Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why Civilian Friends are Important for Military Spouses

When I moved, one of my big worries was how am I going to make new friends. Making friends as an adult is hard. I figured I would simply make friends with other Coast Guard spouses and call it a day. Then, I happened to go to a meet up event where I met a great friend. She very quickly became my best friend in California. I'm slowly accumulating best friends in different states as we go along and they are all civilian friends.

I have Alexis of Wife in the Wild Blue Yonder sharing a post on the blog today. It resonated with me a lot and I'm hoping you'll be able to connect to it as well.

Here’s my problem: I’m bad at making friends. And when you’re bad at making friends, you typically find yourself lonely...a lot. And even though one of my best friends and fellow military spouse lives at the same base as me right now, I still feel isolated at times. Especially when I hop on social media and see my other friends from around the world posting about their adventures. 

I have FOMO not because I don’t want to miss out on all the action, but because I don’t want to miss out on time with my friends -- time during which we make new stories, come up with new jokes and try new things. I fear I’ll miss out on too much of their life and suddenly find myself out of their inner circles. 

Have you experienced this, too? 

That’s why when my best friend and my husband’s best friend visited us last weekend, I felt a rush of gratitude for my civilian friends. Not only was it a wonderful surprise (they planned it for months and months) but it made me acutely aware of a few reasons why civilian friends are important for military spouses. 

They’re A Breath Of Fresh Air 

 See, when you get around other military folks, it’s easy to get on military topics. Time after time we fall into the same discussion patterns and rehash worn out topics on the defense budget, dealing with deployments, crazy training stories, PCSing and so much more. 

 And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s interesting to note how the conversations change when you get to talking with your civilian friends. New topics come up that reflect their lives and their interests. You get to ask questions about something you might not know about. Different perspectives are introduced that you might not hear when interacting with military folks. 

And that’s a breath of fresh air. 

Sure, military topics probably come up from time to time, but they’re not the sole focus of the conversation. And when they do come up, there’s at least one perspective in the discussion that doesn’t already know the ins and outs of the military lifestyle. 

You have to admit, it can be refreshing to talk about something not related to the military once in awhile. 

They Don’t Understand Everything 

For some people this might be frustrating. But for me, there’s nothing more irritating than talking with a friend or family member who acts as if they know exactly what my husband and I are going through. So I love it when my friends and family members ask the “dumb” questions. When they ask me to define acronyms. When they’re curious about how something they saw in the news will affect my husband and myself. 

There’s so much about the military that civilians don’t know. So instead of having them walk around with false information or misconceptions about the military lifestyle, I’d rather answer any and all of their questions...no matter how silly or personal they might be. 

Knowledge is power, my friends. Why not take the opportunity to inform our interested friends what it’s really like to be a milspouse? Why not help them understand what a deployment or a TDY or a PCS is really like, instead of letting them run around with Hollywood versions stuck in their heads? 

And again, it’s really refreshing to talk to someone who doesn’t know it all; who’s curious for more information on what the lifestyle is like and how our military operates. 

They’ve Got Flexibility 

Probably one of the best parts of having civilian friends is their flexibility. No, I’m not talking about their yoga poses. I’m talking about their schedules. 

Sure, they work full-time jobs and they have their own lives. But we can all attest to the fact that life as a civilian provides way more flexibility than life as a military spouse. 

It’s easier for them to ask for time off and plan for future adventures because their lives are way more predictable than that of the average military family. We’ve all heard the horror stories of military families making plans for a big trip, and then having to cancel them last-minute because of a unannounced deployment or TDY. 

I’m not saying stuff doesn’t come up for our civilian friends, because it absolutely does. But planning a trip more than 2 months in advance is a reality for them, while for many military families it’s not. 

They can plan to come visit whenever because there’s no looming TDY or possible last-minute deployment they have to think about. They can (and are often willing) to work around your schedule when it comes to taking a trip together. Many of them take your rigid schedule into consideration and they work with you on it….because they’re your friends. 

They’ll Be There When You’re Done 

We all know this military gig isn’t going to last forever. At some point your spouse will retire and then you’ll find yourself back on the civilian side of the fence. And after all of those years of maintaining a long-distance friendship and keeping up with your globetrotting moves, your civilian friends will be waiting with open arms. 

I’m not saying your military friends you’ve made throughout your journey will completely disappear. You’ll definitely keep in touch with some of the folks you became close with. 

 But your civilian friends are the ones who are used to “doing long-distance” with you. So your relationships with them are likely stronger than ever. Whether you move back home to be close to those friends or you stay where you last base was located, they’ll still be there when the military lifestyle is no longer your “thing.” 

 And I don’t know about you, but that gives me some serious peace of mind, knowing that I don’t have to go out into the civilian world and try to make friends all over again. At that point, you’ll probably be over the whole make-new-friends-on- the-fly-thing. 

They’ve Got Your Back 

My best friend doesn’t understand all the ins and outs of my life. But at the end of the day, she’s always there for me. She makes a point to reach out to me, to be understanding, and to continue to be the friend I know and love. 

I cannot control where the military takes me. But my friend doesn’t let that stand in the way of our friendship. So we plan trips, we talk regularly and we continue to care for each other emotionally. 

There will be times when you call your civilian friends in a panic or when you’re emotionally distraught and they won’t be able to relate at all to what you’re upset about. And while they can’t understand every facet of your current situation, they can certainly empathize and be an electronic shoulder to cry on. They’re going to be there for you, even if they have nothing more to offer than a listening ear. 

Plus, like I said earlier, sometimes they’ll offer a perspective on your dilemma that you didn’t think of before, and it might be just want you needed to turn your day around. 

And when you get stationed at that one base where you struggle to make friends and you feel totally alone, you’ll know your civilian friends are still there for you. They’re still going to be willing to talk; they’re going to want to hear about your life; they’re not going to stop caring. 

While our military friends are of course very important, we shouldn’t forget all of our civilian friends as we move around the world. They’re sometimes the rock we need to help us keep it all together.

About the Author:
Alexis is the founder of Wife in the Wild Blue Yonder, a blog dedicated to providing advice and resources to military spouses. She's determined to help others by sharing personal stories and useful information that other military spouses can learn from and apply to their own lives. She's a passionate writer and photographer, a Harry Potter fanatic, a lover of dogs, a swimmer and a yogi. She's always up for an adventure and she loves to travel.
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