When my fiancé and I are out and about, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon that occurs when we talk to strangers. Here’s a brief rundown of what generally happens:
We enter a shop or restaurant and an employee starts to make small talk. Since it’s clear almost immediately from our accents that neither one of us is native to Georgia, the employee asks where we’re from. And that leads to the inevitable question of why we moved from St. Louis to Columbus, Ga., which in turn leads to a long conversation about the military between my fiancé and the employee, who has, of course, served at one point or another and is eager to share his war stories. It almost never fails.
I like to call this the "Hey, me too" phenomenon. We encountered it last weekend when we took a day trip to the town of Warm Springs, and ended up having a lengthy chat with a retired couple who owned an antique shop we wandered into. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. If it weren’t for the shared military experiences, we probably wouldn’t have ended up talking to the couple for so long, and would have missed out on getting to know some extremely nice people whose conversation made our afternoon even better.
One interesting aspect of "Hey, me too" is that it also works in reverse. That is, sometimes my fiancé is the one who strikes up the conversation.
This happened most recently over Veterans Day weekend while visiting my fiance’s aunt and uncle. They live in St. Louis, but were spending a week in Atlanta while his uncle, an optometrist, attended an optometry trade show. We met up with them at the trade show and after catching up for a little while, decided to explore some of the booths on our own. Minutes after my fiancé pronounced that he was going to keep a low profile and not discuss anything military-related, I found him deep in conversation with a retired member of the Special Forces. Apparently, he had approached the man after noticing the Special Forces pin he wore on his jacket lapel. When I asked my fiancé why he had so quickly abandoned his pledge to stick solely to civilian topics of conversation, he said, "Well, the guy was Special Forces, so I had to say something."
The draw of the "Hey, me too" phenomenon was just too strong.
As for the rest of our time at the optometry convention, we narrowly escaped an episode where we were mistaken for doctors and almost sold a $12,000 specialized eye camera. After that, we decided it might be a good idea to leave before we bought or broke anything.
When it comes down to it, being a part of the military, whether as a service member or a spouse, is a powerful force for bringing people together. No matter how long you’ve been out of the service, it will always stick with you. And the best part is, wherever you go, you’ll never be at a loss for conversation.
Caroline Gotler is the fiance of a soldier formerly assigned to Hunter Army Airfield. She and her fiance now reside in the Fort Benning/Columbus area.