From the Mailbag: The Politics of Friends


I tend to meet my friends at the grocery store.  Also, the library.  And sometimes I meet them when I'm walking my dogs (my dogs, Ike and Mamie, are very interested in meeting new friends.  And they tend to assume everyone wants to be their friend).  The first thing about meeting friends that I've learned through the years is that it's much easier on base, at least for me.  Everyone there is in the same boat - either just coming, settling in, or getting ready to leave.  Making friends in the military is more closely related to speed dating than old-fashioned courtship.

It can be a lonely life if you are all alone, and the reality is that a strong support system that includes other military spouses who understand the situations military life brings.  But do those unspoken rules of the military life - you know, the ones I trip over constantly? - bleed over into who we can spend our social time with?

Reader A.O. asks:

Can an officer's wife be friends with an enlisted wife, if the husbands are not on the same office and only the wives are interacting?
The short answer to this is, of course!  Why not?  The longer answer actually starts with this question:  Who told you that officer/enlisted spouse friendships were verboten?  There have been urban legends circulating about the military's regulation of military dependent friendships as long as I can remember, and there are certainly nasty stereotypes on both sides.  But the truth is that there is nothing to stop "mixed friendships," officially or unofficially, other than the personalities of the people involved.

And when it all comes down to it, the truth is that - regardless of rank - military families are each other's first line of support and defense.  One of my favorite SpouseBUZZ stories of all time was shared with us at a SpouseBUZZ Live event in Fort Bragg, when an audience member* stood up and told of meeting a woman at a unit function during a deployment.  The woman gave Becky her phone number and told her that if she ever needed anything, she just needed to call.

A few months later, Becky found herself with a sick child that needed an emergency room visit and two well children she could not lug along.  She found that phone number and called the other wife, who came over immediately.  When Becky relayed the story to her husband, he asked for the woman's last name so he could thank her husband.  When Becky told him, there was a moment of shocked silence, and then, "Becky!  You called the General's wife?"

"No," Becky told him.  "I called Barbara, who has children just like me.  I called Barbara, whose husband is deployed, just like mine."

Because, in the end, no matter which side of the commissioning line our spouses fall - the truth is that their rank is not our rank.  And being a spouse has enough difficulties without adding to them by artificially limiting our friend and support pool over what isn't on our collar or sleeve.

No, I can assure you that real military life is not like Army Wives.  If it was, my post-children chest would be far perkier and I'd be able to spend an entire day effortlessly and gracefully engaged in physical activities while wearing designer four-inch heels.  Instead, I own a closet full of yoga pants and I break out the flip flops as soon as temperatures reach the mid-50s, because they're easier to deal with than regular shoes.  But one thing Army Wives does get right is this:  the only limit on military spouse friendships is the one we put there ourselves.

*names changed for privacy

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