A huge thank you to Kellie Artis is the Director of Content for MILLIE for contributing this post.
Who’s guilty of mentally checking out as soon as you get PCS orders?
One could hardly blame us. In the military community, our friend-turnover rate is high, and our friend-courting phase is typically very short.
Think about it: If you know you only have one to three years with a group of people before moving on, you have to jump in fast and make the time count.
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Not only that, but our lifestyle comes with some fairly high-stress variables that serve as a catalyst for rapidly establishing deep connections with others who share the same experiences.
Sometimes, eagerness to replace a gaping hole left by the bereft relationships of your last tribe lends an urgency to finding new people — hastening the process even more.
We try to move on as quickly as possible, but sometimes that comes at the detriment of the relationships that you are leaving behind. Let’s face it — the PCS scramble itself can be pretty mentally consuming.
Often, we abandon relationships just as quickly as we enter them, with no real closure or plan for emotionally coping with their loss.
When a friend moves away in military circles, we say “see ya later” because we like to assume that we’ll see them again at some point. It’s a way of avoiding the pain of acknowledging that we may not actually see them again.
The tempo at which we are forced to repeat this cycle of relationship turnover is dizzying at times. We like to beat our chests about resiliency, but the truth is that it’s hard, and can wear even the most seasoned spouse down over time.
Why is it so hard to say goodbye?
I’m a huge fan of Abraham Maslow. Remember his Hierarchy of Needs from high school psych classes?
Our first psychological need (above physiological and safety needs — air, food, rest, then shelter) is for…a community.
Love and belonging are essential for us to move towards fulfilling higher level needs on the ladder. The longer we stay broken up about lost relationships, the longer it will take to replace that rung on the ladder — hindering further progress towards fulfilling other needs.
Having this fundamental need ripped away from us time, and time, and time again is jarring.
I recently had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Corie Weathers, counselor, speaker, author, and Military Spouse of the Year 2015. She made some eye-opening observations about how military families have to constantly cycle through Maslow’s pyramid.
Basic, foundational needs like shelter, work, and friendships are continually challenged every few years with each PCS. Every time those orders come, uncertainty threatens our emotional safety and knocks us back down to the second — or sometimes first — rung on the ladder.
Consumed by the desire to nurture our emotional needs, we neglect our community needs (never mind the rest of the ladder). When the base levels are unsteady, everything else on the ladder falls away. Friendships take a backseat to finding a new home/school/dentist. Creative outlets and hobbies are packed away with the rest of our boxes and are often last to be unpacked.
I don’t even have the space to touch on the detrimental effects uncertainty and “limbo” (waiting for orders) have on our mental and emotional well-being — perhaps another time. Our success and failure at a new duty station can hinge on our ability to climb back up the ladder swiftly.
Getting older doesn’t help either.
Like so much else that starts to go downhill with ascending birthday digits, the ability to acquire new friends has been shown to wane as the years go by. The older we get, the more thought and energy we allocate towards evaluating which relationships are worth investing in.
We’re also more focused on our core family and raising children, versus expanding our social circles like we did when we were in our 20’s. Starting in your 30’s, most people (read: civilians), will shift their focus to nurturing existing friendships instead of making new ones.
In the military we don’t really have that luxury. Instead, we have to channel the inner social butterfly of our twenty-year-old self to make new connections. It takes extra effort and intentional practice to replace friendships, all the while fighting our natural inclination to start limiting that effort.
That’s the problem.
Lack of self-awareness in our youth can make it harder to climb Maslow’s ladder nimbly, but repetitive trips up and down the rungs can also erode our emotional grit as we age.
All this is to say that feeling devastated after a move — like you’re starting over from square one — is totally normal! You are, quite literally, rebuilding your life from the ground up. Once rebuilt, it may not look the same as it once did, but that’s okay too. How you handle your transition will have ripple effects on multiple areas of your life. Acknowledge the hurt, understand it, and do your work to get through it.
The need for closure
Friendships don’t have to end when you move away, but they will certainly evolve into something new. Close the chapter, but honor the relationship for what it was.
Of course, you’ll stay connected on Facebook, perhaps vacation together, or if the military stars align you could even revive the relationship by being stationed together once again (don’t hold your breath, but it does occasionally happen).
Just know that what you had was special and unique. Group dynamics will shift as new people come and go, and you will likely find a new person — but don’t be ashamed of that!
This cycle is as unavoidable as it is essential.
So, as we near yet another PCS season, let the mental and emotional preparations commence.
“We have orders to…” announcements are starting to break on your feeds, and rental home listings are being passed around. Whether you’re staying or going, make plans to enjoy your last days/weeks/months with your people. I prefer a party. (Those liquor cabinets won’t purge themselves before the packers come!)
If you are the farewell-ee, give those who are left behind the permission to move on. If you’re the farewell-er, be sure to let those who are leaving know how loved, special, and irreplaceable they are.
Hopefully, that can be just enough to cushion our pals during their transition. Fuel them to find a new tribe. And encourage them as they…start all over again.
This post originally appeared on MILLIE, an online community and digital marketplace that connects members of the military and their families with specialized knowledge and trusted resource providers to remove the stress and anxiety of PCSing. Check out MILLIE’s Installation and Neighborhood Guides, their network of Veteran and military spouse Realtors, and Scout, their on-demand task service composed of military spouses. Find out more at www.gomillie.com
Want more on military life?
- Why I Didn’t “Go Home” When My Service Member Deployed
- 5 Things MilSpouses Want Their Faraway Friends to Know
- The Real Reason Being a Military Wife is So Hard
- 3 Telltale Signs You’re Friends With an Awesome Military Spouse
About the author.
Kellie Artis is the Director of Content for MILLIE, and managing editor of the MILLIE Journal. When she’s not “mentally PCSing” to write installation guides for military families, you can find her taxiing her two kids around town, reading on her front porch, or posing as a CrossFitter. She’s been married to her Soldier for almost 11 years, PCSed 7 times, and currently resides in North Carolina.