How often do you feel alone?
I’m talking about more than just thank goodness I finally made a grocery run with just myself and Starbucks alone. More than enjoying a rare afternoon to yourself, I’m talking about the I just need someone to talk to, where are my friends? kind of alone. The kind of alone that makes you say this life is so hard and I’m doing it all on my own.
This military life is hard. And for me, just like so many military families, it means living miles and miles away from family, childhood friends, and the support I had growing up. I don’t have the privilege of running into my first grade teacher at Target, or calling my dad when my washing machine starts flashing an error message (YouTube for the win on that one). I don’t automatically have trusted friends and family to babysit my children, and when my husband is gone, I’m eating every meal with people who think chicken nuggets and top ramen are a culinary treat.
That’s where loneliness creeps in and makes itself at home.
Isolation becomes the constant companion I wish I had never met. Sometimes, I can see it coming. I can list the excuses and reasons that I haven’t had time to engage with people outside my family, like "we just PCSed, we’re still meeting our neighbors, I’ve stayed at this duty station while everyone else has left, I just had a baby, I didn’t, but that has definitely been an excuse I’ve used in the past, it’s flu season and I just can't deal with that all on my own, again."
Sometimes, though, the feelings sneak in unexpectedly. I’m just going along with my day to day life: homeschooling, grocery shopping, laundry, the usual, when I realize I haven’t talked to anyone over four feet tall for a while. A long while. And I just feel, well, lonely.
Whether or not my reasons for feeling lonely are the same as yours, the answer to our feelings is probably the same: community. Or, more specifically, a lack of tangible community.
With the constantly shifting nature of military life, community can seem like a luxury.
Unpacking boxes from that last PCS while getting kids enrolled in school and extracurricular activities takes time and energy. Learning the ropes of a new city, or the country roads of that duty station in the middle of nowhere, it’s exhausting. And building community and friendships take the back burner, and feel unimportant. But the reality is that the opposite is true: community is one of the most important aspects of this military life and should be a priority in our lives.
More than just making friends, not like there is any “JUST” making friends about it, community encompasses so much more. It is feeling that you belong somewhere. It is confirmation that you are not the only person to feel these feelings, good or bad. And most importantly, it is knowing you don’t carry all the burdens of this military life yourself.
It is easy to talk about needing community; it may even be easy to see why you need to work on building community. But the not-so-easy part? How.
Here are a few practical ways that you can start to build up your community:
Volunteer with your unit. These are the people that your spouse spends time with, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t, too. Find out what your unit needs help with. Maybe it’s planning the kids table at the Christmas party, or serving food during the unit’s Thanksgiving dinner. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but participating can help you feel like you are part of the team, too.
Meet your neighbors. If you live on base, or post, or whatever you call it, this can be as simple as posting on the neighborhood page that you’re taking your kids to the playground and would love to meet some new people. Or go on a walk in the evening with your family and just say hi to everyone else who is outside. Neighbors are a great way to connect with the larger military community at your current assignment, not just those in your specific unit.
Find a hobby that you can enjoy with others. I know that sometimes this feels like an impossibility. Who is going to watch the kids? There isn’t room in our budget for extras. But check around your area. Maybe you can join a kickball team; everyone assures me that no skill is required, but I’m still not convinced. Find a local quilters’ guild and learn some new skills. Join Stroller Warriors and bring your kiddos along. Finding things in common, besides the military, with the people around you is worth the hassle it might feel like in the beginning.
Maintain friendships even if you’re not physically close anymore. Military friendships are in a league all of their own, and if you have those people who you connect with, stick with them. It may look like texting at odd hours once the kids go bed. It might look like group video calls where everyone has kids coming in and out asking for juice. Or it may look like a phone call whenever you can, but picking up right where you left off. Community can be more than in your current physical location. If staying in close contact with friends that you already have means you don’t feel alone, then it works!
Join the larger military community. Get involved in spouse Facebook groups. Talk to spouses that are older than you, or younger than you: you might learn something new. Ask questions, make connections.
However you go about it, spending the time to cultivate community is critical to navigating this military life. I hope it becomes a priority for you, just as I am learning to make it a priority for me.
Laura saw a guy with a cute haircut her first week of college, married him a couple years later, and has been involved in this whirlwind of a military life ever since. A Pacific Northwest native, she has spent most of her time as the spouse of an active duty Marine on the East Coast. Between homeschooling and writing, she loves to spend her lazy days working on household projects, quilting, and reading.
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