I'm a female soldier in the Canadian Army, and more often than not, this warrants a look of unexpected surprise when people ask me what I do for a living. Either I mustn't fit the image that they had imagined a soldier to look like off duty, or they hadn't expected to run into a female soldier at all. I get looks of surprise when going somewhere in uniform too. A double take, most of the time - they see the uniform first then realize it's not a man wearing it. Hell, I could use the pickup line “I threw grenades” at bars if I were single – somehow this one really amazes guys. Yeah boys, a real grenade, not in Call of Duty (throwing a live grenade is actually freaking sweet, and one of my favourite things to tell people that I've done).
Although the majority of my friends serve in the Canadian Forces themselves, I still have a few friends left who are civilians, and their friends who are also civilians who love to ask me questions. I get asked all sorts of things, and some questions can be pretty far out. The intrigue also follows if I entertain a guy long enough at a bar for him to ask me what I do. There seems a certain fascination with dating a soldier (male or female), that they're heroic, they look great in uniform, they make lots of money. But here's the truth.
1. We're away often
Whether serving in the reserve or regular force, there's quite a bit of time spent away from home. Courses or job postings can last anywhere from a couple weeks to a few years. They can be in another city, another province or state, on the other side of the country, or in a different country altogether. So if you're someone who has issues with long distance, maybe dating a soldier is not for you.
2. We can work long hours
Although standard working days of 8-9 hours can be a thing in the military, this isn't a guarantee. Sometimes, you need to work until the job is done – and that job could last all night. I've worked days that began at 0500 and didn't end until 2300 or later. I've also worked days where I never slept at all. There'll be times where we will come home from work and not want to do anything but have a hot shower, maybe a bite to eat and go to sleep.
3. Our language can be on the foul side
You know in the war movies where the word f*ck is basically an adjective and everything – both people and objects can get called an imaginative slew of profanity laced creations? It's true. In the military, profanity is commonplace, used both by men and women. I've heard everything you can imagine, and, I'm used to it. Although we try to tone it down when we come home, not always is it that easy.
4. There are some things you just won't understand – because you're not a soldier An idea, order, or way of doing things may make absolutely no sense to you, even if it's explained, and you should just accept it. Don't try to act like you understand. We don't expect you to. You're not a soldier.
5. The bond we have with our fellow soldiers is special - and we like to spend time with them
For me, the bond I have with my unit is unlike no other. They're like a second family to me, and we like to spend time together, outside of work. It's important to understand this, and to not complain about it. Sometimes, there will be a party or get together and you won't be invited. Don't be offended, rather be understanding. Sometimes we like to get together, relax with a few beer and just unload.
6. We are used to being in shitty situations, and deal with it
It's not unusual for a weekend exercise in the army to be like: we lived in a trench, got soaked and/or muddy and/or froze/sweat our asses off, ate rations for breakfast, lunch and dinner, got feet full of blisters, and were sleep deprived. Thus, over time, we build up a high tolerance to dealing with shitty situations, most likely a lot higher tolerance than you. So, if you're complaining about something trivial, we'll probably (as nicely as we can) tell you to, as we say: embrace the suck.
7. We are also used to waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then waiting some more There's a reason why there's the saying in the army "hurry up and wait". So if you're taking forever to get something done, chances are we won't complain about waiting because well, we do a lot of that. But don't push your luck.
8. Early mornings are a thing, whether we like it or not
Depending on what I'm doing, my day could start anywhere from 0430 to 0700. Right now on my current tasking I get up at 0645 and be at work for 0800. This is lucky compared to on basic when we had to be at PT for 0500, or as we call it, zero dark stupid. As soldiers, we'll be getting up early, and have an ability to get ready pretty quickly. I hate mornings, but I'm ready to go in 15 minutes flat. That comes from being screamed at in basic training, you never quite lose that initiative to go, go, go.
Ultimately, you should be supportive. When we do come back from our military life, we will be tired and perhaps a little cranky. We may not want to answer the million questions about what we did that day, but the knowledge that we have someone there who cares, loves and supports us, means more than you know.