Wanna add new friends to your social life? Have a baby. It seems like the easiest way to make new friends is through baby groups, toddler classes and playground playdates.
We don’t recommend that for military spouses.
There are a lot of reasons to have a baby but “making new friends” shouldn’t be one of them -- even if it seems like everyone but you in the Navy, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard or Marine Corps has a baby. Even if people are rude enough to ask you when you are having a baby.
So how do military wives make friends in military life without a baby?
We asked that question to a group of young military wives (no male spouses in that group) at an event in New Orleans. We were expecting them to rattle off a list that included things like “go to the gym” or “ask someone at work to lunch.”’ But they were stumped.
“We don’t know how to make friends,” one twentysomething told the group.
“That’s why we are here,” added another.
We know from the research that making one local friend is the difference between a good deployment and a bad deployment for military spouses. That is why we want to help you meet potential friends. We wanna be your little helper.
But how do you do that? When we talked to some seasoned military spouses, one thing was clear. They did not have babies in order to make friends. Instead, making new friends meant you had to rethink the way you made friends in the past. Start by asking yourself these seven questions.
1. What happened to your old friends?
Before you married your service member you probably had plenty of friends on Facebook. You still probably have those friends. What happened to them? More than likely you moved to a new state to be with your beloved and they didn’t. It isn’t you. It is geography. It will happen every time you move. That’s why it is good to figure this out. You will need these skills over and over.
2. How many friends did you REALLY have in high school or college?
Facebook is not a good representation of the number of friends you had back in the day. How many friends did you have that you could call and go do something with them in person? Be ruthless. Were there six? Three? One? Lots of times the idea that you used to have dozens of super close friends helps make you miserable. How many new friends do you really need to make?
3. How did you make friends in the past?
If you are like most people, all you had to do to make friends was to show up. Your environment did all the work. Your high school or your college provided the classic way to make friends -- repeated meetings in a low-pressure situation. In adult life, the research shows that there are fewer opportunities like this. Now that you are married, you are going to have to make more of a focused effort. It will be OK. Really.
4. What kind of friend do you need?
Are you looking for someone to hang out with when your service member has the duty or gets deployed? Do you need someone for Sunday afternoons? Are you looking for a workout buddy, or someone who wants to go hiking or biking? Do you want to get together with someone for coffee? Or are you looking for couple friends for you and your service member? The type of friends you need determines where you look.
5. What do you actually like doing?
Adults make friends while they are doing something. Either it is something they have to do (like work) or something they enjoy doing a lot. If you hate to read a book, you are never going to get a lot out of other women at book club. If you have zero interest in airplanes, volunteering as a docent at an Air and Space Museum is going to yield zero connections.
But if you love cooking shows, maybe a cooking class could yield a potential friend. CrossFit, a yoga class or a dance class brings you together with other people consistently. So does showing up at church or Starbucks or Panera at the same time every week. Remember, you want to create opportunities for repeated meetings in low-pressure environments.
6. Are you ready for friends who don’t look like you?
In high school and college, your friends were likely to be exactly the same age, the same race, the same socioeconomic background. Now that you are part of military life, you are going to meet fellow spouses who are nothing like you.
Coming home from a military event thinking no one was like me is the norm. When it comes to surface stuff, we are rarely alike. So you are going to have to ask more questions to find what you do have in common. Open up your mental image of “friend.”
7. Are you brave enough?
It takes courage to get out there and do what it takes to make friends. You have to show up. You have to say hello. You have to request contact information. You have to invite them. You have to risk. You can do this. Because making new friends is one of those skills military spouses need every year. And more people want to be friends with you that you really know.
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