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What You Need: Creative Ways to Make Friends on Base

My finger tightened around the tepid glass of orange juice. Music reverberated against the windowpanes. Dress swirled and girls giggled as boys pulled them closer. My gaze remained downcast. If only I could blend into the beige walls. Making friends at 12-years-old was hard, even at a school dance.

Even today friend making is not simple, even with social networking. Acquaintances are easy to come by. But genuine, close friends? Not so much.

Experts say people in general really only have five close and personal friends, though they may have a larger number of people whom they keep in touch with less regularly.

Studies have shown too, that despite the advent of the Internet and sites such as Facebook and MySpace, face-to-face contact is “nearly always necessary to form close friendships.” Sure you may have hundreds of friends on social network, and, it decreases the cost of maintaining and forming networks with multiple people, but how many of them do you really hang out with?

The fact is, social media complements—not replaces traditional friendships. Even though it seems harder to find places to make friends these days, online friends don’t substitute for real community and relationships.

Of course moving all the time doesn’t make friend keeping the easiest task. So what can you do to make friends on base? You may have to get creative if you’re not interested in the FRG or Spouses’ Club. Here’s a start:

Eight tricks to making new military friends:

Abandon the house: Get out. Walk at the local park daily, chances are you’ll see other regulars; start up a conversation. Online friends are great, but experts say without the cues of body language, gestures, and eye-to-eye contact, it’s hard to truly engage with someone you’ve never met.

Sites such as SocialJane.com and GirlfriendSocial.com help women find others they have things in common with; many actually met and hang out. Meetups.com is another great website that meets locally and do fun stuff based on shared interests. And you can use those “wives of (insert base here)” Facebook pages to set-up great meet-ups, too.

Use your kids: Yes, it does still work. The parents of playmates sometime become friends, especially in the military community. Not only do kids have someone that shares their struggles but who better to understand military life? Show up at the local playground and say “hi” … you’ll be surprised how many military spouses are looking for friends, too.

Use work to “play”: Volunteering at the Parent’s Teacher Association or at the soccer game is a great way to make friends. Being a volunteer at the base hospital (at the help desk) serves as job experience and you’ll meet people. Some bases offer various classes. You can build your resume and make friends; maybe start a study group together. Volunteering at church is another great place to make friends.

Pick your Servicemember’s brains: Your spouse is a great resource. He (or she!) may know another spouse you can identify with based on those he knows at work. Join the unit’s welcome wagon or create your own. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just think of the struggles you faced when PCSing and offer your help to newcomers.

“Work” it: Find a hobby and turn it into an at-home business. As you make professional contacts, you’ll also make friends. It could be as simple as babysitting or offering your services as a dog-walker. And, take your own pet to the dog park; let your dog do the “walking” for you -- as they makes friends so will you.

Be neighborly:  Introduce yourself to the neighbors and get to know them. It’s not just a good practice in case of emergencies, it the simplest way to make friends.

Sweat it out: Some bases have free onsite personal training, and trainers will even train two people simultaneously. You can find a workout buddy without even trying. And, you’ll be taking care of yourself.

Stay alert: Use daily opportunities to connect. Strike up a conversation at the commissary, at the Exchange, at your spouse’s many ceremonies and at the doctor’s office. If you or your children have illnesses (allergies etc.), ask your doctor about local support groups on-base.

Your attitude counts, too. Making friends all starts with you -- what you think, say and do matters. Say “hi,” initiate small talk, but take a chance. It’s worth it to make a genuine friend.

What about you? Do you have any genius ideas on how to make friends? If you’re shy like me, do you have any secret strategies you employ to overcome it?

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