Friendships as a Military Brat- Pt. 1
The other night I was sitting in the living room watching my all-time favorite show, Gilmore Girls. My husband walked into the room during a scene in which the main character, Lorelai, is giving her best friend, Suki, some advice. She was relating a situation they were going through to something they had experienced many years back.
Having only watched this one scene, my husband made the very astute observation that the reason I love this show is because of the long history and feeling of family between all of the characters in the show. It is so true and I had literally never thought about that. I love this show because the relationships go so far back. Everyone is an old pal.
The Old Pals I'll Never Have
Of course, I realize it is TV, and these are actors living out a fictional story, but the show embodies a kind of life I fantasize about frequently. After all, I will never have friends I have known since elementary school that live down the street and watch our kids play together. I won’t go back home to a house that holds memories of childhood, or even a town with people that have known me since I was a toddler. But when I watch the show, I get to see what that would feel like, and it comforts me.
In my opinion, friendships are in the top five (if not three) hardest things about military life. I would say it is right behind deployment and sitting in a car with your entire family for two weeks straight while you drive across the country (I am kidding about that last one... kind of).
But in all seriousness, friendships are generally at the core of what makes me the most emotional when I talk about military life. It's not a bad thing to be emotional about it. It shows that I have been blessed to meet a lot of amazing people. But it also saddens me when I think about the lost friendships and opportunities to have "old pals."
Jump in! The Water Is...
Moving every two years meant that I had to learn how to be really good at jumping into a new group and calling those people my friends very quickly. This practice made me very good at a few things:
Being ready to be "instant friends" with someone. I am a pretty open book when it comes to my thoughts and feelings. It doesn't take a long time for me to open up (for better or for worse). That is because opening up is a phase in getting to know someone that usually solidifies a friendship.
Identifying personality traits from far away. I consider myself to be pretty perceptive to people's body language, and expressions. Though I am not perfect, I feel like I can very quickly pick up what other people are putting down. This comes from years of being thrown into a large group of people I don't know and then picking out who I am going to sit with at lunch. But make sure you choose correctly, there is no time to waste when you only have one year to make new friends!
Saying goodbye and cutting ties. When it actually comes time to part ways, I can pretty easily focus on what's ahead and cage my brain to quit thinking about what I am leaving behind. Oh yes, my brain has come up with some very interesting ways to protect me from that gut-wrenching feeling of hugging a friend for the last time. It's gotten so good that sometimes I can go without so much as a tear in my eye!
What is Your Greatest Weakness?
Now, you may say, "Wow Beth! Is there anything you can't do?!" Yes. Let me tell you what years of moving has made me not good at:
Having faith in long-lasting relationships. Just ask my husband. I ask him on the daily whether or not he still loves me. I am all too ready for the people in my life to up and go away, and that makes it hard to do a lot of things, but mainly-- trust. I have had to learn to trust that there are those people that no matter how hard you shake, they aren't going anywhere, and those are the people I am the most blessed to have.
Keeping in touch. Honestly, this one sometimes exhausts me just thinking about it. My entire life, there have been at least five people I need to remember to call, text, email or send a card to so that our friendship doesn't fade (that's just friends, don't forget the family members that live all over the country that I only see once a year). Doing this while simultaneously trying to move on with life and make new friends and then knowing those friends will be added to your "remember to call" list in a year or two.... well, it is tiring. So, at some point, I just don't. And there are some people I should be better at keeping in touch with, to you, I am sorry. I hope you understand it's not you, it truly is me.
Fending off my internal defense mechanisms. It sounds deep, but truly, when you consistently go through the cycle of making and losing friends, your brain and heart work together to find ways to make it not so draining every time. So, they build defense mechanisms. When I find out I am leaving, in the months leading up to the departure, I start subconsciously getting so irritated with people. I start nit-picking every little quirk. I become irritable, I withdraw, and I discontinue making plans. It hurts too much to think about the good things I will miss, so I think about the bad things I'll be happy to be rid of. I’m not proud of this one, but now that I know about it, I can take measures to prevent myself from doing it.
To summarize, the breadth of relationships and necessity to form them quickly has helped me in some regards socially. However, there are still internal barriers I am learning to better understand so they do not impact my current or future relationships.
Where Did Everybody Go?
Losing people so consistently is not a normal thing the average person has to go through. They say that military children will say goodbye to more people in their first 18 years than the average adult will in their entire life. Those lost relationships are difficult, every one of them. It never gets easier, you just find ways to make it easier, and that is okay. I think if I had to sum up in one word what makes military life really hard, it would be loneliness.
Imagine going entire summers with no friends (other than the ones I talk to once a week on the phone), always feeling a little removed from the others around you, and always wishing you had that friend from grade school that knows all your stories and would be there with you through all the big things, like in Gilmore Girls.
On top of the friendships, the military takes away family members for sometimes months or years at a time in a deployment or TDY. And extended family? Well, the military makes it awful hard to live anywhere near them, too. It can be a lonely life.
But the other (more positive) thing I've gotten from it, is a genuine sense of what it means to be and to have a true friend... and that can really make it all worthwhile. In the next two parts of this series, we will dig more into loneliness and how to combat it. As well as finding those true friends that, though your brain may tell you otherwise, will always be there.
I would like to hear your take on this topic. Please leave a comment below!