About civilian thinking and Dear Johns:
In general, the old saw, "the more things change, the more they remain the same" holds true for military life. Dear John's are probably a common experience for all generations that have ever served in the uniform. It is really a part of life whether you are a civilian or military. What is unique about it for us that serve is that it is one of the few threads that connect you to your old life, and you really want to hang on to it. There isn't much in stateside military life that gives you that sense of connectedness.
That is why most men if they have a choice they would like to be stationed as close to home as possible, and if not, they are "swooping" home, hundreds of miles on the weekend, taking their buddies with them to sample some of that family life. In my youth, and for more than a few of us it was overseas and the smell of gun smoke, or as we said in the ranks at the time: "it is off to the land of sliding doors and slant eyed whores" (referring to the Far East).
Another factor in regarding "Dear Johns" has to do about men and women and "first love". The general comment from my experience is the women take romance and love a lot more seriously than the men. Men take it very seriously too, and more so if you are far away. It stirs the imagination and it hurts as much physically as it does mentally. My saving grace was the ability to cry in my beer and whine to my buddies.
They were unmerciful, but they gave you a sense of comfort- they were family especially overseas, more so in war, beer or no beer. Thank god for that or else you would get in yourself in trouble hurt yourself or one of your buddies on the job, maybe even end your earthly life.
In 1963, I took a 21 day “Boat ride” along with several hundred other Marines for Okinawa home of the 3d Marine Division, back then, the “Tip of the Spear”. I wanted to smell gun smoke, the booze was cheap, and the local females were easy to please, and pleased easy. All the signs were in English, and the Island was still run as a conquered territory by an Army Two Star. So what the hell does this have to do about Dear Johns-well got one from some neighbor girl, as did quite a few of the men in my Company quite a few of them were married no less. My observations:
The married men. I don’t know what it was, but it seemed to me, the day a young Marine got married, six months later he was in Okinawa, period!
Of these, half the men got Dear Johns at least by mid-tour (a tour being 13 months) with some being divorced before they returned. The common denominator for these folks was level of maturity. They were shy by more than a couple of points. Putting it bluntly, they got married for the wrong reasons. Sex dressed as love, get out of the barracks and all the BS associated with it, and more money in the pocket (untrue). They were also liberty risks more so than my single buddies, and they were more driven to sex with the ladies of the night than us singles as well.
The singles. Dear Johns were a brutal truth teller for us all that got them whether we wanted to admit it or not. Simply, there was nothing there, and there wasn’t too much you could do it about it when you were 10,000 miles away. It just creates a lot of frustration. A buddy told me one time when I was crying in my beer, he said “B----, more than half this world is made of women, and you cannot tell me that there isn’t more than one woman that can make you happy for the rest of your life. It only took a while for this “amoeba” to grow like a rampant cancer. After that I was okay and enjoyed the rest of my tour.
What was the lesson in all of this? Well, a wife would have to be mature, not necessarily good-looking, but has good quality, and character, and you have that gut feeling that if you are away, that she is still your wife and doing the right thing. You also realize that as a married man, you do not do those things that you did as a single man. Your first responsibility is to her. That is how I have tried to live my life.
So, I stayed single, made no commitments prior to going overseas, especially when the shooting was going on. This was also true for the 3 years I was in Philadelphia between Vietnam Tours (Philly girls are strange-want you to get out and live there). I got married at 33 to a beautiful young thing that worked for my drinking buddy. She thought I was rich because I was a Marine Gunnery Sergeant (little did she know).
My comments are by no means scholarly, but anecdotal, from my experiences as an enlisted Marine with 28 years Service. Therefore, this is one of a series of short "sea stories".