I glanced around the park, looking for the group I was supposed to meet. Was the woman with the jogging stroller from Hike it Baby? Or the one with the backpack and the two little girls? If I squinted, the woman at the park bench with a baby in a wrap looked like the Facebook profile picture of the person who’d messaged me. Maybe I should have pinned a red rose to my lapel–I felt like I was meeting a blind date.
If finding mom friends is like dating, a PCS is like a breakup.
The world feels a little emptier as you navigate a city full of strangers. You have to shop at different grocery stores. And the people you used to depend on for support are too far away for a spontaneous park date or a girls’ night out. You have to start over, showing up to social events and putting on actual clothes and actual makeup, so you can make a good impression.
I just PCS’ed for the third time in four years. I’m feeling a little jaded and a lot exhausted.
The rigamarole of packing and unpacking and paperwork to get my kids in school and figuring out what my husband’s new job will entail has me yearning to hide under the covers for the next year or two–the last thing I feel like doing is making the social rounds.
I miss the friendships I’ve already invested in–the women whose babies wear my kids’ hand-me-downs; who brought me meals when I had a newborn; who know exactly what I mean when I send a message composed entirely of gifs and emojis. I’m not ready to replace them. Honestly, I can’t replace them.
But, and forgive me for how cheesy this sounds, I need a tribe–a local tribe. Even though I’m not quite ready. Even though it’s hard and scary to get out there and test the waters. Even though I thought I was done dating when I said yes to my husband almost ten years ago. Because one of the first rules of military spouse life is, don’t do it alone.
Now that I’ve started over a few times, I have a few tips for finding your people in your new home.
Try a moms’ group.
If you have kids, you have at least one thing in common. Mothers’ groups abound–many churches and military bases host MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups. International MOMS Club is a support group for mothers with chapters all over the world. Hike It Baby encourages friendship while exploring nature with your children. Stroller Strides or SLAM provide group fitness with kids in tow.
Do something you like.
Do you like to read? Find a book club at your local bookstore or library. Love exercise? Join a gym or search Meetup.com for a running group. Are you crafty? Check out available classes at your nearest Michaels. If you show up to an activity you love, it’ll be that much easier to chat with other people who have the same interests.
Get involved in your community.
Whether you live on or off base, look for community events and gathering places where you can meet other moms. Check out the library story time. Go to the farmers market. If you’re religious, get involved at your church. Check out whatever festivals or fairs your area hosts. Join the YMCA. Volunteer at your kid’s school. If you put yourself out there and are willing to endure a little small talk, you just might find a good friend.
Some of the most solid advice I received in college was, if you feel lonely, look and see who you can help.
If you have a skill, share it. I’m a nurse, and I got to know a dear friend because she needed daily injections during her pregnancy and her husband was TDY. If you know someone who is struggling with an illness, a new baby, or a deployment, bring her a meal. If you see someone who looks as lonely as you feel, be the brave one and take the first step. Many of my closest friendships have arisen when I saw a need and stepped in to fill it, or someone did the same for me.
Don’t take it too seriously.
You won’t love everyone, and they won’t love you. It’s OK to play the field for awhile. Get to know a lot of people. The ones worth keeping will stick.
I managed to find the Hike It Baby group I was searching for at the park. Our group of four moms and seven children hiked two miles, played at a playground, spotted a lizard, and made a connection. I’m looking forward to our next hike this weekend. I don’t have the same rapport with these women as I do with the friends I’m missing at my last duty station, but it’s a good start. With any luck, by the time I PCS again, I’ll have built friendships that I will truly miss. In the meantime, I’ll be playing the field. I have another blind mom date with International Moms Club on Friday.
Wish me luck.