It was time. Actually, it was past time. We were all sorely in need of a ladies’ night, and my house was free for the taking.
Ladies’ night isn’t an unusual pastime. In fact, if you go to any college town, you’ll probably find a sea of bars and restaurants using the tagline to lure more customers.
This wasn’t that kind of ladies’ night.
Instead, it was a night for military spouses only; service members need not apply.
Most of the guests were people I knew, spouses whose husbands all belonged to the same unit. We were friends bound by circumstance, by shared understanding, and by a twist of fate that had landed all of us at the same post.
We kept each other company in a sea of strangers. As the band marched on for parades, concerts, and celebrations, we cheered from the sidelines. We attended award ceremonies, posed for pictures when they got promotions, and supported them proudly. Tonight, however, the door was open to anyone who needed a moment to talk about our jobs, our days, and our celebrations.
With each knock at the door, my house filled with friendly faces. Music played, we set out a second round of things to eat, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. It may have been my house, but we were all home.
As a knock called me to the door once more, I found myself on my front step, wracking my brain for a name. Two women were standing there, and while one looked familiar, the other was a stranger. I knew one of them was married to someone from my husband’s unit, but I’d only ever seen the other in passing.
“Hello!” I said brightly, hoping against hope that she’d move to make introductions first, and I could find out her name with minimal discomfort.
“Whose wife are you?” she replied.
Some days I wonder if I’m still standing on that front step.
As an Employment Specialist for CASY & MSCCN, I work with military spouses every day who know what it’s like to be seen as an extension of their partner. Conversations with family and friends can quickly gravitate toward our spouse’s employment and goals for the future… and remain there for the duration.
Military spouses know how to answer questions about their partner’s job as though it were their own, often because these are the only career-related questions they hear.
These conversations, however, don’t merely crop up at family events or on coffee dates with friends. Instead, prospective employers pepper interviews with questions about our lifestyle and personal priorities that would be tricky for anyone to navigate. While the rest of our competition has moved on to talking through their elevator pitches, military spouses are still working on the best answer to, “So, what does your spouse do?” or its companion question, “What brings you to the area?”
We practice explanations for moves, career changes, and resume gaps in ways that are truthful, yet artful. We have to be honest enough to appear trustworthy, but we have to avoid any conversational shifts that could entail discussing our partner’s work commitments. Above all, we have to keep a laser focus on anything that could make us seem like a bad investment.
With such a delicate line separating our personal lives from professional selves, an interview can sometimes feel more like an interrogation than a conversation among professionals.
As an experienced military spouse and Employment Specialist, I coach interviewees through their nerves and responses they can give for questions that seem designed to identify military spouses. There is such a thing as protected class information, and there are limits to what employers are and aren’t legally allowed to ask.
Most importantly, I remind them that they shouldn’t ever have to feel as though they are hiding something by wanting to discuss relevant skills and work histories instead of their relationship to someone in the military.
A job interview is always supposed to focus on your professional capabilities, even if your professional life has to adapt to the needs of the military. When your life depends so much on your spouse’s job, it can take real work to maintain your sense of self, and the value that you bring to the world—employment and otherwise.
In some ways, every interview feels a little bit like standing on that front doorstep. It’s a moment of reflection, just as much as it’s a moment of choice—a moment to remember who you are, what you are capable of, and why you want to dream big dreams, rather than answering to whom you supposedly belong.
I stood in the doorway of my house that night, a small gathering of friends chatting behind me. As I looked into the eyes of the woman who stood on that step, patiently awaiting my husband’s name, I almost smiled.
“My name is Angelene,” I replied, “and this is my house.”