Traveling to the East Coast to visit my active duty boyfriend for the first time, I got my first taste of what the military community was like. It was a discouraging experience. I flew back to my home in the Midwest thinking that military life was not for me.
After a weekend filled with beaches, social barbeques, and night life, you would think it was the perfect fit. But it was really the people—the military community members themselves—that made me feel like an outsider. I didn’t relate to their life. I didn’t relate to their personalities. I just felt different.
I knew that if my relationship with my boyfriend was going to work long-term, I needed a sense of community, good friends, and cheese to remind me of my Midwest roots. The cheese part was easy. The community and good friends posed more of a challenge. I felt ambivalent about ever finding it.
After years of dating long distance, it was time to pull the trigger. We either needed to break up and go our separate ways or one of us needed to move.
We broke up.
I was devastated. My heart ached so deeply that I sobbed for 12 hours straight on the first night. I literally cried through the night. The next day I called a friend and I cried so hard over the phone that I couldn’t even speak words. My friend told me “I was scaring her.” I’m pretty sure she thought somebody died or something. That’s how crazy I was acting.
For 6 weeks, I desperately tried to pull myself together. To move on with my life. To forget about him.
And for 6 weeks, I failed completely.
I didn’t pull myself together. I didn’t move on. And I certainly didn’t forget. I was a mess.
I couldn’t take it anymore.
Thankfully, after 6 weeks I put myself out of my misery, messaged him, and attempted to make our relationship right again. And thankfully, he responded. After a few months of repairing our relationship, we were ready for a bigger commitment.
I packed up, quit my job, and said goodbye to my life in the Midwest in exchange for a life as a military girlfriend on the East Coast. It was defining now or never moment.
Shortly after moving, I was determined to discover the high-quality military community I knew existed. I just had to find it.
How to find the military community you always wanted.
Use a job to your advantage | At the first duty station I lived at, I found a huge sense of community at my job as a nurse. If you are able to work, definitely do it. The workplace is a great source for making friends and building connections over time.
Volunteer | Seek out your local Family Readiness Group—an organization that utilizes volunteers to provide social and emotional support, outreach services, and information to military families.
“It’s important to remember though that an FRG (or any other volunteer group) is only as good as the members who show up to make it great!” –Jodi, Back on Land
Take classes | If you aren’t working on a degree, taking classes at your local community college is a great place to meet others. You can even take a class to learn a new hobby like photography, pottery or creative writing.
Offer to help others | “Imagine if we all joined our communities looking to serve instead of looking to be served. This is where you trade children so you can go on a date night. Where a friend comes and helps you move because you have done the same. Where someone comes over and shovels snow when the other is hurt or alone.” –Kim, She is Fierce
Be the hostess | Rather than wait to receive an invite to a weekend get together, take the initiative and simply host your own. Invite your neighbors, a couple from your spouse’s workplace, or an acquaintance from the gym.
Discover SpouseLink | Created by AAFMAA, SpouseLink.org™ is a completely free website that supports, informs and inspires Military Spouses with daily trends and important military info. They are an online, interactive community for all U.S. Military Spouses, regardless of branch, location, gender, age or any other status. Love that!
There is also a Free SpouseLink App which allows you to join groups to connect with military spouses around the world. It took me less than 2 minutes to join, find a group, and connect with over twenty other spouses.
Really put yourself out there | “The key is to put yourself out there and try. When our house fell through last minute and we were homeless for almost two months. Two different navy families who didn’t know anything about us, stepped up and offered us spare rooms so that we didn’t have to live out of a hotel.” –Elizabeth, The Reluctant Landlord
If you see a need, fill it | While not exciting, I’ve spent the last 3 years building and managing a playgroup. Since we just PCS’d, I am starting over at our new place. I’m hoping that PlayNation becomes a real non-profit organization in 2016 and that it spreads to more stations as people who attended the founding group PCS. –Emma, PlayNation
Did I ever find a sense of community?
I’m so glad I didn’t allow my first experience with the military community to prevent me from finding the community I desired. Each and every day the military community continues to impress me.
At the first duty station we lived at, I discovered community and friendship through my job, a local mom group and spouses of my husband’s co-workers. I even moved in with another spouse during a deployment once. Together we got each other through a difficult time.
Now that we are in Okinawa, it’s easy to see the military community is vibrant. From sponsored military community events to community members making a genuine effort to serve others, it’s special to be a part of it all. We all have a unique opportunity to create the military community we always wanted.
We are all hundreds or thousands of miles away from family and all we have is each other. Let’s reach out and help one another. Let’s build this military community together.
Want more on military life?
- 5 Things You Miss Most Living Far From Family
- 7 Unique Military Care Package Ideas You Haven’t Tried Yet
- 25 Genius Life Hacks for Military Spouses