Once upon a time (10 years ago) in a faraway land (Florida), lived a beautiful princess (fairly average looking woman in her mid-twenties paying off student loans). One day, at a ball in Tallahassee (ladies’ night at a college bar), the princess encountered a handsome prince (Naval aviator). He courted the princess, they were betrothed, and shortly thereafter they moved to a tiny kingdom in the Pacific (Guam).
The handsome prince left his blushing bride on the island a few weeks after arriving, to go slay dragons (terrorists) and keep all the kingdoms safe from harm.
While the prince was away, the princess longed for him. She stayed in bed for days aching for his return. Her tears flooded the island and she plotted her escape back to civilian life. Unable to afford the $3,000 commercial flight home, and without her prince to do such things as bring food home and take out the trash, the princess withered away and died. End of story. Actually, no. No, she didn’t. That’s not how it ends. That’s not how it ever ends.
Instead, the princess missed her prince, that part is true. But she also made the best of it. The princess found friends, and not just Woodland creatures. Real, human friends. She applied for jobs all over the kingdom, but like 90% of other princesses, found herself underemployed as she was repeatedly told she was “over-qualified.” So the princess took up golf on base and attended a prestigious university (got her Master’s degree online at a school that may or may not still be accredited).
The princess learned many things about herself while her prince was away. She learned she didn’t need a job for her identity. She didn’t need a paycheck to give her worth. When the princess finally removed her white gloves, she learned that bleach doesn’t kill roaches, the cardboard on the bottom of a frozen pizza should be removed before baking, and hairspray takes sharpie out of a carpet. She learned that you can still sunburn when it’s cloudy, there are no native species to Guam, and that the brown tree snake is actually asexual.
When the princess finally allowed herself to let her hair down, to not feel guilty for having fun in the kingdom without her spouse, she realized happiness doesn’t have to be tied to one person. She learned how to throw a theme party, the importance of having a flotation device with a built-in cupholder, and the perils of infomercials and online shopping after midnight (still hoping BumpIts will make a comeback). She learned that the subjects she thought were simply peasants (other military spouses) were actually incredible, thoughtful, articulate, and kind. And, perhaps most importantly, in her prince’s absence, she finally found her go-to Karaoke song (Total Eclipse of the Heart).
Military life isn’t always a fairy tale. It isn’t always a dress uniform and a fancy gown, a royal wedding, a perfect picture. It isn’t always that one moment captured by a camera with tears of excitement at homecoming, flags waving in the background, hair perfectly coiffed. That part of the story is fleeting.
Military life is messy. It’s goodbyes. It’s radio silence. It’s uncertainty. It’s doubt—doubt in yourself, in your spouse, in your choices together. There is no fairy godmother that will magic-wand your problems away. Your prince may not even be a phone call away when you most need him to be right there, right then.
There are no Cinderellas to do your laundry, no Snow Whites to bake you pie, no Ariels to pilfer your things and declutter your house. Military life isn’t royalty, but it is nobility. It’s not sorcery, but it is service. And, it’s not perfect, but it sure can be happily ever after.