Thriving & Surviving Military Life: Making New Friends

(You guys! I am so thrilled you loved our new Command Center Redux as much as I do! For whatever reason, putting that specific post together seemed to take me forever (it was a tricky spot to photograph!), but I’m glad I put in the effort because it sounds like many of you were inspired by some of our simple solutions! Thanks for all the GREAT comments, and if you haven’t caught up yet, you can check out what I’m talking about here!)

Little by little, I’m starting to get back into my blogging/work routine. Between the move, computer issues, and the new site launch, I’ve been out of sorts for what feels like forever. I’m finally catching up and getting back to some of the regular columns and series I had going earlier in the year. As such, I thought this was a good time to check in with another installment in my Thriving and Surviving Military Life series…this time with a topic near and dear to me right now…making new friends!
Thriving & Surviving Military Life | Making New Friends

Some of you may recall that back in the Spring, when we found out we were moving for just a year, I didn’t take the news so well. The idea of moving to Kansas was indeed a shock, but I was actually more frustrated and upset about the one-year assignment. Moving is hard…moving every three years is hard…moving for just one year is reeeeaaally hard. Unpacking, getting settled, finding medical providers and schools (and more!), and making friends is all hard to mentally and physically tackle when you know it’s so temporary. I’ve certainly had my share of crabbiness about this whole move (and thankfully, it’s finally starting to ebb!), but at the peak of my frustration months ago, I said to Greg…”I don’t need to make any friends in Kansas. We’re only going to be there for a year, what does it matter. I’ll have our house and my projects and my blog and I’ll be fine.” He got really mad at me for not being open to this whole experience, for not “blooming where I’m planted,” and for shutting down potential life-long friends before we even met them. I got mad at him for not understanding how hard it is to make new friends and then move away from them, and for putting me in this situation over and over.

Fast forward a few months. We and our things safely made their way to Kansas. Everything was unpacked, and we were over the initial moving chaos. Greg went back to work, and I busied myself with new projects and plans for fresh room makeovers. But behind the busyness and the exhaustion and the to-do list was an intense loneliness. Making friends is really hard for me; so rather than thrusting myself into social situations to meet new people (which makes me all sorts of anxious), I instead clung to my comfort zone at home. I tried to convince myself that “I didn’t need any new friends,” “this year is about family,” and “I was just fine.” Weeks passed and our new life was fine…but I still hadn’t made any new friends. Not a single one.

Good or bad, the military provides a ton of opportunities to be social. Between parties, icebreakers, “mandatory fun,” balls, spouses groups, coffees and more, there is often a variety of events designed to help us all meet each other…because…well…we’re all new, we all need to make friends, and the military acknowledges how vital a community of friends is to a family’s adaptability, survivability, and happiness at each new place. Unfortunately, these are the exact situations that make me the most anxious…and while well-intentioned, oftentimes (in our experience) they feel forced and are not very enjoyable. A few weeks ago, there was a spouse meet-and-greet day at our new “unit,” and of course, I didn’t want to go. But I knew it was important, I knew it was expected, and I knew this was a chance to meet some fellow wives also new to Kansas and looking for friends too. As a ball of anxious nerves, I went, expecting the worst. But as I met new people, shared our stories, and bonded over shared experiences, I felt myself come alive and feel more like myself than I had since we left North Carolina. Sure the day was a bit stressful and awkward…but after about 6 weeks of being completely on my own, struggling with the inevitable emotions that come with a move all by myself, I realized that I am not alone here in Kansas and this is really not a lifestyle to try and endure alone. I realized I did in fact need new friends.

Moving to a new place is tough; and even though the military helps us out with functions, finding and making friends as an adult is not exactly fun or easy…at least for me!  Here are a few things I’ve been saying to myself over and over to help me get out and make some new friends!

  • “Just go.” Go to the playground, go to the school bus stop, go to the gym, go the spouses event, go knock on your neighbor’s door…whatever it is. This world is full of different and new people, but you can’t meet them if you stay home. Walk out your door and go…you just might meet your new best friend this time around.
  • “Just be friendly.” I’ve shared before that I am a pretty strong introvert. If you get me one-on-one, I can pretty much chat your ear off all day…but in situations where I don’t know anyone or there are a lots of people in a group, I  get very anxious. It’s hard for me to introduce myself at parties and playgrounds and soccer practice. I tend to stand off by myself until someone who is much chattier and braver than I approaches me. For all these reasons, the social component of a move is the one that is truly the hardest for me, and is the exact reason I claimed I didn’t “need” any friends this time around. But over the past few weeks, I’ve really forced myself to smile, make small talk, ask questions and go to events I wouldn’t otherwise go to. Sure it’s uncomfortable for me, but I’ve been amazed at how much more enjoyable events are when I actually make an effort.
  • “Embrace the awkward.” When you’re new to the neighborhood, a simple outing to the playground can feel like the first day of junior high. It can be hard to introduce yourself and feel weird to exchange numbers…but I’ve been trying to get comfortable being uncomfortable and put myself out there more. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised how nice and open everyone is; and with each positive experience, I’m inclined to put myself out there more and more and more.
  • “Be open.” Each place, neighborhood, unit, workplace, duty station etc is different. Different people, different things to do, different perspectives, different attitudes. Just because it was one way at the last place doesn’t mean it will be the same at the new one. The last place may have been hard, but this one might not be. The last place may have had a lot of drama, but it doesn’t exist everywhere. One of the best aspects of a move is the ability to start fresh, and I’ve benefitted from scrubbing my expectations and biases clean. I’m trying my hardest to strip away some of my negative experiences of the last decade and open myself to fresh perspectives, outlooks and positive experiences!

All those words spouted at Greg about not needing friends were admittedly during a time of intense stress, emotion and frustration. In the months that followed, “not needing friends” also became a sort of protective mechanism against the anxiety of finding new friends AND the sadness that eventually comes when we have to say goodbye. I honestly knew then (and certainly know now!) that those words weren’t at all true. Because while I certainly love to decorate new homes, sightsee, and try new experiences in each place we live, it really is the friends we meet and the experiences we share that make each duty station so memorable and this lifestyle so special. I have had some amazing friends in this 10 year journey so far. Strong and supportive women whom I have laughed with, leaned on, cried for, trained with, helped out, studied with, supported, been supported by and more. And while we are no longer living day to day in each others’ lives, these girls and the experiences we shared are what I remember most from each spot we lived in…and I now know this duty station will be no different.

While I know there are more friends to make here and the anxieties and awkward feelings aren’t all behind me, I feel as though I’m on my way. Life feels brighter and fuller, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I like Kansas a little more now that I’m starting to build a social and support circle. For each person, a move offers different challenges, and the social one happens to be mine. While I thought I had this moving thing down to a science, I’m realizing there is still a lot to learn (or re-learn!) about myself, my survival mechanisms, and this lifestyle. This move and my experiences over the last few months have taught me that each place we live offers new people, challenges, gifts and experiences that will all help me grow in different ways. I just need to be open to finding them and brave enough to experience them!

As usual, thank you for giving me the platform to share and process a bit about this crazy military lifestyle we lead. I know more and more of you are or were military spouses, and I love getting your perspective and feedback. If you have anything to add or share, please feel free to leave a comment below! On Friday, I’m bringing back the Organize This series with a simple and smart solution to our recycling situation! See you then!

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17 Responses to Thriving & Surviving Military Life: Making New Friends

  1. My sister just moved to Kansas for a one year military assignment with her husband who is in the Air Force. And they also recently had a meet and greet. Now I’m so curious to know if you guys are at the same base! Feel free to email me at sarahhartleyblog@gmail.com – I’d love to find out if you met my sister!!
    – Sarah

    • Hi Sarah! Yes, it sounds like we are at the same place doing the same thing! Super small world! Please feel free to pass my info on to her, maybe we’ll cross paths or connect while here! Thanks so much for connecting the dots 🙂

  2. I was an Army Brat until I started 4th grade and even at that young age, I noticed a big difference when I attended a non-base school. I was one of a only a couple new kids that year and everyone had been friends for ages. Even at 9 years old, it was hard and I missed how easy it had been to make friends at my last couple schools. A funny story though, my Dad recalls my asking the girl across the street (whose family had lived in the house since before she was born) where she lived before here. She said she’d always lived here. And I kept wanting to know where before that. Seems I didn’t understand someone could live in the same place so long!

    • Hi Kristin! Your comment on today’s post gave me a good chuckle…thanks so much for sharing! I love knowing I’m not alone in this!

  3. I agree…it is really really hard with the one year move (or really any move in general). It helps me to remember that almost everyone else here is in the same situation trying to make friends. Looking forward to seeing you later this week!

  4. So refreshing to see (what I assume) most military spouse’s thoughts perfectly written. From one introvert to another, I’m so proud of you for this amazing perspective and attitude. Whoever is lucky enough to get to know you like I do, will instantly fall in love with you.

  5. We’ve done 2 one year assignments with one more possibly on the horizon. I know how hard they are. You are doing GREAT! Soldier on sister!!!

  6. My instincts are the same. Have you found any strategies that work well for moving beyond the acquaintance/chatting stage?

    • That’s such a great question, Christine! I have been finding that if I am just true to who I am, what I love, what I do, and how I feel about things I’m connecting with other wives quite quickly. It’s almost like we are all a bit tired of the small talk and are trying to quickly see if we’re a good fit. I also have forced myself to “get real” somewhat quickly, and it’s amazing how quickly you can bond when you share something on your heart!

  7. if you are interested, Kansas City has a large Modern Quilting Group, and they may have bees, meetings etc at times that would work with your schedule. I have found that Quilter’s are always a welcoming group and it matters not what your profession is. They have a common ground, a passion for quilting and sharing the knowledge of quilting. You can be as active as you choose and the lecturers at program meetings are interesting and informative.

  8. I am the opposite of you about which part of moving is scarier–I’m terrified by (and terrible at) the making-a-new-home part, but okay about meeting new people. It’s not that it’s easy (I still have to push myself to make the same efforts you listed so well), just that I can get in there and do it without worrying too much. I wish I had your ability to make a beautiful new home so well. I agonize about it forever and stick my head in the sand and end up living in “temporary-looking” places for *years* without ever really having a home. Glad I found your blog from iHeart Organizing…hope seeing what you’re doing helps me overcome my fears. 🙂

  9. Are you sure you aren’t in my head and writing my thoughts!?!? 😉 You are spot on with this post! I think being an introverted military spouse is so, so tough! I’m still struggling after being back in NC for over a year with finding “that group” of girlfriends. I am thankful for the 2 friends from years back that are here. I’m trying to still put myself out there and not slip into the “we’re moving in less than a year so why bother” mode! Thanks for the inspiration!!

  10. Remember that the people you are meeting are mostly movers, too, and I’d bet that truth be told, you’re not the only nervous one there. How does that saying go…”It’s better to have loved and lost then never loved at all.”

  11. It’s hard for us active duty members too! Even though we have jobs waiting for us, it can still be really difficult. This is a great post and reminder!

  12. Good for you! The only thing you can do is try right? It’s better to have tried than to not have. There is a whole different level and feeling to have friends to confide in and make good memories with. I am glad you are feeling more like yourself! Keep it up and you will become more comfortable 🙂 As I can’t say myself I know how this all feels, I am an introvert at times as well and feel awkward and quiet meeting new people. I have always envied the outgoing, brave ones so I am trying to be some what braver to 🙂

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Decor
    xx

  13. I LOVE your perspective on this. I’ve had many of those same thoughts in my head, but I just can’t articulate them as well as you. When we moved here, we knew it would be hard to connect – with us being air force stationed at an army base. Right away, I forced myself to get out and make friends immediately. And I do mean forced; I could be a great hermit! 🙂 Admittedly, most of our friends are attached to the same, special group in which our husbands work, but still. Now we have a group of close-knit friends to help us survive and thrive in this different environment. I’ve learned it’s all in how you approach a new base and what mindset you have about it.

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