully embracing the military lifestyle, and now her journey of unbecoming everything she’s been for the past two decades.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.