Spouse Social – I Salute You! And, I am sorry.

If Only...

I have a major confession to make. The first spouse social I attended caused me to wrongfully judge all future events no matter where our assignments took us. I have been a military spouse for almost 17 years and until this past year, I have always found legitimate reasons, not excuses, to avoid them like the plague. Reasons such as I was working. I was tired. I needed to clean my house. I was overwhelmed with my husband’s deployments and doing all the things he usually did like yard work and household maintenance. Other reasons included family plans or kids’ activities or, on the rare occasion, my husband was actually home. Now allow me to take you back 17 years and explain why I felt the need to ditch the dreaded “spouse social” and how I feel about them now.

After being married for a little over six weeks, my husband left on his first deployment. This mission began what became a regular two-month cycle where he was gone for two months and supposed to be home for the same amount of time. However, during his “home” times, he was still flying local, weekly or sometimes multi-week missions. He missed our first birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas together as a married couple. I was an introverted newlywed with a teaching career that had me immersed with Kindergarteners all day. I threw myself into work, mainly to avoid the loneliness that slowly began to consume me.  Growing up, I never moved. Other than the years I spent away at college, I had never been in uncomfortable or new situations. I had no idea how people went about making friends in new places. Plus, I am not much of a “village person.” More like a three-player basketball team. One or two close friends and I am good. The problem was, one of my teammates was my husband and he was never around. One night, I finally “reverted” to actually reading the emails about upcoming base events. A spouse social was coming up that sounded semi-interesting, not so much the “social” part, but the possibility of meeting just one other spouse that could relate to what I was going through. Plus, I rarely left my house and getting out would be good for me.

Since all of this already makes me sound like an extremely anti-social person, allow me to make myself sound even more alienated by sharing a few more confessions with you. I do not like fancy free games. I am way too competitive and do not play for “fun.” I do not like forced conversation. If I have attempted to find something in common with someone and cannot do it in less than two minutes, I start fumbling over nonsense words while trying to remove myself from any further communication. I do not like painting or crafts. Yes, I know, a Kindergarten teacher who does not like crafts! It’s true. Throughout my career the Lord has blessed me with a mother who volunteered in my classroom pre-marriage and then the most amazing teacher assistants I could have ever asked for. Craft time meant center time with one of them – especially when glitter was in use. I do, however, enjoy learning more about people, especially what they do for a living, if I can finagle my way past the two-minute mark.

I honestly remember nothing about that first spouse social except there were no other “newbies.” ALL of the women had children, which was all they wanted to talk about, none of them were employed and I could not find one thing in common with anyone. Now WAIT! Before you call me names and stop reading, hang tight for a second! What happened was, I had a pre-determined agenda for this social and, frankly, never even gave anyone a chance. I was hoping to have conversations about the best date night restaurants, the best weekend road trips, and what the best places to shop downtown were. I did not want to hear about kids constantly getting sick, how this one or that one had done nothing but laundry all day and how one thought breakfast for dinner was the best thing since, well, sliced bread. The most unfortunate thing about that first spouse social was that I allowed myself to believe that all spouse groups were the same – they were only for stay-at-home moms who needed a jail break from home. I was naive and ignorant.

Welp, fast forward almost two decades later and here I sit. A stay-at-home mom who does laundry all day praying my kids do not get sick while feeding them pancakes for dinner as I plan my next jail break. If you ask my kids, I’m probably still anti-social, but I do have friends (and more than just my husband and one other). We are on our seventh assignment as a married couple and are going through quite an unexpected experience. My husband is one year into his assignment of helping to reactivate a flying squadron at our base. The leadership team has had the unique privilege of building the squadron from the ground up. This has included creating a community within the squadron that feels supported, valued and appreciated – and that includes the spouses. Without having annual events, socials, activities, programs, special groups or even volunteer opportunities already established, it meant that someone needed to step up and take on the role of spouse and family support. Never could I have imagined that this would be me. I guess this is where I can insert my final confession. We have had several spouse socials over the past year and I have enjoyed every single one of them! Sure, it makes it easier when I plan things that I know I will enjoy (that’s a perk of the position, right!?), but what has brought me the most joy is being able to spend quality time with spouses just like me. Military spouses do ALL.THE.THINGS! There is no shortage of what we have in common. We can all relate to one another in some way. Despite what some may think, it does not matter what branch you serve, what rank your active duty is, if you do or not have kids, if you are employed, holding down the fort, or both, if you are young and excited or an older, seasoned spouse. Military friends are not just friends who we can hang out with, but friends who carry the same burdens, who know exactly what you are going through and friends who can take a front seat next to you on this incredibly unpredictable military roller coaster ride that we call life. Simply put, we NEED each other.

As much as I have enjoyed it, taking on this responsibility has still been wickedly uncomfortable at times. I struggle with knowing what the spouses are interested in, how to accommodate everyone’s schedules, how to plan events that are free or reasonably priced, how to encourage all spouses to join us while setting aside rank and military status and, most importantly, how to change the mindset of those who have predetermined notions about spouse socials that I once had. Aside from these challenges, I am happy to report that, after planning events for almost a year now, we had at least one new person at each event, we are a very integrated group that chooses not to define ourselves or others by our spouses rank or status and, while we do sometimes talk about laundry and children, we also eat, drink, and be as merry as possible for the short time we have together. I am also branching out and, dare I say it? We are planning craft and game nights, gatherings with forced conversation and events at we might miss out my kids’ organized activities because ours are more fun! Friendships continue to blossom as our squadron continues to grow and other spouses are stepping up to plan events, too. I have found a great friendship with one particular spouse, continue to get to know so many other amazing military men and women and now cannot help but think about all of the friendships I missed out on over the past several years. One thing I will never take for granted is having the honor to serve my fellow spouses – no matter how uncomfortable it can be sometimes. Being uncomfortable is leaps and bounds above being alone. If you are me, I encourage you to give the spouses another try. You never know who is looking for you, too!

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Erin Stock
Erin grew up in Widefield, a small town just south of Colorado Springs, CO. Although she was surrounded by the military, she did not meet her husband, an Air Force Pilot, until they had both graduated from college. Erin has spent almost 20 years in education working as a classroom teacher, Literacy Specialist and Coach. Although Erin holds a MA in Educational Leadership and is also a National Board Certified Teacher, the best education Erin has ever received has been the gift of teaching across the nation. She credits the military with providing her the opportunity to learn more about education than she ever could have throughout her college years. Erin is a woman of faith and a mom to two young children. She is passionate about mental health support for spouses and also raises awareness regarding the dangers of Fentanyl. Erin and her family are currently serving their 7 th assignment in New Hampshire. She enjoys reading personal growth books and researching educational topics, but ends up spending the majority of her time playing with her kids, creating systems in her household, building a supportive community for spouses and dreaming of her forever home. She is also an occasional podcaster.