I want to talk about friendships today. I believe that friends are basically the family we choose for ourselves. And there’s the age old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. My circle of friends, my village if you will, spans the globe at this point, primarily (but not entirely) because of the Navy. I’m sure I’m not the only military wife who tries as hard as she can to keep in contact with loved ones, whether I’m the one moving away or they are. Letters are fun to send and receive. Social media helps. And of course phone calls and Skype calls and occasional visits truly help to make the distance and time seem smaller.
But do you know what? Making new friends is hard for some people. And do you know what else? As I grow older, I’ve realized that I don’t want to be friends with every person I meet. (I can of course be polite and pleasant to everyone, but to go as far as trying to be friends with the world? Not for me.)
I was a military kid before I was a military wife (and now I’m a military mom too!) and many might think that my “military brat” experience would have prepared me for this lifestyle. I will say that it gave me a leg up on the constant moving part. I moved so often as a kid that now as an adult, I can’t stay in one place for long. I have no idea what it would be like to live in the same house and town for longer than a few years. But when you’re a kid, your parents handle all the moving logistics and you just hold their hand and start at a new school. And I have a theory that it is easier to make friends when you’re a kid because you have school to help you meet new people. I was always quite shy at first. I often started at a new school and didn’t know how to talk to my classmates so I focused on what I could be comfortable with: learning new things and being a good student. But over time, as we were together everyday for hours and hours, I grew comfortable with the other kids and made friends. But as an adult? Gosh, I’m finding it MUCH harder to make friends because deep down, I’m still that shy little girl.
Now I can only speak to my own experiences but I believe the advice usually given to new military spouses is that we are encouraged to make friends with the other spouses of your command. In my case, that is the submarine my husband is a part of. And I will say that I’ve met many lovely ladies on the boats my husband has joined (because ladies have been the only spouses I’ve met so far, not that ladies are the only spouses out there…) But I’m craving more I think.
With my best friend, I can just call her because I’m bored and we’ll get together and do our laundry together (because priorities!) But of course, I live in Hawaii and she lives in North Carolina and even if we lived a mile away from each other as we did in our youth, we both now have babies to care for so the days of lounging upside down on each other’s couches and having deep conversations for hours and hours would be harder to come by.
But when making new friends for a shy girl, that level of friendship goals is very often not possible (even if that’s the hope going into every new meet up.) I often start off at a gathering and hope the extroverted partygoers come up to me first. I’m capable of carrying on a conversation but I do not have the small talk talent, especially when I can’t immediately see common ground. And of course, I keep meeting people that I do not want to pursue close friendship with, for any number of reasons. Maybe our personalities clash or maybe we just don’t get along. We married into this Navy life but we are no required to like everyone we meet.
For example, one of the first ladies I met on moving to Hawaii asked me and my Sir how we were enjoying living in Hawaii. We thought she wanted an actual answer instead of just a general, “oh fine thanks,” so we went into detail, making conversation. Halfway through my husband’s answer though, I noticed that this woman hadn’t heard a word he said and was actively looking around for her friend. I quietly pointed this out to Sir and he trailed off without finishing his sentence and I know that that lady never noticed. Now then. Maybe she was having serious personal issues and needed to vent to her close friend. Maybe she was “checked out” and was uninterested in making new friends because she was so soon to depart our boat for new adventures. Maybe we looked shady and she didn’t want to associate with us. Who knows what reasons this woman had for her rudeness. I will say that I immediately took it to heart and promised myself I’d never behave that way.
I mentioned that story to make the point that we will not always find compatible personalities in the commands we will be a part of. On our current boat for quite a long time, we were the only ones in the wardroom our age and with a baby so it gives us different priorities and schedules from the others. I had free daytimes and they had free evenings. And it was NEVER that anyone on our current boat was rude. What I’m getting at is that I haven’t felt a connection with anyone yet. I’ve been friendly and nice to everyone, even if it takes me a little time to open up socially. I’ve enjoyed getting to know these ladies and I know that if I was in trouble and called them, I’m confident they’d help me. But it’s hard for the shy girl to invite a new potential friend out to lunch sometimes. Because shy girls are excellent long term friends but we feel awkward in that “new friend” phase. Lunch with a new friend means small talk and some of us are bad at that.
So how do we help ourselves? Some of us have pep talks in the mirror before we join a club or organization. (“Ok. Tonight, we will be friendly and charismatic and we will talk to people and not be awkward!”) Sometimes we call our BFF or mom or husband before we head into a new activity and right afterwards so we have their accountability and affirmation. We hold out hope that each new acquaintance becomes a deep friendship connection because we know that making our way through this military life “alone” is a horrible option. (We aren’t ever truly alone, but it can feel that way sometimes.)
My point in this blog post is to say that it’s easy to give advice to the general public. It’s harder to follow for some people and that’s OK. The important thing to remember is that we are in charge of creating the experience we want to have and we have to know ourselves. I know many women who tell me that I must be very strong to be a military wife and mom but I don’t feel strong. I feel like I have to make the best of each situation because breaking down isn’t an option. Sir goes underway for weeks or months at a time and it’s carry on at home for me and I know myself well enough to know that I may need my alone time to recharge but being completely alone will never do. So I join workout groups and put myself outside of my comfort zone in the hopes of creating my own village. It takes a village and some people plop down in a ready made village but some have to make it for themselves.