November 3, 2015
When I was a little girl, I learned a cute song in school about making new friends and keeping the old ones. As far as I was concerned, the song might as well have been about the birds and the bees, because at that point in my life, it made no sense at all.
Now that I’m an Army wife, that little tune often pops into my head once again; only these days, it’s with perfect clarity. I can hear Mrs. Suggs, my first-grade teacher, leading our tiny voices that strained out of tune, “One is silver and the other gold.” As a child, I imagined little silver and gold people. Not an especially friendly image in the mind of a first-grader. Then again, I didn’t have friends like Lisa in first grade.
I met Lisa at my husband’s Company party six years ago, and 25 years after first grade. I knew instantly that she would be a good friend. We just clicked. Over the next year, we often met for lunch or dinner. Countless phone conversations, shopping trips and wives’ coffees later, we were good friends. She was there for me during my husband’s deployments. She always had the answers to my Army-wife questions. And she became a silver friend.
Making friends like Lisa is a challenge for those of us in the military. With all that moving around, we often find ourselves the new kid on the block. Luckily, there are many ways to cultivate new friendships at a new military installation. Below are just a few suggestions:
First, look for those in similar circumstances. If you live in government quarters, look around you. It’s likely that two doors down, another family is also unpacking boxes and getting settled into the neighborhood. Stop by to introduce yourself, and a silver friendship may blossom.
Support community organizations on post. This means volunteering at your child’s school, washing cars or baking cookies for your spouse’s unit’s fund-raiser, or donating a few hours a week at the family center at your duty station, for example.
Join the Spouse Club! On most installations, you will find active clubs for both enlisted and officers’ spouses. Participation will not only introduce you to new friends, but also fill the otherwise lonely hours during your spouse’s deployments.
Attend Family Readiness Group meetings. These groups are not only a source for emotional support during hardship, but also an ideal place to meet people who are in similar situations as you are.
If your spouse’s unit holds monthly meetings, GO! You’ve heard your spouse mention names of people he or she works with; why not meet their significant other? This way, you and your spouse may eventually strike up a friendship with another couple that has common interests.
I’ve decided that one of the toughest parts of military life has to be making new friends, only to have the military take them away. Thank goodness for the friends I’ve made outside of my military circles; they are the friends that remain constant, since they generally stay in one place. Here are a few ways you can find non-military friends in a military town:
Get involved in the community outside of post. For instance, try volunteering at the hospital downtown, at the local YMCA or for a charitable organization.
Join a social club according to your personal interests, such as Toastmasters, the local chapter of the Jaycees or Junior League. Find a book club at your public library or get digging with a gardening club.
Find a new hobby by signing up for classes at the local community college or recreation center. Take up painting, playing an instrument, quilting or whatever peaks your interest.
Get a job, even if it’s only part-time, in a field that interests you. Your co-workers just might invite you to a happy hour after work one evening!
Go to a gym off-post. You may find that a buddy who spots you at the bench press likes to collect antiques, just like you. Or find a partner for tennis, golf or racquetball by checking with your local fitness center or YMCA.
Be an involved parent. Meet the other parents at your child’s gymnastic class or soccer practice. A great way to strike up a conversation with a stranger is to ask them about their children. And just like soldiers, all parents love to share war stories!
If you live off-post, be a good neighbor. Meet those who live next door or down the street by getting outside and working in the yard or joining a neighborhood association. Regardless of whether or not they become your best friends, neighbors can be a wonderful support network when your spouse is deployed.
Now back to Lisa. Of course, the time came when I had to say goodbye to my silver friend. Her husband was transferred to Panama and, luckily for her, his tour was accompanied. Her new baby boy would be three when they got back to the states. Even then, there was no guarantee that we’d be stationed at the same post when she returned. But I knew that we would find ways to keep in touch, such as:
A phone call. Since you hear one another’s voice, a call can make it feel like you and your friend are having a face-to-face conversation over a café latte at your favorite coffee shop. The downside is also obvious: an exorbitant phone bill.
Go online. Sending emails back and forth is much cheaper than most long distance calling plans, although you may miss the personal interaction of a phone call. A solution to the impersonal feel of email is the instant message, which can seem like an actual conversation in “real time.”
Write letters. If emails are just too cold and impersonal for your taste, there is always good old snail mail, which has kept countless friendships going for decades. Try keeping those long lost friends on your Christmas card list so that you correspond at least once a year.
Make a visit. After all, how often do you get the chance to stay for free in places like Germany and Hawaii? It’s the perfect opportunity to have a vacation and visit a dear friend all at once!
Search for old friends. If you’ve somehow lost touch with that dear friend you made at Fort Polk back in your elementary school years, don’t lose heart. To track down that old golden friend, just visit MilitaryBrat.com
Most of all, take comfort in knowing that eventually your paths will cross again. That’s the thing about military life. It’s cyclical. Friends never really leave permanently. You always seem to bump into them again somewhere down the road. And by then, your silver friendship will be golden.
By Sonya Murdock