Dating Within The Military – Do’s, Don’ts, And How To Balance Your Personal And Professional Life
With 22% of married couples having met at work, it’s not unlikely that you’ll meet someone you’re interested in while serving in the military. The main difference between romance in the civilian sector and the military is the rules and consequences. The military is incredibly strict on this sort of thing, as evidenced by the countless classes we get about fraternization. So in this article, I’ll share some hard-earned wisdom and give tips on how to CYA if you’re considering a dual-military relationship.
Notice: This post is geared toward medium to long term relationships, but we’ll also briefly discuss casual relationships.
I know this topic has been done to death, but before we can discuss tips for a military relationship, we have to lay the ground work and talk about what kinds of relationships are completely out of bounds. The military’s definition of fraternization is, “an unduly familiar personal relationship between an officer member and an enlisted member that does not respect the difference in rank or grade.” Basically, any romantic (or on occasion, platonic) relationship between an officer and enlisted service member is out of bounds.
Of course, relationships between two enlisted or two officers can also be considered fraternization if they are of different ranks within the same chain of command. For instance, say you’re a Cpl in a relationship with a Sgt who is directly above you in your command. That’s a no-go. However, it’s not a problem if you are in different units. The real issue is the effect on “good order and discipline” if you’re dating someone who’s supposed to be a leader to you.
The consequences for getting caught engaging in fraternization depends on the nature of the infraction. If it’s an enlisted/officer relationship, you may be looking at dismissal. If it’s simply a close friendship that may suggest favoritism, you’ll probably get off with a warning before it leads to anything legal.
Do’s Of A Dual-Military Relationship
Now that we’ve got the definition of fraternization out of the way, we can talk about some things you should do if you decide to get into a relationship with someone who’s also in the military. This kind of relationship can get extremely complicated, and the general advice is to try not to get into a one with a fellow military member. Sometimes though, the heart wants what it wants, so make sure to consider this advice.
1. Have an honest conversation about your expectations prior to entering a relationship.
This one is especially important, because it’s important to figure out what both of you want. If you want a casual relationship but your partner wants something serious, it’s probably not going to work out. If you’re both looking for something long-term, make sure to have the talk about money, and make clear your position on how public you want your relationship to be. Skipping this step will only lead to problems, and we all know how important it is to communicate.
2. Keep the relationship on the down-low.
The smart thing to do in a dual-military relationship is to keep it discreet. The two of you could be as professional as possible, but still the rumor wheel will spin. Gossip is definitely not something you want to be the subject of. The more private your relationship, the better.
3. Act appropriately if you have to interact in a professional setting.
This is a no-brainer. No one wants to be around a couple who make sexy-eyes at each other the whole time. It’s just uncomfortable.
4. Keep your relationship as off-base as possible.
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with keeping the relationship on the down-low. Going on dates away from people who will recognize you allows a little more privacy.
5. Try to leave work at the office.
Everyone in the military has stressful days, but try to keep that out of your relationship. It’s easy to be short with your partner after a long day, but it’s important to differentiate between your personal and professional life. One of the good things about being in a relationship with another military member is that they actually understand your frustrations, so you can vent to them and they’ll actually get it and be able to sympathize.
Don’ts Of A Dual-Military Relationship
I’ve witnessed plenty a relationship turn sour in the military, and the repercussions can hurt you both personally and professionally. Keep these things in mind and do your absolute best to avoid making these mistakes.
1. Engage in fraternization.
This one goes without saying. Just don’t do it. If you’re having serious feelings for someone with whom a relationship would qualify as fraternization, you can do one of two things. One, you can force yourself to get over it, or two, you can wait until one of you either separates from the military or changes units until you start a relationship. It’s just not worth the potential consequences.
2. Participate in PDA (especially while in uniform.)
PDA in uniform is already against the rules, but stay away from it even when you’re just in civvies. Not only does it make people uncomfortable, but refraining from PDA will keep people from wondering if you’re in a relationship at all. This will keep you and your relationship out of the circles of gossip.
3. Involve your military rank in a personal relationship.
This is kind of a weird one, but I’ve heard the stories. Remember how a relationship between differing ranks not in the same chain of command isn’t fraternization? It’s fine if you’re of different grades, but absolutely do not “pull rank” on your significant other over personal issues if you outrank them. It’s a stupid thing to do and a quick way to get broken up with.
4. Have sex in the barracks.
People have done it, I don’t recommend it. You’ll definitely get NJP’d if you get caught by the wrong person. If you’re that desperate to get laid, spring for a motel out in town – you’ll have a lot more freedom that way.
5. Get into a long-distance relationship.
Long-distance relationships are inherently difficult, but being involved with someone who’s likely in a different time zone, when both of you are firstly committed to your organization, is nearly impossible. It’s a different story if you’re married or have been dating for a while and one or both of you is PCSing, but even then you’d have to have a serious talk about your future. It just causes unnecessary heartbreak, in my humble opinion. Really be honest with yourself about whether or not you think you can make it work, and then go from there.
6. Get married just for the benefits.
We joke about this all the time, but people do it, and it almost never ends well. Lots of service members will find someone that they really like, then decide to get married just to get out of the barracks. Divorce is common and expensive, so really think things through before you decide to get married.
7. Date someone you work with, even if you’re the same rank.
Dating someone you work with is never, ever a good idea in the military. The majority of these relationships will break up, leading to an uncomfortable and sometimes toxic work environment that prevents you from doing your jobs effectively. Stay away.
8. Sleep with people who know each other
Sleeping with a bunch of different people who know each other – and will inevitably talk about you – is the surest way to get a bad reputation. You do not want to be the person branded the “barracks bunny.” It’s unfortunate that women can get this rap with just a few encounters, but that’s 18-24 year old boys for you. And sadly, just one or two people with this reputation can create a stereotype for women that’s hard to break free from. One more thing: make sure you’re staying vigilant when participating in this type of casual relationship. Sexual assault in the military isn’t uncommon, so look out for yourself first.
Not everyone wants to get into a serious relationship. More often than not, you’ll be looking for something that can be fun and chill, maybe even just a one-time thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d caution you to look out for the same things I’ve described in the do’s and don’ts list above. Any sort of personal relationship will inevitably lead to the above complications, so just make sure you’re looking out for yourself and don’t get into any situations that could negatively affect your career.
It’s also very important in this type of relationship to communicate what you want before you get into it. (I know I’ve already said that in the “Do’s” section, but it needs to be emphasized.) It’s not uncommon for people to catch feelings in a casual relationship, and it’s often one-sided. Make sure to lay out your expectations, because unrequited feelings are a real thing, and can get super annoying.
The Final Word
Relationships, even outside of the military, are difficult. They take a lot of time, effort, and patience, and even then can still fall apart for a multitude of reasons. Throughout your service, you’ll hear plenty of relationship stories told by cynical people, and it’s easy to adopt that mindset yourself. However, it’s totally possible to make it work – just choose the right person and follow the advice from this article. 🙂
Do you have any relationship advice you’d like to share? Make sure to post it in the forum.Share this: