I remember my first day of kindergarten.
Holding my mom’s hand, she introduced me to my teacher. Excited and petrified, I repeatedly glanced back at my mom as she smiled encouragingly, trying to hold it together as my new teacher led me into the classroom.
I remember the outfit I was wearing and the kid I sat next to. I also remember feeling a little anxious — would I be able to find friends?
I’m sorry to say that after all these years, I’m still experiencing the same phenomenon, though with a little less anxiety. For many people, it’s not so complicated. They live in one place, maybe they’ve even lived there their entire lives. They have some good friends and everything is grand; they live a static existence. In the military, it’s a whole new ball game.
I’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful friends, friends who were always nearby and ready for a coffee date, lunch or just a chat. I’m comfortable talking to really anyone, and making friends has never been a challenge for me. But when I moved to my first post as a military spouse, things changed.
In our new home, we didn’t live on post. Instead, we lived in a house in the middle of nowhere (the only decent place we could find when we moved during peak permanent change of station season). We had one neighbor close by. I knew no one and I struggled, hard. Decent jobs were hard to come by, so I worked a few crappy ones, one right after the other. It wasn’t until several jobs later, when I finally found a good job that stuck, that I found great friends. It was a huge relief and, as time went on, I made more quality friends — but it took time.
Fort Hood has been a different animal altogether. Once again we live off-base, in a neighborhood of mostly older retired folks. I work from home and I have a toddler. While I have met a few nice friends, these circumstances are not conducive to making loads of them. Early on, we attended several play groups (more for me than my son, who was only a baby at the time), but found it awkward, the conversations of the group members forced. When we go to activities or playgrounds now, it’s simply for the enjoyment of my little one.
My point is that while military life can be a great way to meet new people in the right context, it can be equally as difficult. As odd as a comparison as it might seem, I’ve found that friendship is a lot like dating — there’s either a connection there or there’s not. In my experience, there’s also what I like to think of as “drive-by friending.” It goes something like this: Drive-by No. 1, The dreaded question: “So, how long are you going to be here?” Make no mistake, this is not innocent conversation, it’s a test (i.e., Are you going to be here long enough to even make it worth my time?) In this situation, it’s best to be vague.
There’s also Drive-by No. 2, The take back: “We should grab a coffee sometime. Oh, wait ... don’t you ... have a kid?” No lie. Just like that. Ouch. Like parents don’t like coffee, too? (Um, hello). Or have feelings, or any sort of desire to have friends? Or, for that matter, want an excuse to leave the kids at home with the hubby and disappear for an hour or two?
Inevitably, I know I’m not alone — a singular glance at any one of the multitude of military spouse Facebook pages tells a tale of friendships sought, but maybe not found.
As a quality-over-quantity kind of gal, I’ll bide my time.