How Introverts Make Military Friendships

two spouses laughing
A Key Spouse Symposium at RAF Lakenheath gave spouse the opportunity to meet each other and share ideas. (Christopher S. Sparks/DVIDS)

I think military life may have turned my husband and I into an "outgoing introvert." My husband was voted “Shyest” in his high school class. If my high school would have had that Senior Superlative I would have received it instead of “Most Studious.” As you can imagine, neither one is what a teenage girl wants to be pegged.

Yet if you asked folks in our new community if the two of us were extroverts or introverts, people would say we were definitely extroverts. But we aren’t.

We turned into "outgoing introverts."

That’s one thing the military did for us…turned us into “outgoing introverts.” Our 19 moves forced us to learn to engage and connect with people in order to find friends.

Making friends is a skill you can learn and need to learn, if you are going to survive and thrive in military life. Military spouses who are isolated have the hardest time. You really do need at least one good “Battle Buddy” with each move, not just 400 “friends” on Facebook.

But what if you are shy? You aren’t alone. Fifty percent of Americans label themselves as shy. Like many of them have, you can learn to be more comfortable by learning new skills and behaviors and self-talk.

Maybe being “most studious” helped because I learned how to make friends by reading books and interviewing people. Holly and I shared what we learned in our book Military Spouse Journey: Discover the Possibilities and Live Your Dreams. I can’t replicate it all in 600 words, but here are ideas to get you started.

1. Engage in life and meet like-minded people

Get out and do things you enjoy doing and be open to connections. I’ve made friends at the gym, at book events, talking on the phone when I called a local Mac Club for computer help and at a workshop on time management.

2. Create your agenda.

My favorite tool comes from Ann Baber and Lynn Waymon’s book Smart Networking. The book is filled with ideas for how to start conversations, join groups already in conversation, how to leave a conversation when it’s time to do so and how to ask questions that trigger conversations.

Before going to a coffee or military ball or conference, I come up with my “agenda.” Taking a minute to think about who will be at that event, I come up with three bits of information I have to share which might be of interest to people there, and three bits of information I am looking for that those individuals might be able to provide. Things like “best cheap eats in this area,” “best military recreation sites in driving distance” and “romantic places for dinner.”

I don’t always need to use my agenda. Sometimes great conversations just happen. But when we start talking about the weather, this gives me a topic to introduce that just might trigger a more purposeful conversation.

3. Be curious.

Every person has a story. Learn to ask questions to draw them out—and learn to listen. Ask things like: “How did you and your husband meet?” “Is there a story behind your name?” (For unique names certainly, but even common names often have an interesting story behind them.) “What do you like best about this location?” (I stick to the positive and stay away from the ‘ain’t it awful club’ people I don’t choose to hang out with.)

4. Start a dare to dream team.

This is my absolutely favorite idea. The purpose of this group is to help everyone identify and move towards their own dreams in life. We have a full chapter in our book about this group.

Introverted or extroverted, we all need friends! If you are an introvert, what do you do to make friends in military life?

Kathie Hightower managed her introversion to step out and help other military spouses (and others) through years of workshops, writing, and a number of books including Military Spouse Journey and Stories Around the Table. She just made sure she could retreat into quiet after every conference, book signing or interview.

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