The Challenges Service Members Face in Long-Distance Relationships

Jordan Mendiola

Photo by Jonathan Tajalle on Unsplash

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When the Army told me my unit was deploying for up to 400 days, a rush of emotions hit me. Before thinking about school and my future, I thought about my loved ones. Deployment would make me sacrifice important events — family dinners, my sister’s wedding, my dog’s last breath, and many more.

Lots of people work through long-distance relationships, but deployed soldiers face challenges the average person does not. At any moment, we are facing the possibility of high-pressure situations and life or death scenarios.

One of the toughest tasks to ask of any soldier is to maintain a long-distance relationship for twelve, long, stressful months. To keep communication healthy and positive requires sacrifice and commitment from both parties.

In my own case, there’s a special lady I’ve spent a lot of time with before deploying. We’ve had our ups and downs, and our relationship has grown a ton as we learned more about each other. I feel like our bond is more durable after going through this experience, even though we’ve had to navigate through communication miscues, misunderstood texts, and out of sync FaceTime calls.

We’re still trying though; throughout my deployment, many people around me have ended (or lost) their relationships. It breaks my heart to hear it, but unfortunately, this happens all the time in the military.

Heartbreak after Boot Camp

Years before deploying overseas, I experienced an Army breakup the day of basic training graduation.

I thought the love letters we sent back and forth were going well when the truth was, deep down, my partner was not truly happy. When you’re not physically face-to-face, things are just different.

I spoke about possibly taking a break as a couple. This statement may have been perceived as me not wanting to be together anymore, but the main reason I suggested it was that I didn’t want to overwhelm myself while taking on numerous new responsibilities.

The resulting breakup was severely painful; it was delivered over text on the day I hit a major milestone in my life. I learned, though, that the key is never to let love get you down. As long as you have things going for yourself, on your own, no one can take away your happiness.

When juxtaposing my boot camp breakup and a deployment buddy’s split-up, there’s a significant disparity between currently being deployed versus a training experience. Over here, it’s a matter of life and death.

Things I’ve Heard from People Who Are Moving On

I can’t fathom the responsibility of going through a divorce and calling everything quits. One of the common themes I notice is that these individuals are young — 25 years old or less.The older couples tend to hold together like glue, maybe because they know from experience what to expect, or maybe they’ve just learned how to cope better. Either way, it leads me to conclude that early marriage may not be the best idea.

When I think back to my breakup after boot camp, it seems like a small event compared to the experiences I’ve seen here. These guys and gals are thousands of miles away from home, busting their asses in the field.

Thankfully, a lot of my closest buddies have down-to-Earth partners back at home who believe in a long-term future with their loved ones. It’s great to see the guys FaceTiming their significant others, and we all say hello and embarrass one another.

There are happily distanced couples on deployment. It’s not all bad.

Post-Breakup Homecoming

One thing soldiers dream about monthly, weekly, even daily, is deployment homecoming. We dream of having the type of return you see in the movies and all over YouTube.

I’m blessed to say that it looks like I’ll get to have one of these special deployment returns. You know what I’m talking about. The kind of return where the woman runs up to her man, and he picks her up like she’s his world.

On the flip side, people who broke things off aren’t going to return home with their significant other running towards them with tears of joy. Nope. The deployment robbed them of this opportunity. Not every relationship can withstand the sacrifice and constant worry over whether their lover will make it home. Whether the distance caused someone to become stale and quit putting in effort, or an affair happened back at home, the bottom line is that distance kills some relationships.

Army relationships are incredibly hard to hold together. You can make all the promises in the world before deploying, but any doubts you make up in your head will make your gut wrench. It’s happened to me before, and I know she’s loyal.

True Love Knows No Distance — Love Yourself First

Distance does to love what wind does to fire…. it extinguishes the weak and fuels the strong. Some relationships simply can’t withstand the distance and doubts. Luckily, I went into this entire adventure a partially-committed man, and it has paid off well. I stay in touch with my very close female friend back at home, but I’m not tied down like a Fifty Shades scene.

It’s empowering I have the freedom to work on myself without commitment. But I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to be in a full-on relationship again. My heart has healed since boot camp, so the thoughts of loving still bounce back and forth quite often.

Self-awareness is a tremendous asset to have in love and life. I knew that the long-distance experience in boot camp messed me up. It became one of the main reasons I would get into numerous “flings” back home — because of my self-doubt. In the past, I would lean on having a girlfriend to prove to myself that I was worthy and a likable guy.

After spending 11 months without a romantic date, I’ve learned that I have worth without the need for validation from someone else. One of the gifts of being separated from friends and family is that you are forced to find your own inner strength; you finally realize that how you feel about yourself colors everything in your life. You have to nurture that love for yourself before you can give any quality love to someone else.

It’s essential to show compassion and empathy for all soldiers coming home. We won’t all have the magical homecoming we imagined.

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Creative entrepreneur, U.S. Army Engineer, and dedicated runner. Committed to sharing ideas that lead to more fulfillment in all areas of life. Email: mendiola1829@gmail.com 08.18.20 ?

Chicago, IL
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