What is a MILSO?

by | Jul 11, 2020 | Military Life | 0 comments

This one is for the Milsos—the ones who love a service member, but aren’t married yet. You may live far from the military community, or be surrounded by family members who know nothing about military life. Maybe you have flown around the world to meet your service member in a distant country for a few days of leave… or perhaps you have never left your home town, and the idea of moving to a new place thousands of miles away is both exciting and terrifying. Dear Milso, I have been in your shoes, and I’m here for you! I spent seven YEARS dating or engaged to my Marine. So I know that being a Milso can feel overwhelming at times. But I also know how to help you through it.

What is a Milso?

Let’s start at the beginning: The word MilSO stands for “military significant other.” While that could include military spouses, it typically means someone who is in a relationship with a service member: girlfriends, boyfriends, fiancés, and fiancées are all MilSOs. Because the military does not recognize anyone as a military dependent (who receives military benefits like housing and health insurance) until there is an official marriage certificate, a MilSO is in the unique position of being connected to the military because of their relationship, but not recognized, acknowledged, or supported by the military community. It can be a lonely and confusing time.

MilSO experiences can vary

Everyone’s experience as a MilSo will be different. Some may have grown up in a military family as a “military brat,” or they may have lived their whole life in a military town close to base. Others date their service member long-distance. They live in a regular civilian town, surrounded by people who know nothing about the military, and continue in their work or their school without setting foot on a military base.

Some MilSO’s only date for a few months before they marry their service member! Many military relationships lead to marriage quickly. This is often because of military timelines for training and deployments… and because of the requirement in some branches to have a marriage license before the service member qualifies for their housing allowance. In this case, a MilSO probably won’t know much about the military when they get married. Sure, they will know a little about their service member’s job and they may have spent time visiting them on base, but they will usually be unfamiliar with military acronyms, the challenges of PCS moves or deployments, and the general information of how and where to get things done on base.

In my case, I was a MilSO for 7 years before we were finally married. I dated him before Boot Camp, but he made the decision to join the military without consulting me, because it was still early in our relationship. He spent a year at Boot Camp and infantry training, and then he was sent across the country to a base in California: 29 Palms. From there, he deployed three times in back-to-back combat deployments to Iraq. Although we discussed marriage, I was finishing college and working at my first job. Since he spent so much time away on deployment or training in between deployments, there wasn’t much reason for me to leave everything and move to the desert to be unemployed and lonely. So we waited. It wasn’t until he got orders back to the East Coast that we finally got engaged and planned our wedding.

So I understand the frustration of being a MilSO and feeling confused or disconnected from the military community. You may not know any other military spouses to talk to. Perhaps your family doesn’t like the military, or they don’t expect your relationship to last. Maybe your service member is deployed or stationed far away, and you can only fly to visit each other a few times each year. You probably feel like no one else understands the challenges of your relationship, and there are definitely moments where you are jealous of your friends who can see their significant other every day.

I experienced all of that during my time as a MilSO. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, my Marine was preparing for combat deployments, and the country was having heated arguments about war. I desperately wanted to talk to other military loved ones to find support and get answers to my million questions. I didn’t know what to expect from deployments, how to communicate while he was away, and whether it was okay to be proud of him and afraid for his safety at the same time. No one else at my college was dating a service member, so people sometimes teased me about my “imaginary boyfriend.” Worse, strangers sometimes cornered me to discuss their political beliefs. When I sought online groups or sites for support (this was before social media existed!), the few websites I found were clearly for military spouses. I knew I wasn’t a military spouse, so I didn’t think I belonged.

Because of my lonely years as a MilSO, military loved ones will always have a special place in my heart. I know that you begin facing military life challenges before you marry a service member. I know that spouses and MilSOs face many of the same difficulties and stressful situations. You miss your loved one, when they are gone, whether you are married or not.

But I also know that being a MilSO can be special, powerful, and beautiful. You are falling in love with your service member and learning creative ways to communicate across the distance. The crazy military schedule is making you patient. You are learning your own strength and what you are truly capable of. Your time as a MilSO can become the strong foundation on which your military marriage will stand. So if you ask me, what is a MilSO? This is what I can tell you:

  • A MilSO is strong enough to wait for their service member across great distances and through long deployments.
  • A MilSO is flexible, adapting to every change in the military schedule and orders.
  • A MilSO is brave, facing a future where they don’t know where they will live or work, but they know they will be with the one they love.
  • A MilSO is independent, focused on their own skills, school, or career without the daily support of their service member.
  • A MilSO is creative, learning how to celebrate holidays apart and send love in a care package.
  • A MilSO is loving, making sacrifices for their service member, staying up late to talk to them, and being supportive even when they don’t understand military life.
  • A MilSO is a friend, finding instant connection with other military loved ones online, and forming strong friendships even if they have never met in person!
  • A MilSO is proud of their service member, the job they do, and the country they serve.
  • A MilSO is YOU! Welcome to the community!
what is a MILSO


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