Friendship shouldn’t be founded on rank

By Anita Doberman: Columnist

I recently went to a dinner party organized by a military spouses club. The food was very good and the evening was pleasant, until someone sitting at my table started talking about how we should separate enlisted wives and officers’ wives into two distinct clubs.

“Why?” I asked, and the friendly yet misinformed spouse told me, “You know, fraternization.”

This was not a new spouse, someone whose husband just joined the military, but a seasoned military wife. Surely, I thought, she didn’t
mean what she said.

I told her, “That’s really for active duty. For spouses it doesn’t matter,” but she continued on with her theory about working things out more efficiently in smaller groups, having more in common with wives whose husbands are in similar situations. I guess in her mind that meant similar rank. I ended the conversation by telling her I remained convinced it was a bad idea.

I have seen this phenomenon in the military and civilian worlds. A spouse, usually a woman, finds her self-worth and identity in her husband’s job and feels entitled to wear his rank, or flaunt his position to everyone around. Unfortunately this happens a lot.
Often, in military circles, when someone asks me personal questions, I notice that they are trying to figure out what my husband does. It’s understandable, though I usually start talking about what I do or my children or the fact that I came from Italy, or anything else that will bring the focus back to who I am rather than what my husband does.

This is not to say that I am not extremely proud of him. There may be people or circumstances when it’s appropriate to share an accomplishment, for example when I am talking to my sister, my close friend, or my husband’s childhood buddy.

But most of the time, it shouldn’t matter. With all of the moves, changes and business of our days, it’s hard enough to find time to talk and appreciate friends, let alone worry about what their spouses do.

Truthfully, isn’t this focus on status another form of closed-mindedness, or worse, classism?

I don’t ignore the fact there are differences between someone who runs a unit and a newly enlisted soldier. I don’t pretend that when I am talking to my husband’s boss’s wife I don’t feel certain hesitancy in showing the state of chaos in my home.

But at the same time, I can’t take rank or position into consideration when making friends. In doing so, I begin a dishonest friendship and miss out on the opportunity to find others who share true affinities with me.

It’s challenging enough for women, busy with work, family and responsibilities, to find time for friends. We don’t have to throw rank or status into the equation.