Friday, June 13, 2014

The Uniqueness of Military Friendships

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art...It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." C.S. Lewis

As a MilSpouse, friendship is necessary to your daily survival in the world of PCS's, deployments and military life. Make no mistake establishing and maintaining friendships is not always an easy task. It can be difficult, scary, and even heartbreaking. Let's not forget rewarding, but most importantly it's essential to our survival through military life. In our world, no friends can equal no sanity. 

Building friendships is made more difficult because we don't have the luxury of permanence. It's not a word that is part of our military vernacular. You don't get to stay in the same neighborhood for years and watch your children grow up with the neighborhood kids. Your children don't have the luxury of staying in the same school system their entire educational career. You don't have the luxury of keeping the same job for more than a few years. Moving, changing, uprooting, new schools, new jobs, new units- that's permanent.  The only real constant is change. 

I've been a military spouse (on and off) for the last 20 years. I was young and naive when I said yes to the military, and I had no idea what to expect from this lifestyle. Hell, I'm not sure I even grasped the idea that it was a "lifestyle", and not just my spouse's career choice. Either way, my first move was from the town I call home (click here to understand) to hubby's duty station. It was at Fort Campbell that I made my first military friends. 

What makes these friendships unique? 

While not all MilSpouses form bonds and friendships in the same manner, I believe there are a few things that seem to be shared across the board. 
  • The need for friends is more urgent.
  • You give of yourself more freely because you understand that time is finite, and everything is short lived.
  • Every duty station presents it's own challenges, which force you to look for friends to fulfill different needs. 
  • Every new move and new duty location is the passage of the last one, and along with it, the change in dynamics of those friendships left behind.
  • Mourning those losses requires the hope of new relationships. 
It's because of this that military friendships are a breed of friendships unto themselves. 

Quick, Fast, and in a Hurry
Let's face it, military families are at a duty station for 3-4 years, 5 or 6 if we're lucky. We need to spend time with someone other than our spouse and kids. 

We need to be able to have a lunch date, or dinner, or drinks, or shopping, or anything seemingly adult- like in nature.

We need to have other moms and dads to vent to about our kids. We need to listen to their horror stories, helping us to realize that our hellions aren't really all that bad. We need to get advice from other moms who have "been there, done that."

We need to feel connected and part of a community. It's the only way to make this new location really feel like home. It's what will make the time meaningful and lasting, for us and for our families.

If we wait too long to make friends, it will be PCS time and we'll be moving again. Or worse, we'll have a deployed spouse and no friends. Trust me- that's not fun. 

So we make friends and fast. As MilSpouses we don't have the luxury of getting to know people over the course of years. It's like speed dating. We let ourselves hang out there in the hopes that we will make connections and friendships that will last, if not last, at least help us cope and survive. 

Open Books
Since time is of the essence in building these friendships, we I tend to be an open book. What you see, is what you get. This MilSpouse doesn't have time to deal with false niceties and pretenses. I want to know if you are someone I can spend time with and be myself. 
I want to know that you share my parenting values, that we have things in common, that you like to drink wine and/or beer. (Wine and beer are important things to find out in the speed friending rounds!)
I want to know if our kids get along. 
I want to know if our husband will 'play nice' together as well. 

For this reason, I'm open and honest, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. I can't afford not to be me, or to see you for you. "Ain't nobody got time for that!" 

I find many MilSpouses are open, honest, and welcoming. They are willing to let you in and form lasting bonds.

Understanding the Demands
We understand that every duty station presents its own demands, and requires adjustments. Because we know this, military friendships are understanding. They are flexible. They are just what the doctor ordered at that particular assignment. 

We are like the old psychic hotlines! We have experienced so much over the course of military lives that we either have the been there done that shirts, or we know a friend who had it happened to them. We know what it's like to have to find new schools for our children. We know what it's like to have a husband deploy for 6 months or 16 months. 

There is an inherent understanding of the way our lives operate that makes it easier to relate and connect with another.

So long, farewell and goodbye 
Goodbyes are inevitable. In our lives, they are as sure as the sun rising. 

It's the three letters that will change the dynamics of military friendships: PCS. You know the moving truck will come, packers will box everything, and you can expect a stay at lodging or a hotel as you transition from one post to the next. 

Along with moving trucks, comes the long string of goodbyes that seemingly takes days to complete. You also know that some of these goodbyes are permanent.

There are friends you positively know you will see again. You will speak often, and even plan to vacation with them in the future. 

There are those friends that you will miss, but you also know that time and distance will change your friendship. You know the friendship was meaningful and lived its life to the fullest, but will no longer be with you. You know that Facebook and other social media will allow you keep in touch with all the people you have met along the way, but you know that few will remain truly close. Its not personal, it's the nature of this life.

It's the nature of military friendship, they are meant to help us through and to allow us to connect, but not all are meant to last.  When we get to the new location, we mourn those losses. We miss our friends. We miss our old life. Mourn it, you're we're allowed to. 

And that's ok. There are new friendships on the horizon of a new state, new location, new assignment, new life. It was beautiful while it lasted, and this too shall be a great adventure. 

The bottom line is I disagree with C.S.Lewis. Friendship is essential to the survival of the military spouse, and military life. I can't think of a single MilSpouse that ever made it through on their own. Our identities are tied to the variety of people who have touched us throughout the tenure of our military lives. Embrace the friendships, they are the key to survival.

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