“My best advice? Never, and I mean never, talk about your marriage with another man,” writes the wife of a U.S. marine who fought in Iraq. “You may need to let off steam but it’s best to go to the other wives, your chaplain or your therapist. Men LOVE to make it better for lonely military wives,” writes Mollie Gross in Confessions of a Military Wife, a new tell-all book that’s packed with advice for other military wives, culled from the author’s experience living at Camp Pendleton in California. “Even if you do not have feelings for that man, he will develop feelings for you.”
In a recent phone interview with Maclean’s, Gross describes military life for wives as stepping back into the 1950s—most women don’t work and are full-time housewives, raising kids. “I did notice a lot of the wives drinking on a daily basis. It shocked me. I encourage women to ask themselves, what can I learn while my husband is away?” She suggests learning to sew or learning French or taking a cooking class. When her own husband, Jon, was deployed, Gross honed her skills as a stand-up comedian, which is her current career in Los Angeles now that he’s back.
When a husband is away, a wife has no idea when he’ll get a chance to call home, says Gross. It might be once over the course of the deployment. It might be never. It might be in the middle of the night. “You have to be so careful. You don’t know what their day has been like. You can’t be, ‘Oh, we’re just partying it up! We’re wasted!’ I don’t know about Canadians but Americans love their alcohol.” On the rare times when Jon called from Iraq, Gross says she never knew if someone had tried to kill him earlier that morning, “and that’s why they said, ‘Hey, you had a close call. Why don’t you take some hours for yourself. Call your wife.’ You have to put yourself aside, and no matter what you’re feeling when he calls, you have to be upbeat.” In the book, she advises, “I’m not saying you should hide things from him but you need to think before you speak. Some of my more organized girlfriends suggested keeping a list next to the bedroom phone,” so you’re not caught off guard when the phone rings.
Gross had heard stories from “veteran” wives about rampant amounts of porn on deployment, she writes. “This did not settle well with me. However, I knew that seven months would be a long time to go without marital relations. I decided to take matters into my own hands.” Gross hired a female professional photographer to take “boudoir” photos of her. She posed in a red bra and panties in front of the American flag. But “word to the wise,” she writes. “If you do boudoir photos for your man, be sure to give him the photos before he leaves. Do not mail them. Remember packages can be searched and confiscated. Unless you want to be a pin-up for the entire battalion, hide them in a photo album you give him before he leaves.”
Holidays like Christmas, and romantic days like Valentine’s and anniversaries, can be “tricky,” writes Gross. “It can be easy to feel sorry for yourself.” To fight pity, Gross says the wives played the “One-Up Game”—a game of “bragging about all the things we had to do without our men.” “One wife would begin with, ‘Well, my husband has missed every Valentine’s Day and wedding anniversary for the first three years of our marriage.’ Her comment is an invitation to another wife to challenge her suffering. The next player proclaims, ‘I had my first baby when my husband was deployed and it was at Christmas.’ Remember no sympathy is awarded in the game. This is a competition for bragging rights, not compassion.”
As the fighting in Iraq increased, writes Gross, she and other military wives found it more and more difficult to leave the base and go into town. Typically, when a female civilian learned that Gross’s husband was a marine, the civilian would say, “Oh Lord! Well, he isn’t fighting, is he?” “Yes, ma’am, actually, he’s in the infantry,” Gross would explain. Then the civilian would start to cry and reach out to Gross for a hug. Gross never said anything but secretly she thought, “Gee, lady, I haven’t been laid in three months and you need a hug?” Then there were the complete strangers who “would think since I was married to a deployed marine I would want to know their political opinions.” Gross’s advice to civilians: “Express your opinions at the polls, not in my face. And please don’t think you can say anything you want as long as you preface it with, ‘I support our troops.’ Stop right there. Nobody wants to hear what you think.”