When I went to first grade, my mom had to bribe me to make friends. She bribed me with the promise of getting to choose a spiral bound notebook at CVS. I had wanted a notebook for a long time (kid-talk: probably 2 days) so that I could write stories in it.
The offer was just so tempting.
I made one friend at recess and played kickball. And then later, I retreated behind my books again.
What can I say? I was a nerd and a low-rent kid.
Even now, 24 years later, in new situations, I find myself still feeling like that nervous first grader. I’m not a natural people-person. I’m not the life of the party.
And to be quite honest, I never thought I’d be in the place where I am today: getting to know a revolving door of my husband’s coworkers, PCSing every so often, having to pull up roots.
Especially as a new military spouse, I just didn’t feel like I fit. Not with other spouses and not with the military lifestyle. But over the past two years, I’ve found my place. It’s just not exactly what I thought being a military spouse would be like.
If you find yourself on the outside looking in, here’s what I’ve learned and what has helped me navigate living in a new community:
1. Be Okay With Yourself
Military life can be really lonely, especially for introverts who may take a long time to make friends or not enjoy attending large parties or get-togethers.
But that’s okay—be okay with it, too.
Ask someone to join you for coffee or lunch and get to know them that way. Join a book club or small group. Or find your strength and social outlet with your friends from other places and times—our phones and social media make it so easy to do that.
2. Stretch Beyond the Military
The military doesn’t define who you are. Sure, it defines a lot of things that you may do, where you live, or even your career… but it doesn’t define you.
Stay connected to the things you love to do and make a point to do them every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Being able to pursue things that you love will make you feel less like you’re beholden to military life.
3. Find Quality
After two years at our duty station, I’m okay with only really having one close friend and a handful of people I know in the area. Often, I think we assume that having more friends equates to more happiness.
But that’s not necessarily the case. Having friends of quality regardless of the quantity is far more important.
4. Search Out Alternative Voices
Feeling like you don’t fit in military life usually stems from feeling like you don’t fit in with the military spouse or military lifestyle stereotypes.
Maybe you don’t agree with particular politics or beliefs.
Maybe your career runs counter to the conventional in the military community.
Maybe you don’t feel like you fit, because you don’t see other spouses who look or think like you. But you’re not alone—there are military spouses of all stripes out there and there are so many different organizations, bloggers, and groups for spouses of particular interests and backgrounds.
You just need to find them.
5. Ditch the Labels
Who says you have to be friends with only people connected with the military?
People living civilian lives are just as capable of being supportive, funny, inspirational, loyal, and insert-any-other-adjective-you-choose-here. The civilian-military divide doesn’t have to exist where you work, your place of worship, or your moms group. Reach out your hand, shake someone else’s, and get to know them beyond the labels.
And the same thing goes for the ridiculous officer-enlisted divide between spouses. You can be friends with whomever you choose, so if you find yourself in a gaggle of officer’s spouses when yours is enlisted, go with it.
I hate to sound so harsh, but when it really comes down to it, while your spouse is in the middle of a contract, it really doesn’t matter if you feel like you fit into the military life or not.
The military doesn’t care if you don’t fit and the government doesn’t care either. So it’s really up to you. You can find the positives in military life and live your life the way you want to by surrounding yourself with the people you love and admire, or you can tear each part of your life apart and be distraught over it.
I know which option I’m choosing. How about you?