Updated: Jun 12, 2021
There are some things a vaccine just can't fix. This global pandemic had a way of prolonging our integration into English life. Most of the time, when we move, we have a checklist of things that happen, in sequence, to get us into our new normal. It usually goes: hang curtains, find schools, pick our grocery store, meet our mailman, find friends and throw a party. (Sometimes, it's throw a party so you can see who can really get down, and then you have your friends.) Either way, Covid really left a gaping hole between meeting the mail man, who became our savior during lockdown, and meeting everyone in our village. I would like to add, that in this special case, for the first time ever we are not living on a military base and so this was already going to be a new experience wrapped in a weird experienced tied with a bow of a foreign experience. What you now know is... I am a military spouse, you knew that already and that is the whole reason I am here. But what you may not know, is this means that sometimes the world sees me as a bogus investment...and I have no real rebuttal.
Requirements for New Friends: must eat donuts, drink coffee and like city trips.
Generally speaking, I don't try to write these posts with a specific group in mind. I usually try to keep my topics broad enough that they touch a wider audience of readers because the goal is always connection. However in this case, I'm writing for awareness. If you have ever wondered about "The Secret Lives of Military Wives, " here it is. Pour a drink and let me introduce you to the lesser seen side of the military spouse, and the uphill-in-heels battle we face to make it during the moves, the start-overs and the seasons we weren't ready for.
When I first became a military spouse I had no idea what that meant. Like I told you before, I threw myself into volunteering so I could figure it out quickly. Through that process, I learned lessons of what makes up a military spouse pretty quickly. Here is the first lesson I learned, the military spouse walked away from something. Whether it was her dream job, her tight knit family or just her hometown. She lives in a land of "What-if's" for a while. What if I had chosen different? What if I hadn't met him? What if I can't hack it out here. That eventually wears off because we have bigger fish to fry. We leave our former lives behind and try to settle into our new one. My next lesson, the military spouse gets lonely, really lonely. She isn't doing the same things as her friends back home, and she hasn't made new friends yet. She's not here or there, just alone. In fact, we get to be masters of alone. So much so, sometimes we have a hard time adjusting back to needing someone. Namely, our husband. Every single deployment we have ever gone through ends with a happy homecoming and is followed by two solid weeks of Zac trying to learn the family routine and find where he fits in it. After two weeks, we sit down together and assess where we need to make changes. Yes, all those homecoming pictures are beautiful, and they totally tug at your heart, but there is a lot of work that follows when the excitement fades and you take your spouse home. You've lived alone, you did alone pretty good, but now you have to learn how to hand some of the reigns back over to the one you built a life with, and it's not so easy. My next lesson, the military spouse has to define what works for her marriage. That's right, I can sense people's intrigue and slight judgement when I am outside mowing, replacing dryer fuses or taking on projects that seem over my pay-grade and over my head. Guess what? When Zac is home, I want him to be with us, and I don't want his focus to be tackling a laundry list of to-dos. I know he can do it when he had the time, and would do it graciously, but I want to be the top item on his honey-do list because his time is at a premium. If we need to do a project, we try to do it together, to hit two birds with one stone: date-night meets DIY you could say. Some people look at us like we are crazy, but this is just how we manage to make it all work. One more lesson, and it is a BIG one... the military spouse has to manage their relationships differently, because they have weird ways of doing relationships. I've touched on how quickly we try to make friends for survival, but what I have never admitted is that it can be hard to make friends when you have a pre-determined shelf life. Think about it. Would you bare your soul if you knew there was less than three years of deep relationship afterwards? And while the friendships may be PCS proof, and will continue after the moving trucks pull away, it's never the same when you don't do day-to-day together anymore. This is the lesson I am currently wallowing in... I know I am not here forever, therefore, I am not a sound investment for anyone to make, and I hate it.
I went on a ladies outing a week or so ago and in the conversation I realized most of them, while transient, were also here for much longer stints than I know I will ever be in any one place. Everyone at the table was sharing their best travel stories, and where they think they may go next if their spouse took that next job. They had some semblance of a choice. Which made me a little nervous when it was my turn to share as my story was simple. I will live here three years, and then I will move where the military tells us we are needed. Simple. But I could read the faces of my audience and I could tell they were weighing in on where I fit in on the priority list. Was I worth a second date maybe? Did I look worth the price of losing? Sure, I feel like I'm a fun, well-rounded girl, but it doesn't outweigh the fact that I am never anywhere for very long. I love them, and I leave them. Honestly, I can't even really blame them. There have been countless times in Zac's military career that a new girl has moved in on the street and though I feel a connection, and I'm intrigued, I often think to myself, "I just don't want to have to lose you too." So I shy away from getting to really like her. It's my defense mechanism for my heart's survival. If we are five to six months out from a move, I have now been subconsciously groomed to simply keep a distance. A friendly distance, but a distance just the same. It's the thing we military wives rarely talk about. Our friendships are both important but also strategic in some ways, and it makes me wonder, is this just not my season to have a crew of soul sisters? I know they say we should "bloom where we are planted," but what if my season is just too short, especially with the year of lockdown?
When I take a step back, and take a sip of my beer, I can see that the things that make me a fairly good military spouse don't always make me good at civilian relationships. In fact, to paint a better picture of how I do female relationships: if an onion was a possible new companion, I hack it down the middle to get straight to the inside. I want to be one with this onion almost immediately. After I get to the insides, and dice it all up, I dunk it in the boiling pot that is my life, where I then add in all MY stuff: A dash of my crazy, 3 ounces of my kids, a cup of everyday life and gallons upon gallons of cocktails and conversation. In short time, we have a lovely soup to dine on for exactly 2 years before we freeze the rest to save for times when we get to take it out, thaw it out, and enjoy a taste we remember so fondly. We do "goodbye" differently, we do marriage differently, we do lonely differently, we do it all so differently that I don't know where to start now that lockdown is easing and opportunity to meet people is on the horizon. I am officially out of my element. I now have almost exactly 2 years, to make a friend, make some memories and then tell them goodbye. As I type this in black and white, I am swallowing hard and trying not to let my kids see Mommy crying at her desk... Another lesson, the military spouse has to do tears on the down low. We are our family's barometer of security, and our kids tend to gauge how they are feeling by what we are modeling. We aren't the ones that ever really leave, and if we do, it's never for the long periods of our partners. Therefore, an out-of-the-blue "ugly cry" most often happens in our closet or in our garage, otherwise it would be a total dumpster fire of emotions.
Okay. So where do I go from here? Well, hopefully the village pub! Where I meet a momma who is just a Louise looking for a Thelma. Wouldn't that be amazing? I wonder if that movie translates here, or if I just look like a feminist packing heat and out for a good time? Until then, I am being thoughtful about tending to the soups of my past. A lot of effort has been made the last two weeks to face-time old friends, and send out packages of goodies to let them know that they have international support from across the pond. It makes me grateful, I have really great friends, and I know the same way Hans Solo came out of the freezer to fight another day, so will we. I am also focussing on being hopeful. I'm hopeful that the few seeds of friendship I was able to plant during lockdown, turn into an English Garden with an American twist. I may have an expiration date, but I'm at least a fun date? Perhaps what sets me apart is going to be what makes me the perfect fit for my London girl gang. Maybe the way I do life is exactly what some girl out here needs in her life. (Just call me "Milspo Spice.")
So, if you know a military spouse, any branch of service, OR, you have ever walked up to a military spouse and said, "tell your husband thank you for his service" please know this... that is like thanking the farmer for the cow's milk. It took two y'all. The cow may not have the cute outfit, but it's pretty special and has a lot to offer. Because military spouses fight battles you never see:
We leave our hometowns.
We start over, and over, and oh, over.
We do marriage alone.
We work hard to build a stable home in unstable situations.
We willingly pour into people who leave us.
We are often left out, looked over and left behind but it never deters us from making the best of it.
Maybe the final lesson I need to learn is this:
the things that make us different, are the things that increase our value and return on investment.
So it's not about length of time we have, but the depth we are willing to go for that authentic connection. Military spouses are old pros at making every moment count and the fact that we do hard so often, means we do it so well, and we are willing to do it with our friends, every minute we have to give. I hope wherever you are, and whatever time you have in that place, you are finding those deep connections and you aren't counting out the people who may be just passing through. They might just be exactly what you need right now.
UPDATE: Y'all, I got invited to Ladies night at one of the village pubs the Green Man. All the ladies in Denham Village were invited. I'm feeling like I get how Cinderella must have felt: I'm nervous, excited and stumped on what to wear. Here we go!!!
Love from London,
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And really it cuts both ways.
I was reminded of this hardship