'Typical Wifey' Irritates Vets


Your own overconfidence is easy to forgive. But overconfidence is insufferable when found in others -- especially in the military.

Just this week, I was irritated when a military veteran slammed a newlywed military blogger who was devastated when her soldier deployed unexpectedly.

“Guess this young person didn't bother to consider the realities of being married to a soldier,” groused OldVet. “Maybe she should have first talked to other wives, or a pastor, or even the recruiter. Typical.”

Typical. Something about that word set me off. It seemed so dismissive, so superior.

Typical wifey to hope for the best.

Typical wifey to think she could “handle” deployment.

Typical wifey to hear the “reality” of being married to a soldier and still believe the sacrifice will be worth it.

Yeah, buddy. We military spouses are all pretty typical. We are typically and wonderfully made. Just like everyone else, we spouses are what economists call overconfident.

In Spousenomics, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson’s insightful book about how the principless of economics work in marriage, the authors look hard at overconfidence. Overconfidence -- that trait that makes us somehow think that we are smarter and stronger and luckier and more in love than other people and that nothing bad will ever happen to us -- can cause the bubble of marital happiness to burst.

Szuchman and Anderson point to study after study in which human beings demonstrate that they are wildly overconfident creatures. Overconfidence lets us look at the divorce rate and feel sure we will live happily ever after. Overconfidence lets us buy a 3BR/1BA Cape Cod on a street lined with chainlink fences for half a million dollars. Overconfidence makes NFL stars certain that they will never get carried from the field on a stretcher.

Why wouldn’t overconfidence be present among military people, too? I’m pretty sure if you tagged along on a six-mile run at boot camp, you would find plenty of overconfident people holding on to the belt of the guy in front of them cursing themselves silly.

The overconfidence of the young allows them to expect a good outcome -- because the majority of the time we do have a good outcome. Overconfidence, in reasonable doses, allows people to take chances. It is an agent of growth because it conceals necessary hardship.

Do we really want a generation of young people who don’t get married in the military because they might be hurt when they are apart?

That doesn’t make sense to me. Instead, I think when we run into military folks grappling with the reality of their new life, struggling to make sense of it, actively trying to figure out what to do next, it is our job as OldVets to honor that.

“Ignorance and arrogance, this is how the young survive,” Mark Twain noted. Which is just another way of praising overconfidence.

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