Many girls dream of dating a man in uniform. Physically fit, unerringly punctual, generally kind and chivalrous, soldiers represent the classic American dream. Yet military life is tough and demanding for loved ones as well as those who enlist. Whether your high school sweetheart has just joined up or you recently met a soldier who swept you off your feet, take a hard look at the reality behind the romantic image.

Married to the Army

Your boyfriend might be in love with you, but he is married to the Army. Work schedules and leave time are always at the discretion of his superiors and are subject to change at any time. Relocation and deployment occur with little warning. In addition, your man is surrounded by the Army way of life. Before moving forward in your relationship, learn the Soldier’s Code, the Army Values and the daily life of a soldier. GoArmy.com, designed for people who are thinking of joining and their loved ones, provides a clearinghouse of information on what Army life is truly like.

Long-Distance Love

Even if you marry your soldier and move with him as he relocates around the world, separations are an inevitable part of Army life. Retired military RN Alison Lighthall notes that even married couples should expect to be separated for a year or more at a time. As a girlfriend, you are not eligible to relocate with your Army boyfriend, so your separations could be even longer. Remember that you are your boyfriend’s main link to home and family. Send care packages and long handwritten letters to give him something tangible to hold onto. Skype, text messaging and phone calls are possible at most locations, allowing you to communicate in real time.

Navigating Military Bases

If your boyfriend is stationed within a reasonable drive of your home, you might want to spend some time with him on post. While spouses receive an ID card that allows them to use the base facilities, significant others do not. Although specific regulations vary from base to base, in most cases your boyfriend must sign you in and escort you throughout your visit. You must show a valid driver’s license and, if you are driving, proof of car insurance. Depending on the current security alert level at a particular base, your car might be searched. If you are permitted to explore on your own, pay close attention to posted signs. Some areas are strictly off-limits to visitors.

Coping With Deployment

Deployment is one of the toughest and scariest parts of military life. Fortunately, the Army provides resources for loved ones facing a soldier’s deployment. Family Readiness Groups are organizations sponsored by each base that distribute information and provide moral support before, during and after a deployment. These groups are not restricted to spouses and dependents but are open to everyone who is involved in a soldier’s life. Online support groups are available as well. Keep in mind that your deployed solider is in a lonely and sometimes dangerous situation. It is up to you to find your emotional support elsewhere and focus on being a source of strength for him. Avoid cheating or breaking up with your boyfriend while he is deployed, as heartbreak is a source of stress that could increase the danger for him and the rest of his unit. Wait to have any serious discussions until he returns home.