How do you share after a war?

giant with samuraiDid I care about getting laid? Of course I cared. But I cared more about connecting with this woman who was the temporal object of my confession. Earlier that night, she’d asked about Iraq, and I hadn’t gone into much detail, but I think the Cajun restaurant spectacle gave her the red flag.

I guess my date linked my confession to the defensive posture I’d taken at the restaurant. I probably presented safety issues, but I had never physically violated a woman before and I had no intentions of adding that to my life. It’s just not in me. I’d served in a war and was triggered by a scary mean horror-film-looking stranger while on a date at some wood-planked Cajun restaurant.

Sharing is never easy, and I hid things about the war from my lovers. I found that my honesty wasn’t valued, so I chose to keep things to myself. I only visited restaurants that had folks at the bar who knew my face. I’d also limit my social activities to the Yale Club, and felt safe in the quiet dignity of old school ties. And yet, I wanted more out of my life. I wanted to hide less.

After a war, how much can a soldier share with a prospective lover, or a woman who truly becomes your lover?

The dating years

woman at door next to a lionLast year, I had a European girlfriend with a charming attitude and a shining smile that belonged on a soap opera. She shared many things with me about her life. I became this woman’s emotional Kleenex. Emotionally unbridled, she shared things that triggered me and still bother me.

While I absorbed her painful stories with love, I resent her for putting me in this position. She needed to confront her parents about the pain they caused her, instead of making my war readjustment issues harder to tackle. I never wanted to be her therapist. I wanted her to have her own therapist while I was her boyfriend.

I had empathy for her. But she and her parents didn’t have empathy for me. Being authentic, I told them about transitioning from Iraq to civilian life. They expressed concern, but with an attitude of fear. They didn’t know I’d saved a young child in Iraq and that I’d groomed a success career as a federal director when I returned from the war.

The pressure was too much for Ms. Belgium. Her disorganized attachment style possessed her, and I listened to “She’s Gone” by Hall and Oates 1000 times before accepting that the woman who’d left me was overwhelmed by her own fears of the past. Sadly, I internalized her projections and her push/pull relationship mixed messaging.

Some hints of discernment came to me as I made peace with the breakup. I saw things as they really were. I understood that the nights of passion and the joy of that Belgian smile had been a consolation, but that an expansive desolation occupied this woman. She wasn’t seeing that I was becoming a veteran who was truly owning his transition from war to home, and, she refused to truly own the several chapters of trauma in her life.

Being authentic or oversharing?

masked face looking at a roseAfter some time, I met someone special, and I shared about my own life to prevent myself from becoming involved with another emotional negatron. Things were smooth, and I felt that there was an understanding of not defining our dating. It felt tantric. While she didn’t keep her past from me, it seemed that after a month, she expected to me to be some high-profile figure in marquee lights.

This hard-working woman was a local celebrity, but I’m just an ex-monk who can swim three miles in open water, reads Schopenhauer and has a “down-home-chill” Florida attitude along with some heavy things I carry from the war.

I think that I expected certain things I was used to in the military, like undying loyalty. This isn’t reality in the civilian world, where a woman can tell me to go home, even if I have a stomachache.

The curly-haired, adorable, sharp, smiling femme fatale gave me enough rope to romantically hang myself. She yanked it hard and our fleeting romance ended.

I think that we miscommunicated many things. I own my part: I treated her as a battle buddy from Iraq, but we were dating. I think that I expected certain things I was used to in the military, like undying loyalty. This isn’t reality in the civilian world, where a woman can tell me to go home, even if I have a stomachache.

This happened, and I deconstructed how she’d leave me out in the war zone if I was sick ‘Over There’. I was overwhelmed with an assumption. This is an assumption I’ve had to let go of, and won’t resurrect in my future romances.

Long Black Curls and I were both comfortable with each other on many levels, but I once tried to explain some things from Iraq that prevented me from being fully present in our times together. She shut me down. Some things may have been a bit intense.

Then the downward spiral began and another dating death was recorded in my soul. It’s a shame that she couldn’t see that I was still working on my transition from Iraq. And it was a shame that I couldn’t hold back from sharing some things in my plight to be authentic.

The woman with the curls on my chest at night and the golden words from her mouth inspired my soul. I never wanted to slow her down or bother her with my war issues. I just thought we could truly enjoy the moment-to moment joys of unfolding happenings in dating. In this, I saw her as too much of a battle buddy.

In war, the moment is central. It defines you, your battle buddy, your team and the enemy. You make the most of each moment to remain alive. It’s a hyper-intense reality that’s not common on the streets of New York City.

Maybe someday

art tatumI had to wake up from my illusion so I could stop seeing any future woman as my battle buddy. I want her to know that I have discernment and understand that she’s a human being with her own desires and wishes. And that’s OK. Even my battle buddy had to stop seeing me as a battle buddy after the war ended for us.

Maybe someday, I can hear Art Tatum’s version of “Where or When” and feel that I’ve truly forgiven myself for my failures to love after a war.

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit LOST CONVOY AT HOME: A veteran’s experience of romantic love [Part 2]»

Mike Kim Veteran: Mike is a psychoanalyst, an Iraq War vet, an ex-friar monk, a war trauma care provider and a doctoral researcher at the Teachers College of Columbia University. Find him on his website (, on Twitter, on Instagram and on Facebook at Warrior Wellness and Lifeworlds.

image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 Pixabay 4 By Paulo Barcellos Jr.  [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons 5 Pixabay 6 Pixabay 7 By Alehrenfried [CC BY-SA 3.0]  from Wikimedia Commons

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