Milspouse Friendships

Updated: May 15, 2021


14 December 2020


Gretchen pointed out today that we are each other’s yin and yang. We’re upside-down reflections of one another. She seems right, to me. Maybe opposites attract then, because I love her dearly.


How is it that I choose friends? How did I know Gretchen would become precious to me?


Who freaking knows??


Finding friends is so hard after college. College is like hot water: all of those molecules in there are packed in close and charged up with hormonal energy, bouncing off each other. There is no way they can escape one another. They collide and often, those collisions stick and bond. Sometimes they develop without effort into friendships, sometimes romance.


Finding friends after college is…more like a blind man trying to snag a fly out of thin air with chopsticks. Without use of The Force. Or. Maybe more like trying to find a shark’s tooth amidst the broken bits of seashell on a beach. There are people – often many people – but you have to inspect them, evaluate, and select them fast because there are just too many to spend time…hemming and hawing.


A needle in a haystack. Ugh. So cliché.


Gretchen may be more like a pearl, though…this metaphor works better for her: becoming more and more polished, brilliant, and beautiful with time – but you have to crack open the outer shell to actually see her. She can be reserved, like me; sometimes more reserved than me, sometimes less.


For me, finding friends is part luck, part skill, and probably 99.9% understanding humanity. None of us are even remotely close to perfect; it’s truly a matter of finding someone whose ugly doesn’t rub you the wrong way.


That evaluation, however, still has to happen quickly for our family – everyone in it. When you only have two years, you don’t have time to waste dillydallying over whether or not you can trust someone to handle a piece of you gently. You dive in, or you move on. Most of the time, when you dive, you just say a prayer to whatever deity you believe in that it will be worthwhile. Sometimes, albeit rarely, it works out. Other times, you learn quickly that this is not what you’re searching for and you simply continue – move on in your hunt.


In many ways, and I’ve heard this analogy before, finding friends at my age as a military spouse is like dating. Even Gretchen alluded to this earlier today. She said that when Brigitte first brought me into her classroom, well after her class was over, she thought, “Who is this person invading my space?” A kind smile doesn’t matter; people don’t want new friends – at least, most people don’t. After college, they have all of the friends they need, or if not, they’ve moved on to focus on their nuclear unit, reconnecting with friends sporadically enough to fill that calling to be gregarious. Anyone new is – encroaching. So, you have to woo just a little bit. You have to entice.


When you have no friends and you’re seeking new friends – especially at the ripe old age of 40 – it’s as if you’ve got a tentacle growing out of your forehead. It’s…weird, I think. Uncomfortable. Like, “Why is this person interested in me?” weird. Like, “Why is that mom staring at me?” weird. Like, “Who is this person listening in on our conversation?” weird. I can only imagine how I must come off to other people. It’s certainly awkward for me; there has to be some distaste on their part. As though – well – as though I’m needy. Attention-seeking, if you will.


Then there are all of the hurdles of finding common ground – don’t let’s even get started on that one…this is where friendships with locals break down for me. Locals talk about their schools, their kids’ teachers, the past five years of soccer tournaments, their family across town, the party last week, and ohmygod. There is no breaking into a circle such as this – not for me. There is nothing – whatsoever – to connect with in the local world. Locals are unreachable.


You have no idea how awkward this can truly get, frankly. In these cases, it’s honestly best to just sit back and listen to them instead of interjecting. My experiences – here we go, are you ready? This is about to sound so awful, but this is just my reality. My experiences are so vastly different from theirs, that no matter what comes out of my mouth, it’s going to sound pretentious. Just imagine, will you? Regular old chit-chat, and then there’s me: “Oh, that’s how they manage PTA finances here? Well…so when we were in Madrid, I was the VP of the Parent Association at our international school, and our treasurer had to…” GUH. Even writing that makes me cringe! Who – what – who would want to hang out with that pretentious freak?!


I get it. I open my pie-hole, and weird shit comes out. Shit that is off-putting to normal people.


But. Maybe you’re still not imagining yourself in my shoes…so, let me try again.


After a Parent Association meeting one day at the International College of Spain in Madrid, I noticed a few moms join in a group to chat. They stood in a little circle just beside the coffee bar. New to the school but knowing two of these moms from previous brief encounters, I recognized an opportunity: to date, I had not yet made any friends; this was my opening. I quietly and casually made my way over to their circle to listen and, well, see if I could participate.


There I stood, just behind one mom’s right shoulder. Clearly an outsider, but clearly trying to break in. Do you know what happened?


Nothing.


The circle remained its perfect circle, without any alteration to its shape. I remained hopelessly awkward and alone behind that mom’s right shoulder.


Never in my life has my social exclusion manifested itself so physically and blatantly. I was shattered. I left the school that morning and did not go back for six months. Ultimately, it turns out that this moment was a large factor in the psychological breakdown I endured in Madrid.


This. Is. My. Existence.


This is why, when I connect, I must cling so fast and so hard.


I have friends all over the world because my friendships are made of titanium. When we find, we fuse. We become unbreakable. And most often, these develop only with other military spouses because we cannot break in with anyone else.


These friendships may be rare, but they sure are tacky and robust. Sometimes, even a 30-minute drop-in at someone’s house as you’re passing through their town on a road trip PCS is enough to make up for six years of absence (here’s looking at you, Dawn!).


Indeed, we’ve gone further out of our way for our tacky friends than most people would go for their closest family. I’ve flown to Bangalore, India for four days for a friend’s wedding (that one’s for you, Vinee). I’ve traveled to Barbados – twice (Dawn – I really miss you!). I’ve taken my two young children and driven 13 hours from Abilene to Rapid City just to visit friends (all my love, Jenn). I’ve even embarked upon seemingly interminable road trips across Europe’s southwest peninsula with carfuls of kids, snacks, and laughter (that’s you two, Lu and Maria). My friends are often more a part of me and my family than some of my own blood relations.


So, I’ll take my pearl, Gretchen, and maybe I’ll string her up with all of those others I wear about my neck…reminding me daily of all the true love this world has to give, to share. The most precious gems in life. She’ll be there forever, now, and maybe someday we will travel the world to reconnect.


But for the present, I’ll be in the office at every opportunity with the best office-mate I’ve ever had, snaking as much of Gretchen’s time as I can before we say, “See ya later!”
















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