Dating a combat veteran is hard.
“Hard” is an adjective that means “requiring a great deal of effort,” in case you were wondering. Which makes me rethink the adjective I just used to describe what dating a combat vet is like. A better word may be demanding. At any rate, being in a romantic relationship with someone who has contributed firsthand to the atrocities of war is by no means a cakewalk.
It requires a great deal of understanding. In my experience, combat vets largely believe they are undeserving of love. I do not know why this is. In our eyes, or at least in mine, they are selfless and valiant heroes deserving of so much more. They do the jobs that most “men” cannot and will not do. These veterans do the unspeakable for the sake of their country, and the aftershocks of their violence unfortunately do not leave them once they get back home.
Beyond this, I would venture to say every combat vet has been touched by death. To them, they are undeserving of life’s pleasures because of a perverse, disproportionate logic: Each vet knows someone who was killed in the war they continued to fight, and there was likely someone they loved among those lost. A brother in the truest sense, in their eyes. Those men will never have the chance to be happy, ergo, the vet shouldn’t be happy either. In his words, anyone could have been killed. It could have been me. So why should I be happy — HOW can I be — knowing how easily our places could have been switched? It’s the most disconsolate way of torturing oneself I have ever heard of. He’ll torture you with his words: You don’t get it. You’ll never get it. You just can’t. But hopefully, it will mean enough to him that you care enough to try.
I endure many a sleepless night because my vet does. But not once have I ever complained about getting punched in the head, alarmingly awakened by his blood-curdling scream, or being kept up most of the night by his muttering evil memories in his sleep. Where most women might silently protest, I do not. I endure these things because I almost feel a duty to; my vet spent 13 months in a desert so I could sleep safely at night. Even though “sleep” is sometimes an undiscovered venture, I at least know I’m safe because I lie next to him. This moves me to another point: their strength, in every sense of the word, is totally unconquerable. My vet reminds me there is no tragedy that can befall me that cannot be overcome. He reminds me that there is no one or thing that I should fear as long as he is in my life. Both his physical strength and emotional strength have all but totally abolished fear from my life. Many people choose to ignore our vets or hate them for what they’ve had to do. Many people are ignorant of what being a combat vet even really entails or means. It is an honor to be among those who respect, admire, and appreciate their sacrifices, both great and small.
Dating a combat vet is hard, but please do not mistake me: dating a combat vet is also beautiful. The most rewarding thing I have done in my short 22 years of existence is give myself completely to a man I had to learn to understand. The challenges of our relationship are unique to us because of his experiences, and they have shaped me into a more mature and empathetic individual. My vet has told me that my empathic nature is partly what drew him to me; my ability to truly listen where most people just wait for their turn to speak. I’ll never forget the earliest days, just after starting to spend time together. We took a study break after being at the library for hours and went to Jimmy John’s to grab a sandwich. And there, after midnight, under the harsh fluorescent lights, he told me things about his time spent overseas he had never shared with anyone before. It was a cathartic outpour of truths, confessions even; words I imagined he’d toiled over in his own mind for months since coming home.
It was in that moment I knew that I had been chosen specifically for it. For some reason, he thought I deserved to see the darkest corners of him. It was a risky move on his part. No one had so freely shared their demons with me, yet it was the most special anyone had ever made me feel. That feeling has been at the foundation of everything else. He designated me to help be the keeper of his darkness. So I chose him to be the first man I would ever seek to truly understand. And in doing so, be the first man I would ever cherish. To be the only man I hoped I ever would. This is the greatest part of dating a vet that many women will never get to experience: the unbridled, passionate symmetry of love; flourishing with someone instead of in spite of them. It’s indescribable, the way you get to know the deepest and darkest parts of a person who has committed terrible acts — not because they’re a terrible person, but because they’ve truly experienced the irrevocability of “do or die.”
A person with that additional life acumen is a rare and beautiful soul. If you find them, hold on to them. Love them with a vigor you’ve never known. And no matter what, under any circumstances, never, ever give up on them. They are the strongest kind of men, but they need someone — even if they won’t admit it yet. They need someone to pull them out of the emotional regressions they sometimes slink into. They need someone to soothe their quaking bodies in the wake of the next night terror. They need someone to see the light inside them when they no longer can see it themselves.
I thrive in this relationship because I choose to. It hasn’t been easy, but I have overcome my petty, selfish natures. I finally understand and see “the bigger picture” that is our love. I have, in most cases, learned to simply let go of my trivial insecurities. In return, he has searched his soul for ways to be more transparent about his feelings. We have made great strides since the early days of our romance. Our relationship has evolved into a fulfilling and abundant love for each other.
The greatest part? There’s absolutely nothing to hide from each other. No dark pasts or embarrassing secrets. I’ve heard it said that we all have our demons. You just have to find someone whose demons play well with your own.
For more information about PTSD, read our article PTSD And Complex PTSD: What Happens When You’ve Lived In A Psychological War Zone.