Uprooting from one duty station to another is stressful enough for any military spouse, but for those of us introverted military spouses who are not natural-born minglers, the thought of having to meet a whole new tribe of milspouses can be downright terrifying.
Although being the newbie is never easy, don’t let social anxiety deter you from meeting your fellow spouses; they can provide a much-needed support system, and often the strongest friendships you’ll ever have. For all of you wallflowers, here are some pointers to help you break the ice and make new pals in a pinch. Sometimes, an introvert is exactly what is needed in a group of crazy!
1. Show up a few minutes early
While wandering into a social event mid-party can be intimidating, arriving early gives you the opportunity to warm up. Chat with your host or hostess and offer to help set up. Introduce yourself to people as they slowly start filtering into the event for easy one-on-one conversations (that’s where we thrive as introverts!)
2. Be approachable
Even if you’re the silent type, your body language is speaking volumes. Crossing your arms creates a barrier between yourself and potential conversationalists. Keep your head up, chest open, and smile.
The hit of dopamine a good chuckle can provide will relax you faster than that liquid courage you’re probably holding. If you see a pair or small group in stitches over a funny story, shimmy over to the edge of their circle. Not only will the laughter be contagious, but it gives you the perfect opportunity to jump in, shake hands, and say, “Hi, I’m [your name]. What did I miss?”
3. Avoid cliché conversation starters
I get it, questions like, “How long have you been stationed here?” or “Do you live on or off base?” are relatable go-tos, but they’re as boring as they are easy. Plus, you run the risk of dead-ending the conversation once you exhaust the usual queries. Ditch the script, and instead start with, “What do you do for fun?” or “Have you picked up any new hobbies since moving here?” Talking interests leads to a natural flow in conversation, allowing you to relax and learn more about your new acquaintance.
4. Hang out by the food
This high-traffic area offers plenty of opportunities for a quick chat. Plus, what’s easier to talk about than food? Compliment your favorite dishes and ask for recipes. Or just be the one who knows what tastes best on the table and let people know!
5. Don’t dis your station
One milspouse’s hell may be another’s paradise, so unless you want your foot in your mouth, let someone else start the trash-talking before you begin your own tirade. But, if the door opens, relating over shared struggles makes for great conversation! Ha!
6. Easy on the controversial topics
Religion, politics, or social issues may make for stimulating discussion, but you never know who you’re going to offend. If someone else goes there, fair game, but be open to hearing opposing views. If you come across as judgmental, others may distance themselves from confiding in you.
7. Make connections
Later during the social, take a look around the room and see who cliques. Join the group conversations that include individuals with whom you’ve already become acquainted and casually approach the circle. Show your interest in the conversation by smiling, nodding, and making eye contact, and you should be welcomed into the fold (we hope, otherwise it’s probably not worth your time!)
8. Take baby steps
Consider making your first time meeting the gang a short one. Let your host or hostess know from the beginning that you have another engagement for which you will need to leave early and do just that at your chosen time. Abbreviating your stay can make the visit seem less intimidating and will allow you to dodge the otherwise sticky situation of making your escape. Thank your gracious host or hostess before leaving, say goodbye to those you connected with, give a friendly wave and a, “Nice to meet you all!” at the door, and aim to stay a little longer next time.
9. Be kind to yourself
Maybe you only talked to two spouses all night, when you planned to meet everyone. Maybe nobody laughed at your joke. Maybe you retreated to your phone more than once. Let it slide. Pat yourself on the back for making an appearance and for putting yourself out there. I promise you, from one introverted milspouse to another, it gets easier.