To Hold Them Tight or To Step Back? Friendships During a PCS


I’ve gotten pretty adept at making new friends. I was shy and insecure as a teenager, but moving over and over again forced me out of my shell.

a group of women sitting on a bench with a dog in a city
Photo by Chris Murray on Unsplash

My philosophy is, if you’ve got limited time in a place, you need to dive right in and make the most of the time you have. So when we have new orders, I join the wives’ Facebook groups and look up my FRG. I check if there’s a MOPS, MOMS Club, or Hike it Baby chapter. Then I get busy.

I volunteer to be in charge of things or to help someone out. I get phone numbers. I show up to story times and playdates.

It’s a little bit frenetic, but it helps me find my people. Over time, all the structured activities fall away as I get closer to individual people outside of the group until it’s time for one of us to move and start the process all over again. 

I don’t put as much effort into ending my time in a certain place.

I’ve imagined writing heartfelt, handwritten letters to the people I cared most about. I’ve thought about going out to lunch with each person who was important to me in that location. I’ve attempted to get people to download Marco Polo or Voxer so I can continue to ramble at them.

However, at the end of the day, I’m usually so swamped with the details of moving that the lunch dates are postponed or never scheduled at all, and all the pens get packed so I can’t manage to write those heartfelt letters. I wind up saying a tearful goodbye that feels abrupt and then head to the next location, ready to start the friendship cycle over again. 

My philosophy has been that it’s better to live in the moment with friends while you’re still there.

I’ve experienced the distancing that seems to help some people cope with goodbyes and the pulling away because you know you won’t be around that person much longer. It always seemed like a waste to me, to start missing your friends earlier than you have to, although I guess there’s something to be said for a prolonged dull pain rather than a sharp, searing one. 

a light board with "goodbye friends" in frame on a tableI recently realized that, with a year left before separating from the Army, my family is about to experience a series of lasts.

The last blueberry picking season, the last ice skating rink in the park, the last late spring magnolia blooms. The pandemic year has further muddled the timeline, keeping us from experiencing many of the things we love doing during the year and leaving me feeling doubly certain that we need to soak in every last minute of our final year.

As I approach all the lasts before us, I’m tempted to cling to my good friends. I want to be building memories and soaking them in before we’re reduced to occasional text messages and yearly visits. 

Sometimes I have to remember that not everybody feels that same urge to cling tighter when the end is near. 

Recently, one of my best friends from a previous duty station mentioned that she struggled being the one who was always left behind. She made new friends, but they constantly moved away. She was tired of the upheaval. “Being the constant in a military community when everyone moves away is hard,” she said.

I was reminded of this when one of my best friends at this duty station started becoming close to another girl from our church. I complained to my husband that I was worried about being left out, and in his far-too-rational way, he said, “Well, it’ll be good for her, though. That friendship will be more permanent.” 

Woof. That’s a dagger to the heart, isn’t it? 

I don’t have any good answers. As military families, we know how difficult it is to separate from people we are close to, whether they are our family members leaving on deployments, our extended families at home, or our dear friends, many of whom become like family as we support and rally around each other.

For me, clinging to friendships and squeezing every last ounce of together time before a move helps me feel like I’ve had the chance to be with the people I care about.

For others, stepping away a bit eases the sting. We’re all wired a little differently and in times of change, we have to protect our mental and emotional health. 

My plan for this year of “lasts” is to embrace opportunities to be with the friends I love while holding space for whatever they may be feeling as well. Change isn’t easy, but I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to have so many people bless my life with their friendships. 


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