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!
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!