Here is a little known military life truth: Making friends and keeping them is no easy task. We all know how it feels to be the “new” person, trying to make and establish connections while adjusting to life in a new place. Most of us move frequently, meaning that people come and go in our lives. We meet people all the time, yet acquaintances and colleagues are not always friends.
A friend is someone you can call at all hours of the day or night for any reason. A friend is someone whom you will go out of your way to spend time with or someone you can share hobbies and interests. A friend will defend you or stick with you through the good and bad times that befall all of us. When you combine these challenges with the obstacles that military life presents, making and keeping friends can be difficult.
As a child, I never had trouble making new friends. I was shy but kind, smart but humble, and I participated in many sports and extracurricular activities. I grew up outside of the military and attended the same schools and clubs with most of my friends, so I was continuously surrounded by the same people. I assumed that this ease of friendship would continue as I navigated college, parenthood, work, and anything else life threw at me.
As adults, we rely on our childhood friends and also find new friends through family, work, neighborhoods, and our children’s schools. When you are a military service member, spouse, or parent, it is more difficult to maintain these friendships in a constantly changing home and work environment. I am a genuinely nice person (I’ll brag a little about that), and find that I get along with most people rather easily. At every new home and duty station, I am eager to meet my neighbors and the parents at my children’s schools. I attend family and spouse events at my husband’s new squadron, hoping to connect with people that we would be interacting with for the next few months or years. I have found that meeting people is not the challenge but that connecting with those people and initiating a friendship is the real hurdle.
How do you make and keep friends through every PCS and assignment?
To be honest, I am still figuring it out. However, with my experiences in mind along with advice from my friends, I have a few tips and tricks to offer.
Focus on what real friendship is to you.
Friends come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, but friendships require certain criteria. Friendship must be voluntary for all people, and you should genuinely like one another. Friends are affectionate and show love for one another! You should share some common interests, values, or identities. Friendship also must be reciprocal. One person cannot give or take more than the other person without garnering some resentment in the friendship. We can spend time with a large number of people, but friendships require more than proximity or a common interest.
It is quality, not quantity, that matters.
My best friends are my people. I can call them for anything, no matter how embarrassing for either of us or how desperate I am for help. We can talk for hours about the things we like and do not like, and whether we share the same interests or ideas, we can see past our differences and stay friends. As military spouses, the quality of our friends is even more important. These are the people who will witness our breakdown in the middle of a deployment, who will watch our kids when necessary, who will help fix a broken car or a crushed heart. We need our friends to be steady, reliable, and loyal — a dozen acquaintances cannot take the place of one decent, quality friend.
Do not disqualify a friend because of circumstance.
We all do this — admit it! If you meet a person you might like but find out that person is moving soon, you decide not to make the effort. If a person is brand new to the military, you may not want to be her friend because of this newness. I could name more small, tiny reasons to not make the effort, but do not do this! I have made friends with people in as short as a month that I still communicate with, and I have lost touch with those I thought were my closest friends. Get to know the person, not their circumstances.
Make the effort, no matter how small.
We are all busy people, and our commitment to our friends can become lost in our priorities. Friendship requires commitment and effort, so make it a priority. This does not have to be a grand gesture or a frequent gesture, but it should be enough to reinforce your friendship. For example, I love postcards — both giving and receiving them. Every place we move to or travel to, I purchase a handful of postcards to send to family and friends. It is a small gesture that can brighten someone’s day; keep that person involved in your life; and show a personal effort to maintain a connection. Whatever your ideas or efforts, keep them coming. Your friends will appreciate it!
As military parents and spouses, we often push aside the need for friendship because we prioritize other aspects of our lives before it. This is another reason we can be great friends! We know how to put someone’s needs before ours, and we can cooperate and compromise with the best of them.
Friendship is important for community and camaraderie. Friendship also can have some surprising health benefits. According to CafeMom, friendship can help boost immunity and memory, and it can reduce stress and depression. Our friends can help us in times of need, and we can aid our friends during their crises; alternately, our friends can be there for our happy occasions and celebrations. We need friends, especially when we live far from our families, to support us and share our lives. True friendship is reciprocal and beneficial, and I cannot imagine my life without my closest friends, no matter where they are!