Make New Friends But Keep The Old
“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place…like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
– Azar Nafasi
Most of us know that song from Girl Scouts or Elementary school, “Make new friends, but keep the old”…and this is never more true than for a Wanderer… We clean out our friends like we clean out our pantry…except it’s harder and often happens organically. I’ve been Wandering all my life thanks to the military lifestyle. When I was a kid moving was as easy as the song made it out to be. My mom would send me, my sister, and my brother off to camp and she would handle the pack outs, the clearances, and the move. When she would pick us up after a week we would say good bye to our friends and drive to our new house. We would promise to write every day, cry a little as we waved good bye, and drive into the sunset. Easy peasy, right? Now I call her and tell her I want that life again! Being the wife who signed up for this life, who stands beside the man, and who does everything for the family is a crazy business. When you add the overseas moves it’s another beast entirely. Packing and moving a family is a daunting task, but through it all, from childhood to adulthood, stateside moves to overseas, one thing remains constant; the pain of saying “see you later,” to friends is always the worst part.
In our ten years of marriage we have moved from Florida; to Altus, Oklahoma, to Okinawa, Japan; to Monterey; to Washington, D.C; and to where we now call home, Bangkok, Thailand. That is a lot of moves in ten years, especially when one considers I “only” moved seven times from birth to 18 (and all within the US). When I was a kid, making friends on these moves seemed easy. I would show up to school on the first day, nervous as all get out, but most of the time I was well received because people liked and were intrigued but the new girl. Let’s face it, new kids are always cool (until they prove otherwise as I sometimes did). I see this quality in my kids, who now go to an international school. I am amazed by their resilience and the way they can make new friends. They are in a vastly different situation (and one that deserves its own post) because many of the kids are transient at our wonderful international school, but it still shows how good these “third culture” kids are at just making friends. For me, though, it was different, showing up to schools where 90% of the kids had been there forever. My most difficult move was in 10th grade when I showed up to a new high school where many people had been friends their whole life. Looking back it is amazing, even to me, but I managed to make friends. Some of those friends and I still keep in touch, even after only 2 years of friendship, perhaps because of the formative aspect of our senior year of high school..or maybe it’s just Facebook.
The great thing about the advent of Facebook and other forms of social media is that I have reconnected with friends from almost every one of my 10 moves. My elementary best friend and I reconnected on Facebook, and while I was visiting my parents I found out she didn’t live far away from them. After 20 years we got together and were able to reconnect over lunch. Even though we lost touch over time (because I was horrible at writing letters), we are now friends on Facebook. When I am in her area we now make an effort to get together. Our kid friendships seem to endure. Steve, who lived in one home his whole life, has best friends either from his home town or from his first year at the Air Force Academy. Very few make it into his circle…while I often judge him for his small circle of friends, I think I also maintain a small group, except at each assignment I seem to let people in…but it’s not easy.
Making friends as adults is hard, at least for me anyway. Making girlfriends is a lot like dating. You are constantly looking for someone you might connect with. Do they have kids the same age as yours? Do they dress similar? Are you somewhere and you notice you have similar hobbies? For me this seemed a lot easier when we were in an area with more military. We always had a squadron to fall back on. Activities that may have started out as mandatory fun but gave you an opportunity to meet other people were a great chance to mingle. Shouldn’t there be an app for this? Can I just “Swipe Left” and set up a play date? (Looking for business partners on this one Name TBD, “Friender?)
Anyway, pending someone making an app, my goal when ever I move somewhere new is to find my tribe, my village if you will. We all know the saying…it takes a village. That is so true, but when you move as often as we do, and of course we are never living near family, I need to hit the ground running. While I’m sure many go through an assignment without a true friend…and that is always my greatest fear, every one of our moves have brought fantastic people into our lives. I find that on each move I either have a tribe or “one true friend”. Here are just some examples from my adult dating experience.
On my first assignment with Steve I made one true
love friend. I made other friends through Steve, who I value very much, but I made one true friend. This friend didn’t have any kids when we were in Pensacola, but I only had one, and we connected. We were both dealing with some of our own issues, and our husbands loved to go TDY on weekends, so we bonded. 10 years later we were still good enough friends that when she lived in Hawaii, and I had just had the twins, my husband volunteered to take care of all four boys so I could have some much needed R&R with her.
Another example, is when I lived in Okinawa we formed a tribe, a tribe of women brought together in a forgien land who still get together every summer (I can’t really find a decent way to compare this to dating without taking this post off the rails). When we were there we were all spouses in the same squadron, and my sister was one of them. To this day, we still try to rendevouz every summer without husbands, but with kids – five moms and 15 kids! Yes, we are crazy; is it a vacation? Not really, but it is a trip that our kids look forward to, because for 3 years most of those kids spent every afternoon at a playground together. It is a time for the moms to catch up on a years worth of, “I have missed this”, and, of course, drinks with friends.
Finally, this assignment to Bangkok has been interesting because I found a
summer love best friend in the first 6 months of living in Bangkok (record time…great job Kathleen!) only to find out it is her last year here. So, we made the most of the bonding time, shopping, lunches, playdates, and girls nights out. Before too long she went off to live in the states, and we now fulfill that promise that was never kept as a kid…”we’ll write you all the time”…only now it’s via text messages and FaceTime. How many summer camp relationships survive now?
Those are just three of my most recent experiences with friends. There are so many others, friends from Little Rock before we were married, friends from Altus, where we were only there for a few months, and many more. Writing a post that recounts this experience makes me truly appreciate how well many of us do at making friends despite often shedding tears based on our friend situation. We make many acquaintances who occupy our time while we are in a location, who we share time with and experience life with…but only a few stay with us. Be it a small tribe, a true friend, or a summer friend…they stay with us. We “make new friends, but keep the old”…but we only keep the true friends. The ones we allow into our hearts. It isn’t unique to the military spouse, but it is unique to all of us that have Wanderlust…it’s wonderfully painful, but most of real life is.