How many of you woke up one day and realized that you didn’t have any REAL female friends? You realized your whole life revolved around work, kids, spouse, etc? One of my newer girlfriends recently commented that she came to this realization the other day when she got a hair cut and no one noticed. Most spouses or kids don’t notice these things but a girlfriend or two would! It got me thinking of my own social issues after I retired.
One thing a lot of women of service struggle with is making friends after leaving the service. I was no different. The struggle is real! In my early ranks, I was a partier on liberty. Even before the military, I didn’t have too many female friends. Most of my friends in high school friends were guys. Of course in the military, the male-female ratio meant that most of your co-workers were guys. Deployments were the easiest because you could all hang out with no issues. Once you returned home, however, it was a different story. The guys all went back home to their wives and well, let’s just say the wives didn’t take to kindly to them inviting their female friend over for Sunday BBQ! As you made your way up the rank structure, female options were even more limited. For me, make E7/Chief was the hardest because there were no other female Chiefs at my command that I could “hang out with.” I had a couple of neighbors that tried being friends with. It was always just weird. I didn’t work with their husbands so that wasn’t an issue. The issue was that I really just couldn’t relate to them. Yes, I was a mom (a single mom at that), but my struggles and perspective on things were just so far off from theirs and it was difficult to relate.
Once I left the military, I literally struggled for a couple of years with not having any friends. My daughter had two best friends and I did my best to be friends with their moms. I just always felt out of place. I flake a LOT on invites to parties and gatherings they invited me to. When I did go I was just completely uncomfortable – causing my anxiety to skyrocket. Here I am, an 18 year military veteran. I could lead Sailors, have meetings with high-ranking officers and governmental staff – but I had no idea how to be “normal.” I was so accustomed to setting the perfect example of military bearing and also giving the façade that I had my personal life in complete order – meaning my kids were well behaved and all taken care of. Why do I mention that? Well in the military, women with kids don’t get sick days! We don’t have issues with childcare or sick children or parent-teacher conferences. We don’t have them because if we do, that is a sign of weakness and we don’t make rank! So yes, everything is FINE and I have no issues. So now here I am, a civilian, in a town where I have no family. I tried so hard to make friends. I would volunteer at places in hopes of making new friends. The craziest idea was to join the PTA for my daughter’s school! Yeah, that lasted about half the school year. I did manage to be a “dance team mom” for about 3 years. By the end of that fiasco, I seriously ended up getting called to the Principal’s office for how I treated the Dance sponsor! Ok, so I’m getting off track a bit – back to the topic. I did not know HOW to make female friends. I did not know how to ask for help. My brain was conditioned to not ask for help – to suck it up and just deal with whatever issue I encountered. Well let’s just say that got me nowhere in this new civilian life!
Let’s fast forward a few years. I no longer have the issue of female friends. I have way more than a handful that I can call or text on a whim and/or to confide my problems to or ask for help for this or that. My life has so much LIFE to it now days compared to 5 years ago. This sisterhood was found among a very large group of other women veterans. I’ve made jokes in civilian women company before and just got the strangest looks. Now my jokes are reciprocated with another one even crazier than my own! Sharing stories of peeing in a trench (or a bottle), seeing who has the dirtiest story – and by “dirty” I literally mean DIRT – who slept in the dirtiest, germ-infested places, taking a “Navy” shower with splash on-demand with ice cold water. Or better yet, NO water to shower with for days! Sharing stories of being pregnant or being a new mom in uniform. Stories of you are either a B*%ch or “you must be gay” because you wouldn’t give the other guys the time of day. And who cares if you are gay? Well not too long ago even a rumor of that could end her career. Fortunately, the rules have changed on that, but the point is we had to work harder, fake it harder, and never allow ourselves the opportunity to show weakness. How about stories of ALWAYS having to fake it and be on your best behavior to keep a good reputation in order to make rank (which means more money to support the family). How about stories of raising a family (with and without a spouse), working 18 hours shifts, trying to be a good Mom but knowing that you are failing because you have to put the Military first, and not really knowing how to dress up and be girlie because well honestly you just don’t have the time! These are all struggles civilian women just can’t understand or relate. Many of them THINK they can because their jobs have long hours or whatever, but there is no comparison to what Women in the Military live through. A veteran woman can find herself in the midst of a group of non-veteran women. She suddenly is worried about how she looks, how she speaks, etc – but then she finds herself in a room full of other veteran women whom she has never met before and everything just fits. They ALL understand her before she even opens her mouth!
So what is my point in all of this rambling that ya’ll have come to expect from me? If you have recently (or even not-so-recently) left the military and are struggling to fit in – YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!! You will find yourself in finding others like you. You don’t need to change anything about yourself to fit in this civilian life. Find yourself a group of other veteran ladies and then everyone else becomes the weird ones!