Emotional investment in military friendships

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Emotional investment in military friendships

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

C.S. Lewis once famously wrote, “Friendship . . . is born at the moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .’” When we develop friendships, we often gravitate to those who are much like us. However, sometimes friendships bloom out of necessity and experiences. Military friendships pull from all of these areas, proving unique and sometimes challenging. With the ever-changing nomadic nature of this lifestyle, it is important to figure out how much to invest emotionally into these relationships.

What makes military friendships unique? Moving every few years, going through deployments and TDYs, and learning all the ins and outs of the military is something not everyone goes through. It can be hard for friends on the outside to relate to the challenges this life presents. Military friends have gone through similar situations and some may end up going through it at the same time as you, making it easier to have a sounding board. In many instances, these relationships can become lasting familial bonds.

How much investment to put in? Time is often a luxury we just don’t have. Because of the short amount of time in each location, it can be hard to jump in, especially if you’re an introvert. Over many years, I’ve learned it’s often best to go all-in from the beginning. As a self-proclaimed introvert with extroverted tendencies, this approach goes outside of my comfort zone. But I also realize I may need to find a “person” sooner rather than later and whoever my “person” is, they may need one just as much and just as quickly.

When you reach out to others, you’ll find an incredibly diverse and amazing cast of characters. They may be older or younger, a service member, a spouse, a civilian employee or a local national who can show you the ropes in the area. The beautiful thing about fostering these friendships is the unique perspectives and ties that bind.

Try not to take it personally. One of the adages my parents taught me from a young age was, “Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay.” Not everyone may like you or choose to reciprocate when it comes to being a friend, and it can sting. Some people choose not to invest emotionally as a defense mechanism. Knowing there will be an inevitable departure can make it seem as though it’s not worth the effort or heartache. Just know it may not be personal. There may also be times when you find a group, but it just doesn’t quite fit. I’ve had numerous assignments where it was hard to find my friend footing. I try to remember it’s only temporary and reach out to the ones I’ve made.

When enough is enough. While military friendships may be rock solid and awesome, there are times when you discover a toxic bond. With the ebb and flow of moving and forming these relationships, drama can take root. I had an experience early on when a friend demanded more than I could give, both emotionally and physically. As much as I wanted it to work out, I realized enough was enough. For my own well-being, I couldn’t invest in this person anymore and I had to walk away. It’s okay to acknowledge friendships sometimes have an expiration date and to move along when it becomes more harmful than helpful.

Friendships in military life run deep. They draw upon a complicated set of circumstances, which ultimately bond us together. Jumping in headfirst and navigating through the process can feel daunting. But when you choose to emotionally invest, it can make all the difference.

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