For many military families, your community (or lack of) can make or break how you feel about a duty station. When we were stationed at Fort Campbell (TN), I absolutely loved it and cried for weeks leading up to and weeks following our move (I wish I was exaggerating.) At the time, we would have chosen to live there forever. Now, if given the chance, we wouldn’t go back. We realized that it wasn’t necessarily the post or the city that we loved so much, but rather the friends that truly became our extended family. Since most of them aren’t living there anymore, we don’t have any desire to go back.
We moved twice in 2014, and finding “my people” at both posts was extremely important to me. One of my readers recently asked if I’d chat about how I’ve made friends at new duty stations, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I actually have quite a bit to say on the topic.
My journey to finding “my girls” (a.k.a. genuine, effortless friendships) can be summed up in four words: time consuming, intentional, rewarding, and awkward. So awkward.
How to Make Friends: Tips for Building Community
Here are a few tips to help find your community as well as some stories about how I’ve personally used each tip. 🙂
Look in a variety of places.
Ask 100 people where they met their best friend and they’ll tell you 100 different places. Just like regular dating, in “girlfriend dating” you never know when or where you’ll find a friend that you just seamlessly click with. Within two months of being here at Fort Riley I joined a gym, joined MOPS, started volunteering with BBBS, found a church, got in touch with my FRG leader, attended weekly story time at the library, and more. I admittedly did all of this with the primary intention of finding some friends for Hadley and me. It was exhausting, but it worked.
Personal story: I met one of my best friends at Fort Campbell during a summer training a few weeks before I started my teaching job. I was dreading the in-service on that particular day and had no idea I was about to meet a lifelong friend. I ended up plopping down at a table with another new teacher, and we surprisingly quickly hit it off, friended each other on Facebook, and the rest is history!
Be the initiator and schedule a “second date” quickly.
Find someone that you feel like you click with and could potentially see being good friends with? Initiate getting together again sooner than later! Invite your new friend and her husband/family over for dinner. Meet again the following week for a play date. Go have lunch. Meet at the park and run/walk together. Don’t let too much time pass.
Personal story: Last year we met a couple who was brand spankin’ new to Fort Riley during an FRG event, and she and I immediately hit it off; We talked almost the entire night. I was throwing a couples’ baby shower the following weekend, and because I knew that other couples from our FRG would be there, I invited her to come along. She had never met the girl who we were having the baby shower for, but I encouraged her to come anyway to meet everyone so that I (and everyone else) could get to know her better. Today Shannon is one of my closest friends here at Riley!
Just say yes.
It’s hard for me to get excited about attending a social event when I barely know the other people that are going, but I swear by this quote: “You’ll never regret going, but you very well may regret not going.” I can quickly think of several social functions that I considered bowing out of, but I’ve never regretted fixing myself up and showing my face for a little while. Bonus: It usually means a lot to the people hosting an event when you show up. On the same note, it’s typically very hurtful and/or irritating to a host when you break a commitment to attend something, whether it’s a casual playdate, birthday party, etc. Showing up is important.
Personal story: We PCSed to Fort Huachuca in March 2014 for Jamie’s Captains Career Course, and he came home from his first day of class with a flier for a spouse’s “meet and greet” at a fellow classmate’s home. It was intended to be a lunch potluck and children were invited. Hadley was four month old at this point and I was anxious to meet some friends to keep me company during our short stint in AZ. I was super nervous getting ready to go and tried to think of a million reason not to attend, but I knew I needed to go. This girl was being brave and opening her home to total strangers for the sake of building community, and I respected her for that (even if I didn’t know her.) Fast forward five months later to our last dinner together with our husbands’ classmates, and our hug goodbye was brutal. We exchanged tearful remarks about how grateful we were for each other and how we hoped we’d cross paths again. Nicole was the original party host there in Arizona, and she became my closest friend.
Embrace the awkward.
Everything in the military seems to happen at an accelerated pace since one’s time at each duty station is typically so short (2-4 years), and making friends is no exception. Developing community in a “fast and furious” way can unfortunately be incredibly awkward, but try to remember that the awkward feelings are normal and that the reward of putting yourself out there will eventually be worth it.
Personal story: My sister and her husband were having dinner with one of my brother-in-law’s new co-workers and his family, and my sister immediately got the feeling that I would really get along with this girl. She told me all about her and mentioned that she had a son named Jack who was right around Hadley’s age. The very next morning I was walking into story time at the library, and the girl in front of me mentioned that her son’s name was Jack when they were checking in. I creepishly went over to sit by her and asked her if she, by chance, had dinner with my sister the night before. She gave me a weird look, said yes, and then I proceeded to tell her about my sister’s and my conversation the night before. We chatted on and off during story time, and before we left I asked if she and her family wanted to join us for dinner at our house sometime that week. They agreed, and we ended up having these “strangers” over to our house for a meal (I was a nervous wreck before they showed up). Fast forward almost two years later, and Meg is now one of my best friends. Her son Jack is also Hadley’s very best friend. We joke all the time about what a total creeper I was to initiate that first conversation and dinner date, but I was searching for friends at this new duty station and trusted my sister that she and I would effortless click! My awkwardness paid off. 🙂
Look for quality over quantity.
One solid, reliable, trust-worthy friend is worth more than 10 friends that you’ll never speak to again once you PCS. Remember this.
Give it time.
Genuine friendships that both parties are equally investing in are worth every ounce of your effort, but even the closest friendships need time to strengthen. Give each individual friendship the time it needs to grow.
Do you have an adult best friend? How did you meet her?
What additional tips do you have for making new friends at new duty stations?
PS: Will you be my community? A Note of Empathy for Those at New Duty Stations