I’m a military spouse, which means I move a lot. In the past 5 years, I’ve made two cross-country moves (from DC to San Diego, and San Diego to Virginia). While I’ve gotten used to the logistics of moving and getting myself set up somewhere new, the making friends part is hard for me and probably always will be. It’s even harder since I’m in the throes of finishing my PhD and my days are spent working at home in isolation with myself and my thoughts. I have very few “built-in” ways to meet people, so I have to go out and find friends for myself.
A few months after our last move, I found myself sitting in my yoga class trying not to look awkward as everyone around me was chatting with their neighbors. I would stretch and nervously wait until the moment the teacher silenced everyone to start class. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago—just shy of a year after we moved—and for the first time, I realized I had become one of those people, chatting with my yoga friend about her weekend and her daughter. It felt natural and jarring at the same time—how did I get here? I thought to myself.
As an introvert, I’m not a fan of most social situations. I thrive in small gatherings, game nights at home, and deep, intimate one-on-one conversations. When you meet new people, it can take a while to build the cumulative knowledge you need to seamlessly converse with someone, where you can pick up right where you left off. Connecting with new people is so tough that I usually enter a rationalization period where I try to convince myself that I can go 2-3 years without making any new friends in the new place. I could survive without local friends, right? Just me, my husband, and my dog? Facetime and phone calls with old friends? My illogical musings are quickly shattered when I realize that, yes, I do in fact need friends. This should be obvious to me as a social scientist, yet it gets me every time.
So…how did I go from staring at the clock, waiting for yoga class to start to a year later being a person who catches up with her yogi neighbor? I learned the lesson I’m continually forced to learn as a military spouse: you have to let people in. You have to give and seek out little nuggets of information from other people that allow you to build a connection. It can be as simple as a friendly smile at people you don’t know—be engaging and warm when someone looks in your direction. Compliment someone on their outfit, their hair, their dog’s collar, or their new running shoes. Ask someone if they know of other great yoga classes at the studio, or ask them what they like to do around here.
When you are looking to meet new people or build a group of friendly faces at your gym, you have to look for little ways to start a conversation. It may take 10 of these mini-exchanges before you actually start talking about your lives or your weekend plans, but this is what gets the ball rolling.
Conversely, when people engage with you, let them in. When someone compliments you on your cool new sneakers, tell them where you got them or how you got the most amazing deal on them. When your yoga teacher asks you how your weekend was, give them a specific detail about something you did: “I took my dog to this great little beach, and she loved running around in the waves!” When you provide these little nuggets of information to others, it gives them a way to build on the conversation and follow up with you: “Have you been to this other beach with your dog? I think you’d really love it.” Or: “My daughter and I checked out that Nordstrom sale you mentioned!”
We all know how awkward it can be to talk about yourself or ask someone how their week is going when you barely know them, but this is the trick to building a connection and establishing continuity with people. And slowly but surely, you may make a new friend or at least have a friendly face to chat with when you go to that yoga class.
As difficult as it can be to make new friends, I’m grateful that my life as a military spouse continually gives me the opportunity to practice being vulnerable and letting people in.
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