Military life presents challenges and strains to all kinds of relationships from marriages to parenting to friendships. Adult friendships are particularly vulnerable; there are so many moving pieces between jobs, managing families and homes, and all that life entails that sometimes our social relationships end up taking the back burner and suffering from the toll.
My high school best friend, Elizabeth, and I have been basically attached at the hip since we were both 15. She married first to an Air Force Airman and moved to Louisiana. I stayed in our hometown but made annual visits to see her near Barksdale AFB and she came home for Christmas. We talked on the phone on an almost daily basis - sometimes even multiple times a day. Often we would end a phone call with a promise to call back and then when we would call again, the conversation would pick up from where we’d left off as if we’d never even hung up. We weren’t physically together but we were as attached at the hip as you could be from 2, 500 miles away
Unfortunately, her marriage dissolved after a few years and Elizabeth came back to our hometown for a few years. We were like Forrest Gump and Jenny again - peas and carrots. Girls days, lunches, shopping trips, coffee runs, mani/pedis together. We both had jobs and I had a baby but we were able to make things work.
After a few years, Elizabeth remarried to a guy we had gone to high school with who was serving in the Navy-and again Elizabeth followed her husband’s military career. This time, relocating to the Pacific Northwest and then to San Diego, California. We went back to annual trips for me to visit her and trips back home as often as she could. As time went on and both of us progressed in careers things became more and more strained; time off to travel became harder to come by. Elizabeth and her husband began a family and, if you’ve ever traveled with small children, you know how hectic that can be. There was more life to get in the way but we managed it. We remained best friends through the phone as we had before.
In 2013, I married an Active Duty Air Force Airman and he and I relocated to Dover AFB in Delaware. For the first time, neither of us lived at home. Both of us traveled as we could but it seemed our schedules never lined up between obligations to family while we were in town. Things got rough.
Those phone calls that used to pick up where they left off got fewer and fewer. Instead of daily random talks about everything under the sun, it seemed every few weeks (or let’s be honest, months) one would send a text along the lines of “Hey, you still alive? Call me.” We went for a period of 10 months without speaking. Feelings got hurt because it felt like one was always chasing the other down. The friendship that once felt as necessary as air to breathe somehow felt like an obligation.
Finally, we were able to hash it out. I had always been at home and we realized how much our friendship had relied on that. One would think that since we’d spent so long maintaining a friendship through the phone that would hold but the promise that when Elizabeth was able to come home I would be there ready to grab a coffee and go for manicures held more weight than either of us realized.
Through some long, difficult conversations Elizabeth and I were able to share feelings and acknowledge what was important to both of us and the expectations that we each had on the other. Obviously, we both knew that we would never have the carefree friendship of high schoolers - we had both grown so much and were different people in so many ways. But even though both of us had grown, we’d grown together. Things would never be the same as they once were because life was different, we were different. But different doesn’t have to mean bad.
We learned how to give each other grace. “Hey, you still breathing?” wasn’t an accusation. It was a gentle reminder that, while we were thousands of miles apart, we still had a cheerleader in each other. The phone calls that used to bounce back and forth throughout the day became voice-to-text messages as we were driving to work, text messages throughout the day snuck in between conference calls, a phone call at the end of the day after kids are in bed that keeps the person in the later timezone up way past a respectable bedtime.
What remains true - through children and marriages and jobs and distance - is that my “ride or die” still rides for me. Whether we’re riding together on the way to coffee or both commuting to work with states in between us our friendship is more than 20 years old. We know things about the other than nobody else knows. We have inside jokes that nobody else gets.
The funny thing now is, while I used to always be the person who lived at home. Last year Elizabeth’s husband separated from the Navy and they moved home. I am now the one out away who travels home and she is now the one who comes to visit me. The tables have turned but it has ceased to be a contest over who puts more effort in. We both do our best. And if we don’t talk for awhile we know that when the phone rings again it will be like we never hung up.
If you are struggling with your adult friendships, remember to give each other grace. People are busy and there is very often a lot of life happening. Just because they aren’t calling or texting doesn’t mean they aren’t rooting for you. And phones and emails work both ways. Be willing to be vulnerable and to talk about what is important and what each of you need. It’s likely that its an oversight more than an offense. Friendships change and things will be different. But different isn’t always bad.
Jennifer Burns is an active duty Air Force Spouse currently stationed with her husband at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. She is a West coast - East coast transplant still adjusting to mid-Atlantic winters. Jennifer works part-time for the United Methodist Church as a Home-bound Outreach lay minister and is an active volunteer in the DAFB community. She has also written for My Military Life, the official blog of the National Military Family Association. In her spare time Jennifer enjoys reading, scrap booking, and cooking/baking.
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