Gone are the days of white gloves at spouse clubs luncheons. Maybe next on the disappearance list? The clubs themselves.
The last several years has brought some major changes to the traditional military on-base spouse clubs. In the old days (you know, 10 years ago) the clubs were predominately female, rank specific and had never experienced an openly gay spouse. For some members the clubs were a status symbol. For others, they were the best place to make friends at a new base. For all, they were a major service to the local community through their scholarship programs, volunteer work and traditional on-base thrift shops.
And then things started changing. Attendance slowly began to dwindle as more and more spouses turned to social media or other means of meeting friends. A few male spouses started showing up. In an effort to bolster membership and move away from the cliche promotion of rank division among spouses, many clubs voted to combine, moving from the "Officer Spouses Clubs" and "Enlisted Spouse Club" to just the "Spouses Club." Gay spouses were allowed to join (or clubs were forced to open their doors) as Don't Ask, Don't Tell was abolished.
But despite becoming more welcoming to all spouses, attendance and involvement have continued to be a growing problem. And now some clubs are closing permanently because of it.
This story out of New River Air Station, North Carolina talks about the shuttering of that base's New River Air Station Staff NCO Wives Club. Since that club also ran the base's thrift shop, that store is closing as well.
Club members featured in the story blame the club's closure on lack of participation of the newer, younger wives, which some say is linked to the increased use of social media and a decreased desire to leave the "the comfort zone of the new home they just settled into."
People who are dedicated to the clubs and in-person classes and outreach like the Navy's LINKS or the Army's AFTB or the traditional FRG model see this lack of participation as a huge problem. They see spouses claiming on social media about not having in-person friends and about feeling lonely.
And that certainly is a problem. But I wonder if what they don't see is that disinterest in the clubs is a sign that people are using social media to have in-person relationships, too. It's not just that people don't have in-person relationships at all, it's that they are doing so differently than they used to. Because for every "I am so alone" post on a local spouse's page I see, there is one for "I'm going to the park with my kids -- who wants to meet me?" That doesn't seem to me like the safest way to meet friends, but it is certainly a way that many have found successful.
In my view, what closing clubs signal is the real end of the line for the old model of spouse outreach. We've seen the end coming for awhile. But maybe it's now really here. The military rarely changes their ways quickly, but it's time for the spouses to brainstorm new ways of making sure spouses have the support they need. We need to meet them where they are -- online -- not where we want them to be.
Yes, there is a balance to be reached and face-to-face social interaction is hugely important. But are the clubs the best way?
What do you think? We can help move our community forward -- what's your best idea for solving the in-person support conundrum?
Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.