I’m not a fan of Hollywood, their glorification of seemingly anyone for no particular reason, and I don’t like a good deal of their values. So forgive me for the tenuous link to the Marine Corps, which to me is represented by Camp Pendleton, approximately 70 miles South of Hollywood. Unfortunately, geography is not the link here either.

I was in a grunt unit for most of my time. A few of us referred to our part of camp as “Gruntland,” simply because we had fairly few support staff and approximately zero females in our area of camp. For the better part of four and a half years, that was my existence: lots of dudes, lots of guns, females were things we talked about like people from another country. They weren’t where we were, so one’s interactions with them could never be verified until selfies became a thing.

We roamed around off base frequently in groups no smaller than five. That often leads to one or two girls surrounded by dudes. A few of us were absolutely blown away to meet Scarlett Johansson in Kuwait; a fairly dainty gal who was very nice to us, again surrounded by dudes.

I didn’t wash that hand for about a week.

The effect that this had on our relationships with women probably wasn’t great. Mine was the generation to start sharing illicit photos of cheating ex’s via text with the caption, “Make her famous boys!” It was the idea of talking about someone as if they or their friends weren’t there, and sometimes it just amplified to the point of absurdity. Some level of consideration that the other person is actually a person with feelings gets eroded away, and eventually you end up with Marines United.

I’ll admit that I shared one or two of those photos until a friend responded to me, “Do you know her? Do you know for a fact that she cheated? Or is it possible that whoever she broke up with is just pissed off? Also, her family will probably see that when she intended to share it with only one person.” Reality dropped in there. I received a few more of those before essentially saying the same to a friend or two who kept sending them. I was callous, but at one point I was complicit too.

After pestering several staff sergeants and above with requests to transfer to an instructor position at an Urban Assault Leaders Course schoolhouse, I got my wish. I moved away from Gruntland to a co-ed barracks populated by Military Police Company, Motor-T, and the admin shop for the First Marine Division. It was just across the street from the Division Band. I’d been in a college dorm before and this wasn’t far off.

Up until now I had a strict “No dating military females” policy for several reasons:

  1. It had been hammered into me that they could accuse me of rape and the command would side with them, ending my career and sending me to the brig.
  2. On the few occasions I had to work with them, they had so many guys trying to get with them that they had developed an ego equal to that amount of attention. This usually meant that they thought that they were infinitely more interesting than they were. Again: a couple of girls, lots of dudes.
  3. I’d been in a long-distance on-again-off-again relationship for the past few years.

Recently single with a new living space, I met female Marine out in town who liked swing dancing. I liked swing dancing. I hadn’t asked for her number or anything, but she was a pretty fun person with a good sense of humor. Moving into new barracks, I would see her on the first day–then the second day. It turns out, Michelle had the room directly above mine. She’s a Mormon and I am not, and we both agreed that though attracted to each other, anything that happened wouldn’t be too serious because neither of us planned on changing our religion. We went on a few dates. We had fun. I poked at her for being a Mormon. She asked me how the Inquisition went. As non-serious relationships go, it was great.