Post PCS: How to Make Friends in Your New Community
I used to be a social introvert. My parents would likely tell you differently since they nicknamed me “Mouth” when I was a kid (yes, I was nicknamed after a Goonie for talking too much…) However, at social gatherings you used to find me in the back corner, slowly sipping a sapphire martini, palms nervously sweating as everyone else chattered around me effortlessly. My eyes darted around the room pleading for someone to attach themselves to me in hopes of ending the torture of sitting alone – in the corner – tipsy because of drinking rather of talking – with sweaty palms. I wouldn’t go up to someone else to start a conversation. I was much too shy. When someone finally asked me a question to initiate the conversation, I’ve been known to give a one-line-answer. Yes, I was also the girl who had the wall up around her, making even a wrecking ball hard to penetrate through to get to know. And because of this, I had a rough start at making new friends.
I remember the first time I realized that I was “the quiet one.” It was on a Girl Scout trip to the Cerreta Candy factory in Glendale, AZ. I was in the car with my troop leader, her daughter, and the assistant troop leader sitting in the front, while me and two other 7-year-old Brownies sat squished in the back. Everyone else joked and talked about boys. I sat quietly in the corner praying that the 5 minute car ride would be over. Then the girl next to me piped up, “why don’t you talk?” I got beet in the face and replied, “I wasn’t spoken to.” “Oh",” she said with such a repulsed expression that could only reflect thoughts that I must be a creature from Mars. It was at that precise moment when I realized for the first time that I was the quiet one. (For the record, my parents never taught me to speak only when spoken to. I have no clue why I answered that way – all nose turned up and proper… But then again they called me Mouth, so maybe they did slip in that rule and I just don’t remember.)
Over the years it was very difficult for me to make friends. Some people thought I was better than everyone else because I didn’t speak in public. In 7th grade one boy came up to me during lunch and asked, “Do you think you’re better than everyone else?” Shocked that someone would think that way about me I answered, “No! Why?” “Because you don’t talk to anyone.” It was then I realized I better start making friends otherwise people were going to mistake me for some snob, which I definitely wasn’t. I was just very, painfully shy. High school and college were better as I was – for some reason - asked to Captain my colorguard teams, thus forcing me to speak to large groups and lead my peers.
Once I married into the military it became immediately obvious that this making friends thing was going to be super difficult for me. Shortly after Brandon and I were married, we attended a party of a guy who was PCSing (permanent change of duty station.) New to the military and to the unit, we didn’t know any other person than the host. Before we darted out the door the guy’s wife came over to me and said, “You better find yourself another woman who doesn’t have kids to make friends with. There aren’t many of us left.” To this day, I don’t know exactly what she meant or how meeting a milspouse without kids is different than one with kids. Now that I have kids, I’ve learned that we all need a buddy! Personally, I don’t care if you have kids or not, I just need another female adult to talk to (face-to-face) once in a while. Kids or not, I think we all need a sapphire martini and a good laugh from another grownup to slip away from reality for a minute. Amen sisters.
Last month my family PCSed from Fort Benning, GA to Fort Bliss, TX and I upped the ante on trying to meet new people. I didn’t make too many new friends in Georgia (see nervous sweaty palms above…) But now my soul is thirsty for friends and I’m really stepping outside my self-imposed sense of security to gain new friendships at our new installation. I have to. I can’t go on being surrounded only by the walls of my home and the faces of my family - whom I deeply love and appreciate every single day of my life. But it’s like eating cake every day of your life. Cake is so good and yummy and you say you could eat a banquet of cake all day long, that is until you want to vomit and cry out, “I want something other than cake for just one meal! Please! Before you have to check me into a mental institution!” Before my last PCS, I prepped myself for our new community in hopes of learning about our new home, and to quickly meet new people. I did this by using local contacts, social media, and utilizing windows of opportunity.
Prior to moving, I contacted the one couple I knew who lived in our new town seeking help with areas of residence. I had never met this woman, as she was a friend of a friend, but she is also military and understood my need for help. I had to take the initiative to talk to her, knowing the worst that could happen was that she wouldn’t respond to my pleas for help. Luckily, she did respond, and was wonderfully instrumental in helping my family find a home at our new duty station. Because we got the ball rolling talking about housing, I consider her a friend who I would invite into my new home for dinner.
If you don’t have friends of friends to hook up with, try social media. I met a delightfully funny and charming woman through Instagram, believe it or not. We both hashtaged El Paso on one of our photos (#elpaso) since we were both moving there within 2 months of one another. We discovered each other’s photos first, then began following each other’s profiles which led to emails ping-ponging back and forth. I’m happy to have a blooming friendship even if happened initially through email.
When you’re new to a unit, there may be military gatherings that will commence specifically to welcome you. These may be in the form of parties at a dude’s house like one I experienced when Brandon and I first joined the military several years ago. Or perhaps, it’ll be a Hail and Farewell or FRG (family readiness group) meetings. Cease those opportunities.
A while back, I was the milspouse that was 100% uninterested in attending these types of gatherings. Over the years, however, I have learned that it’s at those events when you meet other women who are exactly in your shoes. Those are the women who will cry with you when you’re both going through a deployment. Those are the women who will lovingly watch your kids when you’re sick as a dog and your husband is away for training. You need people like that around you when you’re new to the area. Initially, I had to force myself to go to military-related social gatherings because, admittedly, I thought they were super-lame. Now, I don’t force myself to go. I enjoy them because it gives me a rare opportunity to make new friends.
The first step that must occur in order for you to make new friends at your new installation is that you must try. You have to take the initiative to meet new people. I once sat lonely in the corner sipping a martini waiting for someone to come talk to me. Now, I grab a woman’s digits to make future play-date arrangements – not caring if she thinks I’m nuts because I’m asking for her number 5 minutes after meeting her. About 3 days after we got to our current base, Brandon, the girls, and I were at a nearby park. There was a woman there with her son who looked to be my oldest daughter’s age. She must have overhead me and Brandon talking about our recent move because she asked us when we moved. After chatting a bit we unraveled that she and her family had moved into their home the very same day we moved into ours, and her son was the exact same age and grade level as my daughter. I stood up then and there and asked for her number. We have already had three play-dates within the last month.
A dear friend once told me that it takes vulnerability to make deep, lasting friendships. But how can you begin making meaningful relationships if you’re not meeting anyone? You have to get out there and try. I know not everyone who reads this is military. Whatever your lifestyle, whether it's going away to college, starting a new job, or moving to a new city outside of the military, be vulnerable and take that initiative, girl. Go be friendly. You’ll do yourself a world of happy.
Want to know more about creating meaning relationships? Go here.