Yes, You Can Be Friends With an Officer's Wife, and Anyone Else

Aya Shinjyo, left, shares a laugh with Audrey C. Mills, center, and her sister-in-law, Jewell Mills, during a brunch at Camp Foster, Japan. (Marine Corps/Thor J. Larson)
Aya Shinjyo, left, shares a laugh with Audrey C. Mills, center, and her sister-in-law, Jewell Mills, during a brunch at Camp Foster, Japan. (Marine Corps/Thor J. Larson)

Can you be friends with an officer's wife?

That question recently resurfaced in a SpouseBuzz post from author Lizann Lightfoot, and I found myself shaking my head. A fellow Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year installation winner, I know Lizann does important work in the spouse community. But on this contentious issue she missed the mark.

Can you be friends with officer's wife? The question and the concept that there should be or are rules for how military spouses should or must interact with each other is complete and total garbage.

(Caveat: male spouses -- we see you. So forgive this exploration of "wife" questions.)

My husband has been a service member for just shy of 17 years, the same number of years Lizann's husband had served when she wrote her piece. We have been married almost 16 of those years, so I feel qualified to speak on this subject. Eleven of those years I spent as the wife of an enlisted service member, and five of those years my husband has been an officer.

Additionally, I am the daughter of a Marine, the sister of a Marine and the sister of an airman -- and oh yeah, I was enlisted in the Marines many years ago. Statistically speaking, with four kids, I'll probably be a military mom someday as well. I have a fairly well rounded view of the military in terms of my relationship to it and to its families.

I have, in my extended family, both enlisted and officers in various branches of the military, and by extension, spouses of enlisted and officers all around.

With those credentials, I'll say it again: military rules dictating how spouses should interact with each other are garbage.

Instead, how about some human rules? Here are two that every military spouse should follow regardless of what rank his or her husband or wife is:

1. Don't be a jerk.

In Lightfoot's writing, she points to military housing as an explanation for not interacting with officer wives. She's right on the housing design; for the most part, military housing is separated.

Yet here at our current duty station, every morning when I go out to my car, I wave at the Sgt who lives across the street from me and go about my day without a second thought. Yes, technically my housing area is officers. But we are literally divided by a street that doesn't even have lines on it. I'm pretty sure we share the same cluster mailbox.

And I certainly don't turn up my nose at the Lance Corporal's wife who jogs by my house every morning, and I don't stop her to ask what rank her husband is in order to determine whether I can say hello or pet her dog when they stop for a water break. The only reason I even know what rank her husband is is because I manage an installation specific Facebook group and he's posted multiple times about the stress of being a Lance Corporal on the housing wait list in one of the most expensive places in the country.

That brings me to my second rule.

2. Don't ask what rank people's spouses are.

Even as a young E3's wife, this question made me bristle. People would ask me what rank my husband was, as if that would determine whether or not we could be friends.

I'd look them square in the face and reply "I don't find that to be a valid question in determining whether you speak to me." Yes, it made people uncomfortable. I once had a leuitenant's wife outright tell me I was obnoxious, disrespectful, and that her husband would hear about my rudeness. I smiled and said "Cool."

If my husband's rank is the determining factor in whether or not we can be friends, then I'm making a judgement call and just not being friends with you. Easy peasy.

See, obnoxious officer spouses exist. So do obnoxious enlisted spouses.

And, spoiler alert, this isn't limited to the military. The medical profession deals with it. The legal profession deals with it. Heck, I've seen the wife of an elementary principal shout in HEB "do you know who my husband is?" No, ma'am, but we'd be happy to help you figure it out if it's an issue for you.

So what should we do about Lizann's "rules?"

In her article, Lizann lays out five rules for how she deals with what she considers could be dicey relationship with an officer's spouse. Here are my thoughts:

On approaching officers wives: just don't run us over with your cars, please. Other than that -- approach away.

On not inviting them to your house: my most meaningful friendship when my husband was a young Lance Corporal was with his Colonel's wife. She used to show up at our tiny, little, messy house with a pack of cigarettes and we'd sit out back in the blistering Twentynine Palms heat and give ourselves cancer for hours while we talked about Iraq and solo parenting and our preference for coffee over tea. Invite that spouse.

You never know what he or she can bring to your life or what you can bring to his or hers. Just don't let it be lung cancer.

On not friending them on Facebook: my only caution against this is if your spouse is in training and the spouse's service member is an instructor directly in charge of his or her training. Even then, friend away and let him or her decide whether it's a good connection.

When my husband was going through OCS, I sent a friend request to a woman I had twenty something friends in common with because I saw a post of hers that had been shared and it really resonated with me. It turned out that her husband was directly over mine at OCS, and she very kindly messaged me and told me that as soon as OCS was over she'd accept my request. Lauren is one of my most trusted contacts today.

On not discussing your service member's job: that's a given no matter who you are talking to. Loose lips sink ships and all that. And when your service member tells you something in confidence, it would be a pretty crappy thing to repeat, anyway. I say this as a former journalist who writes about everything. If my husband has told me something, unless he outright says "This is for public knowledge," it stays between us. I once had an editor who asked me for inside information on something with the suggestion that divulging it could be good for my career. Hard no. So much hard no that I've never worked with said editor again.

On tension and drama: this should also be a given no matter who the other person is. Stress and anger literally impact your physical health. Be healthy.

On being sure that officer wives aren't aware of the rules: I call BS. Officer wives are well aware that someone has distributed some sort of weird set of rules to young, impressionable spouses that paints them as obnoxious, holier-than-thou, women. They don't care.

Because at the end of the day, officers bleed just the same as enlisted personnel.

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