In the military world of uniformity, fitting in can be one of the hardest parts of being a military spouse. My journey as a military spouse veered off the traditional path and has set us down a bumpy path that often leaves me feeling like I was placed squarely back in the awkwardness of high school. From my husband being an active duty college student at the local university (where we were 10 years older than everyone else) to being one of the only (non-medical) Navy guys on a Marine base, the majority of our military experience has made us the odd-balls wherever we go. Now we are heading to a country that the PCS office had never even heard of and we will, again, be the weird ones. While I thrive on doing the extra-ordinary, feeling atypical is never fun.
Even if you and your military experience follows a more traditional route, I imagine that all of us will feel like an outsider at some point. Whether it’s when we show up to a command after a tight-knit community has already formed, or it comes after our military loved one gets out of the service and you struggle to fit back into the civilian world, it is difficult to embrace these times of social discomfort. New military spouses particularly struggle with this: we don’t understand the lingo, are petrified of that first deployment and struggle to navigate the politics of a military command. (And to the male military spouses out there- I know you can relate!) I confess that I am often tempted to put up the walls of defensiveness and mutter under my breath “I don’t really want to fit in with you anyway.”
But the truth is, I want to be accepted. This military life can be difficult at points and having even a small group of friends can make the difference between survival and insanity. Deployment will inevitably bring a flat tire or a broken dish washer and having someone that you can call on is not just a luxury, but a necessity. But how do we find that support system when we feel more unique than united with those around us? I think it differs for each of us in different circumstances. Whether it means trying a spouse or play group when you normally swear them off, or choosing to be satisfied with just a few close friends instead of the large community you had at your last command, I have learned that to fit in (or choosing to accept that I may never fit in like I want, regardless of what I do) requires proactivity on my part.
While the military culture often seems to encourage people to not stand out from the crowd, as a military spouse, it is sometimes required. Don’t fit into the wives club? Use that time to volunteer at that charity that you always wanted to work with "if you had the time." Don’t get along with the local military playgroup? Make friends with the other moms at your kid’s swim lessons instead. Keep an open mind about making friends who may be different from you. Consider the spouse who is older than you, the newlywed couple with no kids or people with no military affiliation at all. All of these people offer one important aspect when stationed somewhere where it feels like you don’t fit it: perspective. And perspective, along with a healthy sense of humor, can keep you looking positively down the road towards the next destination on your military journey.
Do you ever struggle with feeling like an outsider? How do you build a community when it is difficult to fit in somewhere? Share with me your social survival tips!