Our family just moved, again. The last duty station only lasted two years, this new one is only for a year, and projecting out, the next one is likely to also be only a year. For the introverted, stay-at-home, homeschooling, military spouse that I am, this is a challenge. It took me six months to talk beyond friendly hellos to my new neighbor who moved in across the street at our last duty station, and 6 months later we moved! We struck up a fast friendship once I forced the kids and myself outside, but the key word there is forced.
Introverted is not to be mistaken for shyness. I can easily strike up a conversation with strangers in the elevator, with a server at a restaurant, and with the checkout clerk at the commissary. But opening up to new friendships takes effort. Why is that? Introverts desire deep connections with others, not just any social interaction will do. We prefer one or two people that we really connect with. Where extroverts are energized by lots of social interaction with many people, introverts seek alone time and value one-on-one interactions.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says that “we live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” This extrovert ideal is particularly noticeable within the Military community with so many mandatory social events. We have Hail and Farewells, Coffees, Dining Outs, FRG meetings, and Balls. And attendance to these events often impacts your spouse’s career, when such a heavy emphasis is put on socializing with people outside the office. But these events, while sometimes enjoyable, are often taxing to the introvert.
Social functions don’t energize introverts, they deplete us. Susan Cain also notes that “many people believe that introversion is about being antisocial, and that’s really a misconception. Because actually, it’s just that introverts are differently social. So they would prefer to have a glass of wine with a close friend as opposed to going to a loud party full of strangers.” It’s finding that one good friend that is the challenge for the introvert. And it’s especially hard to say yes to connecting with someone when you know that saying goodbye is just around the corner.
Connections require time. Military spouses often talk about making “instant friends” upon arriving at a new duty station. While even introverts can achieve this, it usually takes us longer. We’re slower to open up, often testing the waters first to see if this is someone we want to build a connection with. I apparently need six months to build relationships with my neighbors! Ha! But once the connection is made, it is often lasting. That said, when connecting with someone demands so much from introverts, it’s hard for us to put forth the effort when we know we’ll soon have to leave and start the process all over again in some new location. Sometimes it feels easier to just stay home.
And yet . . . .
I just borrowed a book from a fellow homeschool mom on our tiny post, a woman I’ve never met. We’ve lived here for 7 months now, and while I have challenged myself to be more active and involved (and I have in some areas!), it’s taking me this long to get involved with the homeschool community here. It’s a wonderful group, and my slow start to participate and experience it myself along with this anonymous woman’s generosity to me, someone she doesn’t know, strikes me. It’s a striking example of what I might miss out on if I allow myself to hole up.
It does take effort to reach out to others but so often the effort is rewarded with incredible friendships. At every post we’ve lived I’ve come away with at least one close and lasting friendship. These women have added so much richness to my life, and I can’t imagine not having them to call long distance or to visit on a cross country journey. And just the fact of them reminds me that with a little effort it’s possible to discover a new friendship with someone in my current community.
So what’s an introverted military spouse to do?
Embrace and accept who you are. If you don’t want to participate, know that you don’t have to. But also be willing to stretch out of your comfort zone a little once in a while. You might be surprised at your own growth.
Find that one friend that you’ll take with you, no matter where you go next. You never know where you might find her. It could be at a mandatory social event, or it could be at the commissary, or on the playground chasing kids.
When you do attend the larger events, give yourself a little pep talk beforehand. Remind yourself that you don’t have to do a lot of talking. Instead, ask questions, and do a lot of listening. People love to talk about themselves, and it requires less effort from you. Get others to talk, and by doing so you just might find you have something in common.
Avoid hosting large events in your home. If a large event is required, find a neutral location. Do host a family or two for a quiet dinner party. Start with co-workers your spouse particularly enjoys. These smaller gatherings are more comfortable and if you connect with another spouse, now you have a battle-buddy for the larger events.
So while being an introverted Military spouse definitely has it challenges, I don’t believe it makes this life impossible. It might be the very best medicine for an introvert like me! I’m forced to step away from myself over and over, and perhaps someday it won’t be so difficult.
Lindsay Kuniyuki is an introverted Army wife of 13 years, including 6 duty stations and often thousands of miles and even an ocean separating her from family and friends. She is a homeschooling mother of four, museum connoisseur, and an aspiring minimalist but a hoarder of books. Her life motto is, “bloom where you are planted.”
Quotes from: Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Broadway Books, 2013.
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