Have you ever walked into a room full of other spouses at a function - and immediately felt like the odd one out?
As military spouses, community is vital to our very survival. Our spouses’ careers are insanely demanding, requiring them to work longer and harder than most. Factor in deployments and short-term duties (TDYs, detachments, etc.) and you’re essentially a one-person show operating over maximum efficiency- trying to do it all. Hence why one of the first things we do at a new station is seek out our milspouse tribe.
But what happens when making friends doesn’t come to you as easily as others? What happens when you don’t – gasp – fit in?
I am a self-professed (and confessed!) "ambivert." (Whether or not I am functioning as an introvert or an extrovert depends on the amount of coffee I've had that day.) I’m also a huge sci-fi and anime nerd with a profound love of Harry Potter (10 points to Slytherin). I don’t do small talk well, and I crave meaningful connection with others. I also like the occasional social event sprinkled into my schedule.
It’s not that making friends is impossible. It is likely that I have some things in common with those in my social circle. We may be moms, our spouses may serve in the same branch of the military, and we may share a love of coffee and Target that makes our spouses fear their wallets will light on fire every time we go shopping.
These are all great things to talk about, and a great start to a regular friendship. But these aren’t the makings of a meaningful connection. We need the the kind of connection that one can count on in times of strife, just as much as they can in times of fair weather. The two types can seem one in the same – until something major happens, and they become mutually exclusive. You tend to find out who your “ride-or-dies” are quickly during in the hard times.
I can remember my own experience with walking into a room and feeling like the "odd one out." I walked into my first ever Bible study about a year ago. I scanned the room and saw all of these women effortlessly conversing with one another. Friendships were forming before my very eyes – something that I secretly wished could happen to me. I wanted to join them, but what would I say? Did I, a giant geek, have anything in common with any of them? I felt immediately overwhelmed, and nearly bolted for the door.
As luck would have it, something amazing happened. Just as I was about to turn around and quietly make my escape, a voice called out – “Hey! I’m Monica! Nice to meet you! What’s your name? Come sit with us!”
I turned around and saw this tall, beautiful woman smile at me and acknowledge my existence. She led me to the table (where I claimed MY spot for the rest of the study) and began talking to me. The host also came and wrapped me in her arms, and started to show me around.
It was the most welcome I had felt since coming to this station. These women were making a real effort to get to know me, and for once, I felt like I ‘fit’. Me, the girl who was repeatedly rejected -no matter how much she “toned herself down,” was being genuinely accepted. Some of them even shared my love of Harry Potter!
I found my tribe, and found my home.
In lieu of my experiences, with both acceptance and rejection by others within the milspouse community, there is something that I want every spouse in our community to know. It isn’t about fitting in – it’s about finding where YOU fit. It's about finding where you feel you should be, and not within the standards set by others.
Here are few tips to finding yourself and finding where you fit.
If you have to tone yourself down or fake any part of who you are to fit in – those aren’t your people. I know firsthand how hard it is to make friends. I have often wondered if I am "too much" for the individuals that get to know “me.” Once I get comfortable, I am louder and more boisterous than what most people expect when they first meet the "quiet, observant" me.
This has scared people away, but it has also brought people closer to me. I have toned myself down in the past to be able to fit in and make friends – but in the end, I wound up miserable. And those “friends” weren’t there for me when I needed them the most. Be yourself, and YOUR people will find you!
Be the friend that you want to have. I know a lot of you think this goes without saying, but let’s ask ourselves a real question. How often how often have we actually been the friend that we want? Have you invited others over for coffee? Maybe planned a movie night, shopping trip, or nail salon date with other spouses? Have we gone out of our way to include others who may have felt left out, like us? I used to wonder why I was never invited – until I realized that I wasn’t inviting anyone to do anything either. Being introverted has gotten in the way of me putting myself out there and being the friend that others needed more than once, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
You are worthy. I think at some point, something happens to a lot of us that makes us forget our worth as individuals. When I walked into that Bible study, I felt overwhelmed because I didn’t feel I was worthy of finding the kind of friendship that I wanted. When you’ve been rejected, you tend to wonder what it is that you actually bring to the table – and if you really are as worthy as you once thought.
I've asked myself "Why can’t others see it?" Well I’ll let you in on a little secret, sis – you need to see it first. You have got believe you are worthy before others will. That being said, I want you to know that if you’re reading this and you’re doubting yourself, let me be the first to say that I have been where you are, I know how painful it feels, and I believe in you.
Now go out there and show the world just how beautiful of a soul you have. I promise, you will find your people. And maybe, you’ll find more of yourself along the way.
Jillian is an Air Force spouse, proud Slytherin, and all-around creative soul. She's a California girl adjusting to Southern life with her husband, three kids, and three fur children. She's currently pursuing a degree in Psychology with a focus in child and adolescent development, is a part-time preschool teacher at her local Methodist church, and is an active volunteer within the Robins AFB community. In her spare time, Jillian enjoys reading, gaming, and crafting. Be on the lookout for her blog, "Milspouse, Mom, Geek" - launching in Fall 2020!
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