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.
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 from my husband’s unit, but I’d only ever seen her 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.
“Who’s wife are you?” she replied.
Some days I wonder if I’m still standing on that front step.
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.
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.
“My name is Angelene,” I replied, “and this is my house.”