Friday, September 23, 2011

Civilian vs. Military Friends

Way back in 2009 when Kyle left for BCT, I read every article and blog about military life that I could get my hands on to try and prepare for the long road ahead.  Amid the heartwrenching stories and advice columns I came across a blog post about the differences between friends made in the military and civilian "worlds."  Try as I might I can't find this blog now, but the gist was this:  Once you're in the military life, your friends from the civilian world just don't cut it anymore.  They don't understand your life and problems the way other military wives will.  I've seen the sentiment echoed time and time again, and during my first year as an Army wife I've realized that this is both a very true, and astonishingly false statement.

When I first made the "big move" from Kentucky to Germany, I didn't know anyone here.  It took me months to connect with the three "Army friends" I have now.  This is partially because I don't go leaping out of my box willingly, and partially because Army wives have a tendency to separate into very defined cliques, and they don't welcome just anybody into their circle.  But eventually I found a few women with similar interests and personalities, and because we face the same Army-related challenges, we bonded instantly in a way that is completely foreign to people outside the military.  The three of us can talk about the frustrations of our husbands' jobs, the way it feels to be so far from our families, and the difficulties of living in a foreign country, and know without a doubt that the person listening understands, because she is in the same position.  Try as they might, civilian friends cannot know how it feels when your husband tells you he might be deploying, or understand why he can't just "take off a couple days" at work so that you can be home for Christmas.  How can they, when they've never experienced anything even remotely similar?  Plus, there is the added struggle with military lingo to deal with.  It's hard to have a decent conversation when you have to pause every thirty seconds to break down an acronym, or explain what a PX is.  The sudden change from leading a "normal" life to filling the gigantic shoes of an Army wife is overwhelming, and sometimes it feels like your civilian friends just can't keep up.

However, after the initial relief of finding a person with whom you can rant about the many stresses of military life wears off, you start to realize the major differences between the relationships with these new friends and your old ones.  While you bond instantly with a fellow military wife, the bond doesn't run nearly as deep as the one you share with your civilian friends.  The civilian friends you keep are your best friends.  Whether you grew up together, or you met in college, they're people who know you inside and out.  They remember your birthday, know your favorite color, can order for you at your favorite restaraunts, and can sense from a thousand miles away when you need to be told "everything will be okay."  Even when they don't "get it," they get you, and that's important, because in the military life, things change often and fast, and it's nice to be reminded that underneath the acronyms and heaps of camoflage, you're still you, a person with thoughts, dreams, and feelings that are completely independent of your husband's job.  And most of the time, your military friends can't do that, because the part of you they bonded with is the part that's drowning in Army gear.

So whenever Kyle's work schedule is changed for the third time in two weeks, killing our weekend plans again, I send a message to a fellow MP-wife, and we plan a trip to the mall and talk things out over smoothies.  And when I remember that I'm two years behind in my college degree and have a mental meltdown, I call up one of my besties back home, who patiently remind me that in the end, a diploma is a diploma, and if I'd stayed in Kentucky I'd have been miserable without my awesome husband.  More and more I'm seeing comparisons between military and civilian friends online, and I can't help but think they're unfair.  One set can never hope to replace the other.  Between my two sets of friends, I have enough support to get me through just about anything.  There's room for both sets of friends in my life.  In fact, I'd say that they're both necessary.

(I'd love to hear what my mili-spouse readers have to say on this topic!)


  1. I'm a salesperson-wife. My husband works really weird hours, and is always "ON" with his salespitch voice. I can definitely bond with other wives of salesman in a way I can't with my friends who are married to 9-5 job guys.

    And we're just talking sales! I can't imagine having my husband in the military, with all of those crazy hours and emotional ups and downs. I totally hear you! You'd have to have friends who are going through the same experience you are!

  2. The closest friends I have made while being in the military that I hang out with now are not in the military. I had a close knit group of military wife friends while my husband was deployed, but we are all scattered now. We do keep in touch, though.

    But aside from one friend, the friends I have here in Kansas I have made during TJ's military service are people from work and one who worked on post. These are the people I am with the most so they are the ones who became my friends. I did have another military wife friend, but was taken advantage of so that ended LOL.

    I certainly do not believe military wives should limit themselves to military friends only. Even if my husband had deployed again, the people I would be turning to for comfort, company, or whatever would have been non military because they are my friends and we support each other. It is great when you find military friends who are supportive and good friends, but non military friends can be as well. True, they do not always fully understand what you are going through, but a military friend can understand fully and still be a crappy friend.

  3. This blog is really excellent. I really appreciate this kind of post.

  4. I am of 2 minds in this. I have close knit group of WONDERFUL civilian friends that I connect with on a daily basis on the internet. We are very close and look out for each other, even though none of us actually live near the others. If I need to chat, one of my ladies are almost always on.

    But the friends I CALL when I need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to vent to are invaribly my Mil Spouse friends. There are only a few, but the bonds are strong. And I know that they will pick up and be there for me when I call. It doesn't matter how long it's been since we've spoken, emailed, facebooked, etc. or how far flung they are (thank goodness for free calls back to the states)!

    My bonds with my Mil Spouse friends have only grown stronger as we have been apart. No, I can't call Leah for emergency Diet Coke at 10pm any more (and that is a TRAGEDY!! and yes.... there ARE Diet Coke emergencies) or Amanda to watch my son when I have to rush Dh to the emergency room... But I can call them and it's just like they are down the street.

    And I don't have to keep telling back story (oy... back story), because they've heard it all and what they didn't hear, they've lived through with me.

    When I watched "The Messenger" and "Taking Chance" back to back while my husband was deployed (yeah.... don't do this), my Mil Spouse friends understood the compulsion, sympathized and then smacked me around until I pulled myself out of my funk. We watched Army Wives "together" while talking to each other on the phone, alternately rolling and wiping our eyes. I trust my Mil Spouse friends to understand and love my child, despite his quirks that can be off putting to those who haven't been through our journey with us. I don't need to label or explain him with them, because to them he's just *J* and that's how *J* is.

    We've been bounced around so much in the last 10 years that most of my pre-Army buddies have sadly fallen by the way-side. We are still friends, but not like we were. Several have gotten married or had kids and I only knew months, perhaps years after the fact through facebook or off handed comments from others. Some of these people were practically my siblings, lived and worked with me and were in my wedding.

    Living two years at one post, one year at that one, rinse, lather, repeat.... has made it really difficult to meet people who AREN'T affiliated in some way or another to the Military.

    It just takes getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself there. Do I connect with every Mil Spouse I meet? Hell no! Some of them I'm friendly with, many I can barely stand, and a few repulse me entirely. But the ones who I connect with.... REALLY connect with... are in some ways, closer than even my family.

    And I am all the better for knowing them.

  5. I hope that you will find someone or more, which will be in the both sides.

  6. I hope that you will find someone or more, which will be in the both sides.


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