Military spouses are pretty experienced at the art of starting over in a new place and trying to make new friends but what do you do when you find yourself in ‘Friendship No Man’s Land’?
For the first five years of my official military spouse life, we continued to live in the same house, a short drive away from my parents and the area I grew up in. I really didn’t think of myself as a military spouse until we moved to the USA in 2018.
Those first few months after the move really did feel like some sort of friendship no man’s land. We had to raise our heads above the parapet and run from the safety of friends we had known our whole lives towards the unknown and hope it worked out.
There are many reasons that a military spouse can find themselves in no man’s land. The most common is because they have to move way from their current group of friends. Sometimes it happens the other way round though, sometimes your really good friends have to leave and you find yourself in a familiar place but without the support group you had developed. A bit lost at sea if you’ll pardon the naval pun!
The other twist in the tale is that the pandemic is making it so much harder to navigate this situation. It is harder to meet people in person and proper social distancing doesn’t make it easy to strike up a conversation with strangers.
So what do we do? Here’s my three top tips to make your way across friendship no man’s land without risking too much along the way.
- Stay in touch.
Just because you are moving onto the next posting, or your friends are moving away, doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t stay in touch. Military spouses have been used to being separated from friends and family before the rest of the world got to experience it – we are experts.
I also think there is a difference between friends you have known since you were a child and friends you have known for a year or even two. My best friends have known me since high school… far too many years for me to say out loud! They’ve seen me at my best and my worst. We’ve been on holidays together, had (far) too much to drink together, laughed and cried together and have so many ‘in-jokes’ it’s almost like another language. Those types of friends are hard to come by so don’t let them go just because you don’t live close to them any more.
Having moved 3,000 miles away from these friends, I can’t tell you how important it is to stay in touch. We send each other messages daily, if not hourly sometimes, and video chat when the time difference and our lives allow. We are still very much in each others’ lives and I know when we eventually see each other in person it will be like no time has passed.
It is easy to put off getting in contact with old friends and suddenly find that weeks or months have passed and you haven’t spoken. My tip is not to ‘do it later’ but send messages in the moment when you think about them. It’s always nice to know someone is thinking about you, isn’t it?
2. Get to know your virtual friends.
One of the things that has really helped me during the times when I have been feeling isolated is social media. I only really started using my MilitarySpouseNewHouse Instagram account shortly before we moved to the USA and the network of military spouses that I have found there is amazing. There are so many people that I share so much with and it has been wonderful to find a community that understands what I am going through because they’ve all been through it too.
Not all of my ‘real life’ friends understand the ups and downs of military life and no wonder: it is a strange life to navigate. The other military spouses I have found on social media have been a great support to me while finding my feet and finding real life friends.
Much as I love my husband, I also really appreciate having people to talk to that aren’t him and my Instabuddies have been great for that. The jokes and memes help cheer me up too!
3. Say yes!
I knew when we moved that I was going to have to put myself out there to meet new people and make new friends. To say that this was daunting would be a massive understatement on how shy a person I can be sometimes. The thought of going into a group of strangers to introduce myself and start a conversation out of nowhere filled me with anxiety and gave me many sleepless nights. But, with all of my friends and family on the other side of the Atlantic, what other choice did I have?
The best advice I received is simply ‘say yes’. When you arrive, say yes to every and any social invitation you receive. Say yes to coffee with a spouse you bump into at a store; yes to bookclub; yes to game night! Even if you don’t particularly enjoy putting yourself out there, meeting as many people as possible is the quickest and easiest way to find your people.
So that’s exactly what I did. I’m not going to lie, I found it very stressful and there were lots of occasions where my skin was red and blotchy (always a give away that I’m nervous!) but I got to meet a lot of great people that way. Eventually I started to find those that I ‘clicked’ with and proper friendships started to form. I found my way to the other side although I can’t say I’m looking forward to starting again when we move in the summer…
What are your top tips for navigating friendship no man’s land?