My First Encounter with Rankism

When I first got married, I had some worries about cliquishness and rankism that I was loathe to encounter upon joining the milspouse community. From the way some bloggers and online communities talked, quite a few spouses seemed to have their feathers ruffled over spouses “pulling rank” on each other or exclusionary behavior. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I survived high school didn’t I?

I was relieved to discover that so far, almost everyone I met was perfectly lovely and nice. It did seem strange to me that socializing didn’t pick up much within our unit once the guys deployed, but I chalked it up to a combination of many wives living in the next town over, and another large percentage that simply went home.

For Easter I was invited to a brunch in the next town over. I carpooled with one of the wives in our unit, whose husband happens to be my husband’s boss. On the way over she talked about how it was important that I don’t “pass things on to my husband” that she might share with me or I might hear, because of our spouses working relationship. Well, that conversation was a little awkward because she continued in that vein for almost the whole car trip, but I did see her point. I do understand that between her and I specifically because of the boss/underling relationship we can’t be as open as we might like with each other, but that was never news to me.

Once we got to the house, I was glad to see that I had met almost everyone before at various events. In fact they were all people I thought I might like to get to know better. I was just thinking about how nice it was that we all could come together because I hadn’t seen some of them in a while, when a turn of conversation left my mind racing to figure out why I felt like a chunk of puzzle was missing. The group began discussing a low key “party” they were throwing for a friend of mine. Now this friend of mine is probably the only spouse I have seen consistently since I got here; maybe once or twice a week we’d get together. Needless to say, we were pretty clued in on what was going on in each other’s lives, so it seemed odd to me that this group of women was planning this party for her and I had not heard a word of it before now. I thought maybe it was a surprise party, but no, it wasn’t. And then they were talking about all these other get-togethers and times they had hung out and suddenly I had the strangest sensation of no longer being in the room anymore, but being rather like a light fixture or chair.

I realized they had been hanging out without me for months.

I took it a little personal at first. It became very clear that this was “their” group and they were very tight and not looking for any new members. It seemed that I had been invited as a kind of sympathy gesture, because I had no where else to be on Easter, not as a “hey we like you and would love to get to know you better” thing, which was what I assumed.

I was still trying to process everything on the ride home. I was still genuinely surprised about the fact that I had not been included in any of their past social events. Our husbands were in the same unit, they were deployed together, and we were all “on the same side of the fence” when it comes to general rank division. I was starting to think that it must be me. The wife of my husband’s boss took the opportunity again to reiterate the difference in position between her husband and mine, and their working relationship (which I previously acknowledged to her I understood) for most of the ride back. I thought it was a little unnecessary by that point. That’s when it dawned on me.

She was telling me that I needed to be socializing with spouses of my husbands rank.

I thought back to everyone present at the Easter brunch and sure enough, everyone in that close knit group was the same rank. I thought back to those wives I counted as friends within the unit, and they too were that same rank. With the exception of one wife who moved after the unit deployed, I couldn’t think of anyone I was friends with who was the same rank as my spouse.

This was not something I had previously considered. Yes, I have always been generally mindful of the friendship divide as far as befriending those on the same side of the general fence, but I kind of felt like beyond that it was overkill and kind of a non-issue. Especially because the rank difference is not even big. At my husbands next promotion, he will be the same rank as all these other people. It just seems overboard to me, especially during deployment.

I went home and decided that I would create my own group of friends. I asked my husband to send me a list of all married guys in his unit of his rank. The list was very small. As I scanned the names I became a little angry. I knew maybe two women from the list, and both of them had moved away for deployment. The rest I had never seen show up to any events. They either didn’t live here, or were the type that liked to stay away from spouse networking. Well, no wonder I wasn’t hanging out with the “right” wives!

Oh, the cherry on top is that after I got home, my husband’s boss’s wife bombarded me with several texts along the same line of what she had been talking about in the car the whole day, as if over an hour and a half in the car hadn’t been enough. I mean, I get it, she has a bit of a controlling worrier personality, but the whole thing just seemed very unfriendly even though I know she’s a nice person.

As for my friend, I didn’t say anything to her about it for a while because I knew she was probably in a tough position. As luck would have it, the topic naturally came about later and she admitted to me that she has been having a hard time not letting me know about the gatherings. You know, I get it. But the kicker is that she felt restricted because my husband’s boss’s wife had actually said something to her about hanging out with me! I personally feel like that’s going too far, especially when my friend’s husband is not my husband’s direct boss.

What I suspect is really going on is that her husband is complaining about my husband to her, and she shares it in her group of friends. This is nothing new. My husband is quite an acquired taste, to put it politely; I’m not stupid. I understand her need to vent to people for her husband, but I don’t know if her subtle attempts to diplomatically say “stay away from my friends” is the way to handle it.

I never interpreted choosing the right spouse friends as meaning choosing spouses of your same rank. Is she right or am I right?

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2 thoughts on “My First Encounter with Rankism

  1. Be friends with whoever you want to be friends with. My spouse wears the uniform and the rank, but I don’t. Therefore, it doesn’t matter who I befriend. As long as you set work issues aside, don’t even think twice about hanging out with someone whose spouse may be a different rank than yours. Spouses are civilians, and wear no ranks, so no fraternization rules apply for spouse friendships. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise, or make you feel inferior for something that is out of your control and doesn’t even matter. 🙂

    • Thanks cautiouscrow. I think you’re definitely right. I’ve decided it’s probably not worth it to pursue a friendship with people like that anymore. I’m going to do my best to learn from this and stay open minded to all kinds of spouses.

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