Navigating a new duty station always comes with its own set of challenges. As a child-free couple trying to make new friends, it can at times feel downright isolating.
My husband and I had been in Germany less than a month and had been invited on a wine hike with five other couples.
Wine and hiking? Sign me up! I was thrilled and couldn't wait for the event.
Ten minutes into the five-kilometer hike, my husband and the rest of the men edged away and promptly began talking shop. Although I was with five women I didn't know, I took comfort in at least knowing that I shared two connections with these potential newfound friends: Wine and the enjoyment of being outdoors. When one of the women mentioned a recent trip to Paris, my heart sang as I thought, another connection: Travel!
She couldn't say enough about someone named Bob and how invaluable it had been to have along in their travels. Bob went on airplanes. Bob navigated foreign cities. Bob went on long car rides to distant lands.
I was intrigued.
Each woman also seemed to have their own stories to share about Bob. Bob sounded amazing, and I wanted to know who he was and how to get one.
"Who's Bob?" I asked.
For a fleeting moment, I was a stand-up comedian--instantly welcomed into the tribe. The laughter and friendship died when they realized I wasn't making a joke. Horror of horrors, I didn't know Bob was a stroller nor did I have a stroller of any kind.
The conversation dissolved into birth stories, diaper creams, and teething remedies, as I sipped my wine in silence and tried my best to appreciate the new scenery surrounding me.
As a child-free couple, the experience was an all too-familiar feeling of isolation. At first it feels as if you are completely alone, but we're not. Finding your fit in a new base may take a little more energy and perseverance, but your path is out there. Here are four strategies to help you find it.
Realize building your tribe might take more time
Finding friends at a new installation takes time. Finding friends who won't give you the stink eye for either not having, not having yet, or not wanting children can take longer. And that's okay!
But, keep putting yourself out there
Understandably, there are going to be a plethora of social events at military installations that focus heavily on kids.
But increasingly, I've noticed that there are more chances to form a connection not dependent upon children that are coming out of the woodwork. Sit 'n knits, book clubs, crafting events, wine painting evenings, women's hiking groups,and more are popping up. Find one that appeals to you, take a deep breath and try one!
Will every event be a success? Probably not. But there are parents and non-parents out there both seeking the same thing: Friendship and a chance to form meaningful connections in a new, unfamiliar place.
Let the snark roll off that beautiful back of yours
If you want to hear a pin drop in the room, tell a group of women that you don't have children. If you want to hear the plates crash, tell them you don't want children.
In my 20's and early 30's, this kind of declaration was simply dismissed as "not yet" or "keep trying -- you'll get there", both of which are well-intentioned at best, ignorant and inappropriate at worst. However, when you're flirting with 40, people begin to assume there must be something wrong with you.
For some reason, others will react as if they've been personally attacked because you don't want children. Some will dismiss your situation and offer that you're not a "real" family until you have children.
Realize that you might be a literal cultural shock to some people and understand that not all people are going to understand how to deal with that. Keep trying because you'll eventually meet people who do connect with you.
Be open to friendship
As a woman with no children it may come as a surprise that many of my dearest friends (gasp!) have children. A mainstay in each of these friendships though is a wide and deep interest in each other's lives. Of course we talk about family, and sometimes that does include their children. But we also talk about what's trending on Twitter, the latest movie, a book we've just discovered and loved -- or hated, and so much more. Hopes, dreams, fears -- they're all on the table for discussion with these kindred spirits.
Being a child-free couple can at times truly feel like being a mythical creature. Although rare, but real. We are out there, our hearts searching for the same thing as yours; a good friend with a good story. And a soul who is as happy to see you, as you are them.
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