Military Friendships: Annuals and Perennials

Russian Sage
Russian Sage

Last spring, I cut back my Russian sage plants to practically nothing. I read and followed the online advice for pruning the plant, but I was nervous that I might have taken too much off. Would the plant survive the hard pruning and bloom again? Military friendships can feel the same way. Will they survive the struggles and distance long enough to bloom?  

Military spouses need to continually make new friendships as they move. This can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is when we meet someone and the friendship lasts long after we have both left that particular duty station.

The curse is a little harder to swallow.

By this, I mean when we struggle to make friends in a new place, or, occasionally, when we lose a friendship after we move away that we thought was secure. I’ve recently watched my two teenage daughters struggle with this. A close friend who they thought they would keep forever pulled away right before she moved. This was a hard lesson and one that I’ve tried to walk through with them. We are working on grace even in the midst of hurt.

A wise friend once told me there are two kinds of friends in this world: annuals and perennials.

In the world of flower gardening, there are two kinds of plants. Annuals need to be planted every year, and only last for one season.

When you put it like that, they sound like a waste. In reality, they are fantastic for several reasons:

  1. They cost less than perennials.
  2. They crank out fabulous amounts of color all summer.
  3. They act as color fillers when perennials are done blooming or prior to bloom.

Perennials, on the other hand, come back every year. They may be slow to bloom those first few years, but when tended to diligently, they will pay off in the long run. They bloom every year and can often be divided to produce even more plants.

When I think of annual friendships, I think of friendships built on foundations of convenience or proximity. We need friends to share carpool, soccer benches, and play dates. Some of those friendships will last beyond our play date and carpool days, and some will not.

Some will keep in touch after the moving truck pulls away, and some will move on and take their hearts with them.

Perennials are friendships that can survive despite harsh conditions, time, and distance. They are not tied to convenience or proximity. They are sharing life and living through tough stuff that binds our hearts forever. Perennial friendships allow us to pick up right where we left off as if not a moment has passed. And if we are really lucky, the roots grow deeper and stronger over time.

Embracing Military Friendships

Our problem isn’t necessarily that annual friendships die. Our struggle is to realize that they might and to enjoy them for the season anyway. When I look at my petunias or snapdragons growing in pots every year, I never think about how they will be dead by fall. I care for them and enjoy them thoroughly while they are here. I think this same approach is critical to surviving and thriving in the harsh winters when our annual friendships have died and our perennials are dormant.

It also is a mindset that will help us to engage in the process of making military friendships when we move despite knowing that they may only be temporary.

The thing about annual and perennial friendships is that we don’t often know what we are getting ourselves into. Unlike picking a plant at the garden store, when we choose friends, we can never quite be sure if we have one that will last forever or just for a season. Friends don’t come with garden tags or instructions. While this can be hard because it means we have no control, it can also be a blessing.

I tell my daughters all the time that people can and do surprise you. Never assume that a friendship will last through the storms or that something will never bloom. If we do, we miss out on the beauty that’s right in front of us.

We’ve all heard to bloom where we are planted. I think that’s a perfect illustration for growing and cultivating friendships in the military. Keep in touch with your perennials, but don’t forget to enjoy the annuals while they are here.

Taking a risk and pruning my Russian sage paid off. They came back stronger and better than ever in late summer. It was a spectacular bloom. It reminded me that the risk outweighs the cost of losing something. That’s the thing about military friendships. We may risk rejection and not get the outcome we are hoping for, but we may reap a beautiful bloom season. Even if it isn’t forever, it’s worth the risk to try.