Formal Community : Military Life

Promotional graphic for Episode 17 of the Friendship IRL Podcast - "Formal Communities: Military Life" with Laura Van Hook

Podcast Description

I am not from a military family. So to me, deployment sounds terrifying.

Think about it: you’re moving to where you don’t know anyone. If you’re part of a couple, one person is going to be alone a LOT. 

But that wasn’t the experience for my friend Laura, who in this episode describes what it was like moving to Spain with a toddler and baby for her husband’s deployment in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Upon her arrival, Laura was immediately enveloped in a warm welcome and greeted by a list of contacts and invitations to numerous events, get-togethers, and clubs. Throughout her husband’s many deployments, she learned this was the normal welcome for military families.

The military is essentially a formal community. Participation in formal communities has dwindled over the years, but I think there’s major appeal to them. When you join these groups, you’re not only eased into meeting other people, but you also take on a sense of belonging to the group. I think it breaks down a lot of western beliefs about support systems.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Individuals getting over social barriers vs. people in the community taking on the responsibility to reach out
  • What constitutes a formal community – rules, structure, organization – and the importance of a common bond within them
  • Downsides of expecting reciprocity in friendship, and instead, thinking of what we do for each other as nourishment
  • Going into new friendships curious instead of via structured paths, and how to get past hierarchy in formal communities
  • The disappointment that will come from expecting one friend to be your EVERYTHING when you’re a grown-up
  • How scarcity can create more awareness of the importance of time well-spent

Reflection Question:

Did you have any previous beliefs about formal communities? What were they, and how did you come about them?

Notable Quotes from Laura:

“Who do you gel well with? Who brings the best out of you? If you’re in a good place, and your energy’s good, sometimes you’re gonna bring in the right people for you. And when you’re not in that place  – where we’ve all been – you notice that sometimes complicated friends enter the boggle, and that’s hard to deal with sometimes.”

“She said it’s quality, not quantity. Your whole life is like that. So the time you have is quality. It doesn’t have to be quantity. You can have a Dad that’s not there all the time, and have a better relationship with a Dad that was there three months out of the year, but who really put the time into that relationship – even with letters and phone calls throughout the year – than somebody barely there.”

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Formal Community : Military Life

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Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro   00:18

Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too. 

Alex Alexander  00:50

I’m not from a military family, I did not grow up with a lot of family friends in the military or anything like that. So hearing from you about the community is so fascinating to me. I think this is going to be so enlightening for so many people.

Laura  01:13

I’m super excited. And I think it’s a good way to represent the community as well, because I think that sometimes it doesn’t kind of get talked about in a positive light. So…

Alex Alexander  01:22

How many deployments where you and your husband and your family on over his military career?

Laura  01:28

We did six month military deployments together as a couple, for those were with… when we had our children. And then for about six years, he flew* surveillance. And so that was like, a couple months out, and maybe a month in couple of months out. So in the early 2000s, after 91 1, he would be gone for cumulative like nine months a year. He’d be in and out. But it was about nine months a year. So, that was probably the hardest time. But I look back at it kind of fondly, because he would come in and out. So was a little bit, it was good for the kids to see him here and there instead of the six month span.

Alex Alexander  02:06

And when you did… I mean, gosh, wow. Okay, we didn’t even talk about that. When you did that, were you based… you and your kids based in the same location during that time? Or did you move around?

Laura  02:18

During that time, we moved. So one was in Spain for three years when he had that type of schedule. And then we were in Maine for three years. So it was like a six year span, but we didn’t move one at a time. But he would leave and obviously come back there.

Alex Alexander  02:33

Yeah, but it’s not like you moved back to where you were from where there was family, like you were still very much entrenched in the military community as your support system for nine months out of the year when he was gone.

Laura  02:44

Once in a while, we’d go home for like a month because the kids weren’t in school yet. So that made it very flexible to be able to go home for maybe a month. But we’d go back because I did want to keep some normalcy. And also, kind of like what we’re talking about is we had a group, we had a crew that were there. And so we had a schedule, we had a schedule for that.

Alex Alexander  03:02

Once you could trust the… honestly, like beautiful, rich community we’re going to talk about today, it did provide that support. But that’s a lot of months out of the year.

Laura  03:13

It is. There really is. When you’re in the middle of it, I think you’re so busy that you don’t really think about it as much. But looking back, yeah, it really was.

Alex Alexander  03:22

In doing this, I mean this, you know, a lot of deployments with that military family life for a long time, but when I first thought about this episode and talking to you, all I could imagine was how scary it would be for that first deployment or that first move. When, you know, likely, I guess it depends. Everybody’s different. Right? Some people are not deployed, as in the nine months. Like they’re not away from their family all the time. But no matter what, you’re moving somewhere you don’t really know anyone. You know this is going to have a big impact, especially if your parents. But no matter what you’re going to be alone if you’re just a couple, one person is gonna be alone a lot. And now you’re moving somewhere where you know nobody. Would be a really scary feeling. Instead, what you said is like you arrive, and you’re really kind of enveloped, like welcomed in immediately.

Laura  04:27

The earlier years were scarier with the unknown then as we kept having more moves and more years under our belt, when you start to know people… know people and you would kind of connect it still the unknown, but you would have a little bit more of a kind of a safety net going. But at the beginning, I think the scariest was I was about to have our first daughter and we were in Florida and we really didn’t think we were going to be going overseas or anything. And they gave us orders to Spain. I literally had two months to sell a house, car, boat and give birth and we left. And that was scary. That was scary because we were only in about six years at that time, five years it would be. And so we haven’t developed all those relationships yet really. And plus, an overseas thing is very different. It’s amazing, honestly, now that I’ve done it, but at the time, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure how it was going to be. That was probably the scariest one. And it ended up being an amazing experience. And 9 11 happened when we were there in Spain, which to be honest with you, it was a lot of growth, obviously, amazing to see the Spanish people will rally around us. We couldn’t leave the base at all for a long time. And actually, we couldn’t leave our home for 72 hours when it first happened. So I had a two year old and a small baby at that time.

Alex Alexander  05:57

That’s a lot. 

Laura  05:59

Yeah, it was a lot. It was a lot. But I look back at it and it was probably the most personal growth that I’ve ever had.

Alex Alexander  06:06

How long had you been in Spain when 9 11 happened? 

Laura  06:10

18 months. 

Alex Alexander  06:11

Okay, so you were there for a little bit?

PODCAST EPISODE! The Art of Making Friends. Listen here.

Laura  06:13

Yes, I have. In fact, one of my very best friends, she and I had just met maybe a few months before, and she and I were each other’s rocks through that whole thing. In fact, she and I talk every 9 11 and just kind of recall the whole thing together. It’s very scary, and both of our husbands left the very next day.

Alex Alexander  06:32

I mean, that’s gonna definitely force you to turn to your greater support system, a bigger web of people. I mean, something we’ve kind of talked about is that there’s a lot of structure when you arrive at a deployment, that, you know, everywhere kind of has the same rules, celebrations, milestone. And I think that’s really interesting, because it does create that familiarity, and it kind of honestly forces people together to meet each other and creates that consistency.

Laura  07:11

Yes, when you arrive, and actually sometimes before, they’ll usually send your spouse, like a little envelope, basically, with all these contact numbers and who to call. And then if you haven’t called when you get there, usually get a call greeting you. So, it kind of plays into all personalities. Like if you’re an introvert, and you’re just like, I’m not gonna reach out, somebody reaches out to you. And it’s not even forceful, like you have to. But usually the person will offer to pick you up or whatever to take you to a meeting or a gathering that is going on, so you can meet the other people there. And usually, everybody does partake, because you are all in a situation that is new and different, you don’t have your family near you, and you just really do crave that support system. Even if you’re not a person who really loves to have friends, I mean … you know, or that you don’t really want to necessarily be around, you don’t get your energy from people. So those people still kind of can be there. Maybe they’re there for an hour and they leave and nobody, you know, it’s like oh, my gosh, where did they go, or anything, or why aren’t they showing up to anything. My experience has been that it’s always been a very open, warm environment that typically doesn’t judge either way.

Alex Alexander [Narration]  08:29

Listening back to that, one thing stands out to me so clearly. And that is that the people that are already in the community that feel like they belong, have taken on the responsibility of trying to reach out. So, she said that when you show up for your deployment, you receive an envelope with contact numbers, but the people that are already there, reach out. And that stands out because I think so many people that are in a community, if somebody doesn’t take that first invite, our gut reaction is, well, they’re not interested, instead of thinking back to how overwhelming it is to show up to a group and not know how you fit into it yet, not feel like you belong. And we put that responsibility on the new person to really get over those barriers, versus what she’s saying here, which is the group taking responsibility. The people who already feel comfortable for trying a few times to invite people in. And I mean, you’re saying these meetings, so how often are the meetings happening?

Laura  09:44

So with deployments, they’re very active. It’s the squadron that’s a navy term, but then the Army, Air Force, Marines, they have their own. From my experiences, basically they meet about once a month officially, but there are so many social things that we have in between. We would have playgroups and you know, they would have wine nights, or book clubs or things that would maybe appeal to everybody. You might not do all of them, but you would participate in some. And that, for me was consistent through every duty station that we were at. But like I said, the deployments were very active. And then when there wasn’t a deployment going on, we would still actually have the official meeting once a month. But it wasn’t as like, you know, majorly attended as like the ones where deployment was happening. And those were really nice, because it is like official groups where there’s fundraising and charity work and lots of stuff that basically helps the military community, the families, people in need. You know, the outreach we did was always pretty charitable to our community. When we lived in Spain, we would go to orphanages, though, and we would paint or do work on… so, the goals when you’re overseas, from what I noticed, or where I partook in was that you would then try to get involved in the community that you were… that was hosting you. So, Spain was hosting us. So you would try to give back or be involved in their community somehow, which I again, thought that was great. Because then you were kind of like, a good guest.

Alex Alexander [Narration]  11:19

So just to clarify, what she’s saying is that you show up for the deployment, and that the squadron has about 300 people plus their families in it. So, it’s a pretty big group of people. But then within that, there’s these regular meetings. But there’s also a variety of activities, waste connect, different groups. So wine nights, book clubs, play groups. I’m sure there are like walking clubs, you know, there’s different groups that are still in that formal community vein, and aren’t even friends breaking off to hang out at somebody’s house on a Thursday night. There are so many structured ways to connect even within the bigger formal community. And I’m just pointing that out, because I have been involved in various formal communities where I’m part of the bigger formal community. And I maybe will go to the meetings, but I never go to these ancillary events. And because those are smaller, and centered around interests, they’re really great ways to make bonds with people over shared interests, versus just your connection to the formal community. But obviously, that actively involves making time and showing up and getting involved, perhaps volunteering to help organize those. I think a lot about… I call this formal community, it’s what I call it. It’s structured, there’s kind of like, rules. There’s organization, there’s price and sort of like leadership board. I mean, there’s tons of studies out there about how involvement in formal community has dwindled. 

Laura  13:10

Absolutely 100%.

Alex Alexander  13:12

It is very low nowadays. 

Laura  13:15

There was some good reason. You know, there’s some that it was probably too structured, or it wasn’t appropriate or not.

Alex Alexander  13:22

Yeah, but people are not like seeking it out. Now, this is obviously structured around somebody’s job. But whatever kind of formal community is, whether it’s club or political organizations, or religious groups, I mean, even peps groups or charitable organizations, like there’s so many.

Laura  13:44

Yeah. There’s a group for everything.

Alex Alexander  13:45

There’s a group for everything, like you can pick what you want. The interesting thing I think, is when you partake in these groups, not only do you meet other people, but you grow this sense of like, I belong here. You actually connect, I think, to the group, like the mission. You are familiar with how it works, right? When you went on a deployment and you showed up in a new base, you understood that there were going to be certain parties and certain milestones and certain people would be contacting you. Like you knew and even now probably that you’re not an active duty family. If you were on a base and somehow got invited, you would walk in and be like, I belong here. I feel comfortable here.

Laura  14:34

You do feel comfortable. I miss when I’m not near base. Believe it or not, I’m so used to shopping there. I understand how it’s set up. And like when I’ve lived… like right now I live in Dallas and the base is an hour away. And sometimes I want to just drive over there and go and just hang out. There’s a comfort level there that is… can’t shake it. We were in 29… almost 29 years. So it’s who I am, my children will say the same thing. They feel comfortable when they’re on a base because it’s part of their formative years. Well, it is their formative years. So it’s what they understand. It’s like a hometown that was in different places.

Alex Alexander  15:17

Yeah. And there’s all these things. And you know, I didn’t grow up in any of this. I think I’ve been on a military base, like, twice in my life. If I showed up and went on base, right, I would feel like an outsider. And that’s fine. Right? If I became involved somehow, like, then, sure I would belong too. I would figure it out. But the beginning part, you feel uncomfortable, you kind of have to figure it out. But after a while, I think you just like attach to these formal communities, whether you’re active in them at the moment or not, you go back. And there’s just this like sense of familiarity. Now, the military obviously touches every part of life. A simpler example is if like, I’m a member of a Toastmasters club where I go and practice my public speaking, I could go to a meeting anywhere in the world at any point. And even though I don’t know the people and clubs are run slightly different, because it’s structured, I’d walk in and be like, okay, I can figure this out. It just like removes one piece of trying to feel like you belong somewhere, or connects to…

Laura  16:30

The fear of the unknown of what’s going to happen next. 

Alex Alexander  16:33

Yeah. Yeah, there’s like some familiarity there that makes it easier to connect with the actual people around you, because you trust how the structures working,

Laura  16:44

When you have a common bond, and that is something that was always struck me as very… I grew up in the same hometown my whole life. You know, didn’t leave. So when I did leave, I think the one thing that was so awesome to me, and I noticed it through every time we moved was how you can get a group of people, different race, religion, sexuality even and get them into or even the way they grew up, city, urban, rural, you know, whatever, single mom raising them, you know, anybody.

Alex Alexander  17:17

Have kids, no kids.

Laura  17:18

Kids, no kids, you know, who like dogs, who… you know, whatever. And you can be in this room, and everybody really finds somewhere in that room to feel comfortable. And everybody intrigued by the people who are not like them, and learning, just… which I loved. I loved hearing about somebody from a different religion or… and there were people that were, you know, immigrants that, you know, came over there and talk to you about the country or whatever. And I just… what I’ve come from that is that my children and myself got exposed to so many different people that it was really cool. But our common bond was fear for spouse’s safety, when they’re deployed, relying on each other for children’s birthday parties, our own birthdays, holidays, there’s somebody sick, we would rally. You know, having babies, you know, whatever. Going out of town if the dog needs. I mean just so many things, we have a pickup and it was the heater went out on their house. And I can think of so many examples where people came through for me. My husband’s gone a lot. And it’s a pay it forward life. I really felt comfortable asking, but we were always very, very good about making sure we were available to people who needed it. Even when… when my husband is home and somebody was gone, he really jumped in because he knew how many people stepped in for us.

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Alex Alexander  18:42

Yeah. I’m mean over here, because I have this… so fun fact, for everybody. Laura is one of the very few people that have read my book. And by the way, the version that is now with the editor is so different than what you’ve seen, in a good way.

Laura  18:59

Oh, no, I’m sure, sure. And it’s fantastic. What you… and I’m so excited. So excited.

Alex Alexander  19:05

Thank you. But what I was thinking of is like, this is such a great example of… so I don’t even know if this was in the book when you read it, but I have this issue with the idea of reciprocity. 

Laura  19:16

It is in that. Yes.

Alex Alexander  19:18

Everybody talks in friendship books and whatever about like, reciprocity and sometimes it feels like tit for tat.

Laura  19:26

I know it is in there because I did not know that word until I read it in your book, so keep going.

Alex Alexander  19:30

Okay. There we go. Okay. So it’s like, a lot of what friendship talks about because we’re so focused on like, one… my friendship with you and reciprocity between us. It’s like, you know, if I call you, you should call me back and forth, yada, yada. And I have pressed on like, well, maybe I’m the person that calls and maybe you’re the person that runs an errand for me, and we need to start seeing that as equal, but honestly, even that I don’t really love. So, I’ve kind of started to think of this idea of nourishment is what I have come with. And basically just like, we can all offer certain things, we have certain skill sets, interests, passions, things that come naturally, and really just focusing on offering that up freely. And just like trusting that what we need will come back to us, from the people around us. And that if I, quote, unquote, “nourish” you by cooking, and you nourish my friend, Danielle, by running an errand for her that, you know, that might go into a web and at some point, I will get what I need back when I need it. So the way you’re talking about this, I’m like, this is what that is.

Laura  20:50

It’s the first thing I thought of, that’s what made me think about your book. I immediately started thinking about my military community. And that is exactly the reciprocity because it’s all about not worrying about equal reciprocation, from the friend or some people, you can ask somebody and they’re not even really your, say, friend, your lunch friend or dinner friend, you just happen to see them at meetings, but you know, that they have this contact or, you know, whatever something going on. You are absolutely right. And I never worried about asking, and not being able to reciprocate right away. It could be just paying it forward to somebody else. It’s just like, we just do this. And I don’t think about that at the time.

Alex Alexander  21:30

Yeah, like you kind of just put the ask out there because you trust that someone who feels that they have the capacity and can do that will do it. And when an all call is put out, and you have the capacity, and that’s your skill set, you’ll step in. Whether they’re your best friend, or you’ve never met them before. Like you just trust, I also think there’s this, like, it may never be equal. Some people truly might just need more for one reason or another than somebody else. They’re more depressed, or they have a bunch of kids and their spouse was deployed or…

Laura  22:11

Yes, they have a crazy dog that keeps eating everything. 

Alex Alexander  22:13

Yeah, like whatever life circumstances thrown out them. Some people might just need a little more. And if collectively as the group, everybody can do what they can, then it doesn’t fall on one.

Laura  22:28

I have a great story. And it’s one of my favorites. So I hope this person will end up listening on it because she’s… So in my little group of friends, I have this group of friends that we did so much together in Maine. And there’s four of us. And we met all the time and our spouses were gone almost at the same time every time. We would meet every night for dinner pretty much at this little place where the kids could get food and they could play indoors because it is Maine and it was cold, get the kids energy out. Well, one of our friends, you know, we also kind of shared the same preschool and we would help… you know, all this. And one of the friends was having major back issues like a herniated disk. And she got to the point where she could barely function. And she called me one morning and said, can you please pick her daughter up at the time for preschool? And then our other children went to elementary school together, can you please do this one? I really can’t move. But I’ll be okay. I just… and she’s a really strong woman and would never really like, rarely asked for help. She just didn’t. And so I ran over, I helped her. I called our other two friends right away and said, you know, she is… I explained the situation. They’re like, “Oh, my gosh, we have to help her. And we need to get her to the hospital, we need to get her into get looked at.” And we needed to just take this because I knew she wasn’t going to… she was resisting going in. So we made a deal that we were just going to basically force her to… one of us would take her to hospital, which was me. And then the rest would pick up the kids. We’ve picked up the pieces, the three of us. And it turned out to be the most important thing because she really, really was pretty bad. And then we actually got her husband home, you know, from overseas, because she had a surgery. Long story short, it still to this day is one of my favorite stories about a collaborative effort that we didn’t listen to her when she just didn’t want… she just felt like it was way too much for us to do all those things. And you do feel responsible for your children because your spouse is gone, she wouldn’t want that. And I look back at it. And she was just so grateful. Her husband was so grateful. And it was nothing, you know? Because you’ve come together and we all took what we knew we could do.

Alex Alexander  24:37

Yeah, everybody chipped in a little bit. 

Laura  24:39

Yeah, unfortunately… you guys… you know, and then we all kind of just did that. So anyways, that was years ago. I mean, gosh, probably 15… a long time ago.

Alex Alexander  24:49

So sometimes when people ask for or don’t want to ask for help. I do think people sometimes are thinking of a time when they were asked for help. Because somebody was so desperate that they asked like that one person, and then they didn’t want to ask anybody else. So then that one person is responsible for all of it. 

Laura  25:15

Yeah, right.

Alex Alexander  25:16

Versus just kind of putting out the call and letting people…

Laura  25:20

… just delegate, you’re like, okay.

Alex Alexander  25:22

Chip in. 

Laura  25:23

Yeah. Because one person still would be difficult to do all of it, but also stick with her, be by her side in a scary situation in the hospital, which… so that’s an example of just also being that person that has to read the mind and see what’s best for your friend, even when they can’t make a good decision for themselves. Because they’re so strong, you know, and you don’t want to be vulnerable.

Alex Alexander  25:46

Yeah, you’re worried about, like, I’m sure, if you were all alone, because your spouses were deployed. She’s like, they already have so much…

Laura  25:56


Alex Alexander  25:57

… going on. But when you all just took small little pieces, it was, you know, just like this little thing you had to do to get done.

Laura  26:06

And I’ve always… what has happened to me, I was so hopeless that somebody will be able to read between the lines with me too, because I’m just as… you know, it would be hard for me to go down as well. So I guess I was trying to stay strong. Well, but that’s not really just… stubborn. I don’t know, just… you just feel like you’re in charge of everything. It’s hard. Because you are actually.

Alex Alexander  26:27

Yeah, I can’t even imagine. Like literally the only thing that makes that better in my mind is the fact that you do have other people who are in it with you who understand. And everybody can chip in and whatever ways they can.

Laura  26:40

Yes, yeah. And we did and lifelong friends.

Alex Alexander  26:44

These groups and the structure. You have got all this, like, big group, everybody’s invited to those things, which by the way, I think is really, for people that are out there trying to create some sort of bigger friend, group or community that just like blanket invite is so important and letting people opt in and opt out.

Laura  27:04

Yes, if you can, great. But if you don’t want to, it’s okay. That type of invite, which is always good to invite and, you know, if they can’t do it, there’s no personal you know, her feelings.

Alex Alexander  27:17

No, but I think so often people and sometimes people forget, but when it’s not like a formal community where there’s a list of people that are like members, if you were just trying to do this in everyday life, if somebody said no, a couple times, they just drop them off the invite list. It’s like, if you enjoy them, just keep sending the invite, they might opt in at some point.

Laura  27:40

Right. We all go through those times in our lives where I feel like there’s times where I’m like, oh, my gosh, I’m having to say no, again. It seems like it always like hits on the day, run busy again. I feel like they’re gonna quit inviting me because I can’t make it. Yeah, it’s definitely one of the things you just keep doing it. Oh, well, you know, they can’t come they won’t. I mean, they will. But if they can’t, they can’t. So…

Alex Alexander  27:58

Yeah, just like, keep the door open. But then obviously, you’re building individual… I mean, you’ve already talked about this individual group of friends. Was it hard to be on base and then like, develop individual friendships? Did you ever feel animosity? Or, like, was it hard to balance kind of the bigger formal community and people?

Laura  28:18

Sometimes so there’s definitely, and I did want to discuss this because the one thing that was always a challenge, but I was like in a different type of situation, because my husband actually was enlisted and an officer, there is that divide, that happens sometimes, the group there is the actual all spouses group. That is for everybody, you know, and then sometimes they have the enlisted spouses group, and then the officer spouses group. I was never a fan of… even though I did partake in both when we were each one. I was definitely more a fan of the all, because I thought it was very important for everybody, because we all have a common bond, we don’t wear our husband’s rank. Right? And that was always a big issue. Sometimes was, you’re your own person, we’re here for support, because they’re physically not here, or we’ve moved or whatever. And so, there was issues at times where people felt maybe left out or that they thought they were better or they’re not, you know, this whole thing. But it’s through the years I do feel that it definitely got better. And I guess the stereotypes would get watered down because they did meet everybody and they’re like, oh, wow. We’re all the same. 

Alex Alexander  29:36

Yeah, once you let the labels go, you realized we’re all just here in the same situation. 

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Laura  29:41

Right. And a good leader which was usually always the commanding officer’s wife or spouse one time… a man starts a group and says… we are not the active duty service, we are the spouse. So we do not segregate or whatever each other from groups or titles. Sometimes it didn’t happen. So, sometimes things had to be kind of worked out on its own. But for the most part, and I was kind of friends with everybody, you know, when we were enlisted in some of the lower ranks, I had friends that were officers’ spouses, and I didn’t think of it that way and they didn’t either, which made me respect them more, because it wasn’t, I wasn’t as good or, you know, whatever during that time. So, yeah. It says a lot about the person. Because there are people, of course. You get that many people in the group, you’ve got people who give it a bad name, but the majority of people are good.

Alex Alexander  30:34

I’m sure even people who aren’t in the military, like I can relate to that, in the sense of my husband’s job. That’s like Michael’s job. You know, when you’re meeting work people, and I mean, I’m not anywhere near thrown into the same structure and whatnot for his company. But he does get a lot of questions, because he’s very much friends with a variety of people in the company, of like, how he manages to do that when he’s certain people’s boss, or many levels different than others.

Laura  31:12

It represents somebody else, right? And it does help if your spouse is like that way. So like, my husband did have the utmost respect for every rank in the military all the time. And part of his personality, but part of it is he started from the bottom, and he worked up. And so, he experienced feeling like the underdog. And then when he was in a seniority type of role, he was well respected, because he would be really good friends with maybe somebody away under him, because they had cars… or, you know, like, they like to fix up Mustang. So they… you know what I mean? And he never worried about that. And so his attitude… was not my attitude, but influence the way I saw it, as well. So, I think it does start that way too.

Alex Alexander  32:03

Yeah, I mean, I think a big piece of that is trying to be intentional about finding those other shared interests. Like if you’re having such a hard time, separating yourself from the rink, piece of it, the hierarchy piece, like don’t even go there. 

Laura  32:21

Yeah, exactly. 

Alex Alexander  32:22

Instead of, you know, meeting somebody and asking them, who their spouse is to try and figure out their rank, like, go a completely different direction and ask if they have kids, where else they were stationed, what they like to do with their free time, literally anything else, and try and find a bond to that way first.

Laura  32:44

As I grew up, and I guess I grew up in that… I gravitated more to the people that that’s exactly who they were and what they were. I had a very, very good friend who… she was commander in military. And we had children in common. And she and I just, I didn’t even realize who her husband was, until I mentioned to my husband, who my friend was, and he was like, oh, you know, and told me about, what about with my favorite part about that story is that I didn’t know because of her. And that’s why we’re still friends today, you know, because that is not what we base our friendship on. And s, we have very similar personalities. And we’ve been able to help each other and reciprocate in a lot of ways. A couple of moves she made was back to somewhere where we… he was going to be the commander of her base, somewhere where we had just come from that I loved. And so, I was able to help her with that we visited and, you know, but again, I gravitated towards people who didn’t take themselves that seriously, I guess. Just… it goes back into the friendship and chemistry that I feel so strongly about. And I know we’ve talked about before, it’s just that kind of like meeting your love interest. It’s the same thing with friendships like who do you gel well with? Who brings the best out you? So if you’re in a good place, and your energy is good, sometimes you’re gonna bring in the right people for you. And when you’re not in that place where we’ve all been, you notice that sometimes complicated friends enter the boggle that’s hard to deal with sometimes. So…

Alex Alexander  34:21

That just made me think about like, going into a curious way or meeting people. You know, if you’re going in like so structured on like, yes, you all are on this base, you all are military families. And that is the only thing you talk about. It is sure to become illuminated, I guess, that there are different hierarchies. Like at some point some thing is gonna make you realize like, your friend’s spouse has more responsibility or you have more experience, whatever it is. But if you go into it more, trying to find out about these other areas of life, I think it’s easier to find those people you have those natural feeling connections with.

Laura  35:07

Oh, absolutely, yes. And that comes with time and growth, just like in anything. You know, as we get older, we get wiser we learn. It’s trial and error. And then you go back and figure it, sometimes you have to figure it out again and again. And those are the ones you keep in your pocket. And kind of like everybody has been another sneak peek in your book really is like, I love, you know, when you’re talking about everybody has kind of a role in your life. And you don’t need that one BFF, best, best, best best friend, that one person. That’s all hard. And I think you’ve kind of really discussed that as, that would be a hard job to take on. If you’re somebody’s everything, you’re gonna disappoint the person. So having that expectation of other people. And what I’ve learned with this is that you know who to call, if you’re a rack about something, you know who to call, if you want to have lunch and shopping. You know, just complain for a while and you know, you know who you can call. And they’re all like lots of times different people.

Alex Alexander  36:03

I was actually writing about that, like one best friend concept the other day. And I was thinking about how, you know, the time in our life, where that really comes out for most people, is when we’re in like that high school, college time. And our viewpoint of the world is very narrow, what we understand of the world, our responsibilities are also very narrow, like our influence on our own lives, there isn’t a lot, especially in high school. You have some, but in the end, a lot of final decisions are your parent’s. I think it’s a lot easier to have that one all consuming friend. And the older we get, it really does seem impossible to think that somebody can hold all the parts of us, as we change so many times, as we have to start filling so many roles for so many people. It’s just too much.


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Laura  37:03

And that’s where the disappointment comes in, when somebody will say she was my most loyal friend, and she was everything. And then this happened. And it might have been her weakness, you know that she was…

Alex Alexander  37:14

Yeah, like the number of circumstances she had to be loyal to you about were so much fewer than eight years later in your life. 

Laura  37:25

Yeah. Too much.

Alex Alexander  37:26

Like this was a whole different entity. You know, she also has all these other circumstances. So now you’ve mixed all these things together. And that’s a lot of pressure.

Laura  37:37

Absolutely. And so I definitely think that that’s in meeting so many different people, I say, I’ve met 1000s of acquaintances. But I still come out with like this, you know, just a few, your go tos, but I have love all the people I’ve met and I would… you know, for example, I and this is another way that military community is so amazing when she meets somebody and is that you feel like you can call somebody 12 years later after not talking to them at all. And this just happened to me, a good friend of mine, that we were stationed in California and our kids were the same age. out boys would do running groups together and play, whatever. And she was moving to Dallas. And so just messaged me and said, “Hey, haven’t heard from…” I was… I was thrilled to talk to her. She and I picked up just where we left off. And unlike the school system’s good, you know, I was able to give her, she felt completely comfortable giving me a call and not feeling like I hadn’t talked from 12 years. Is she gonna be like, “Where have you been?” Or… you know what I mean? And we had lunch. And it’s like, I just thought that’s, again, as you go, you just find people who are stationed somewhere, and they can help you get set up. So…

Alex Alexander  38:48

The constant movement of the military, I would say, from what it seems, well, like potentially very scary in the beginning, just like really teaches you… I want to say it kind of like breaks down a lot of the like western beliefs about support systems. Like you can only rely on these few people.

Laura  39:08

Or your family.

Alex Alexander  39:09

Your family don’t let anybody in. They’re the only people that will ever truly be there for you. Like I talk a lot about how… well, I don’t talk a lot about it, but part of the reason I think I’ve built what I have built is out of kind of like desperation because I don’t have any other option. And that sounds kind of like what it is. Like you’re moving somewhere. You cannot do this all on your own. Especially when your spouse is gone and out of a little bit of desperation, you have to learn to just like trust the greater group and the people you’ve just met.

Laura  39:47

Yeah, I mean, Thanksgiving, Christmases, especially overseas. I mean, we all just pitched in, especially if our spouses were gone, and sometimes we’d all just get together and do, you know, the kids’ birthdays, we make everything special. We were like the new family. And sometimes, you know, when you think about it, you know, when you… you don’t pick your family. And sometimes that works out okay. Sometimes it… you wouldn’t pick them as your friend, you know, family members at all. And so with friendships, you do. You get to nurture friendships that are good for you. And you know, and then you get to kind of set the boundaries with friendships that aren’t good for you, or good for your family. And it’s easier. But it is definitely… they’re my family, you know? Like, I have a friend and her daughter’s gonna get married in a few months, and we’ll go. That’s our family. I watched her grow up. She was best friends with my girls. And you know, that type of thing. And there’s so many examples of how this comes full circle, and you’re there for each other, even if you don’t talk while you’re long. And you know, you’re just I don’t know, it’s just so great, or somebody’s hurting, and it feels just as painful for you as them because you love them so much and you do care about their well being.

Alex Alexander  41:11

An episode that I recorded that will air before this one, I talked a little about chosen family with a friend of mine who is part of my chosen family. And we were talking about like, what that is, a back and forth, and we kind of set it on, like it’s just this trust, that you have each other’s best intentions that you want to hear from each other, that you want to connect. Like, even when life is busy, it’s not out of malice that you aren’t reaching out. You know, that you can let each other in and you’ll just trust, they’ll accept you. As you’re talking about all this, I was thinking like, I have built what I’ve built because I truly have done some sort of like, blind trust fall. Because I didn’t have any other option. And that’s kind of what this sounds like is you just get there. And you have to trust that in some small way, people have the best intentions, care about you as a human. 

Laura  42:10

Yes, and I was thinking too, truly be excited for them about accomplishments. I think about like, say, their husband gets a promotion, or they get a move that they want. Or they’re, you know, my one friend’s son went into the Navy, he was ROTC, and I felt just as much as excitement. Maybe not as hurt, but you know what I mean? Like that was pride. But that’s true friendship. But it’s also there’s no jealousy. The thing is, there is obviously, but yeah.

Alex Alexander  42:41

There is jealousy. And I think jealousy is like, what are your actions after. To me, jealousy just says like you, right, if they got that deployment to a new base, and you’re jealous, all that is is information of like, I would like to go there, that sounds like a nice base. 

Laura  42:56

But I’m so excited for them. 

Alex Alexander  42:57

But I’m so excited for them and like how you act about it is what matters.

Laura  43:02

But I think that what I have felt… like I love that my kids can see this example. They don’t realize it as they grew up in it. But true appreciation for other people’s successes and true concern for the things that are going bad in our life. It’s not fake, it’s not what I think I have to do, especially when it’s not family. The expectation isn’t necessarily there. It’s something that you have grown, it takes time and you establish this foundation where you truly are happy or sad with them, you know, when, you know, and I just love that… that I have that proof in my life.

Alex Alexander  43:42

I was also thinking when you were talking earlier about letting people in and people being there for certain parts of your life. And I was thinking, I think a lot of people will hear that and kind of think, you know, I just need to find those few people. The military hearing you talk about this and holidays and people being invited and people of different… friendship to me is like windows into different ways to live. And you saw so many different ways to live. And that sometimes you can set boundaries. Like you may not really connect with someone, but they are still valuable because they show you that there’s a different way to live. There’s nothing wrong with that. Like that’s their choice. You’re not going to choose it. It’s just information, but like that is valuable, and worth having some simple connection to someone even if it never develops into anything bigger. 

Laura  44:36

Yes, absolutely. Like I had a Mormon friend and I had never… from where I grew up, I had never had that to be honest with you. And I was fascinated actually because it was a different way of doing things. And it’s kind of like I’ve always thought stay in your lane, respect each other’s differences and just learn. Doesn’t mean you’re adept at and, you know, I still do things on Sundays, whatever. But I was fascinated that there were different things going on or, you know, different ways of doing things or different ethnic backgrounds.

Alex Alexander  45:08

Different traditions, different ways to celebrate.

Laura  45:10

Well, I’ll tell you, you know, with the Filipino tradition, the first birthday, I don’t think I’ve ever been to such an amazing first birthday party. Right? Or… or that, you know, like, things that we didn’t practice, but was fascinating that other people do. 

Alex Alexander  45:26

Yeah. And you were happy they got to have that celebration that was meaningful for them. It was really great to see and stand there and be like, I’m so happy they can have this milestone that matters. 

Laura  45:37

I know. Yeah. 

Alex Alexander  45:38

And it’s beautiful. Thank you for having me.

Laura  45:41

Well, because it was… 

Alex Alexander  45:43

Yeah, yeah.

Laura  45:44

And it is. It’s really cool. And so those are those types of things that are just invaluable. And like I said, invaluable for my children to not live in a box. You know, to be able to see all that. I was thinking another thing that I wanted to even say was that how hard it is to… you know, my kids, three children, and trying to always make sure you’re making the right “decisions”, quote, unquote, for them in a life that is unconventional in a way, but it’s conventional for us. And that is exactly why it was always so good for them to be surrounded by other military children, because they didn’t feel odd. Or their dad was, you know, never there. And I was always the one taking them everywhere. They never, I don’t think so, felt odd. They had other kids that were always going through the same thing. Or if we didn’t live in a community that was like that, they knew that that was kind of our normal with other people. It just was different. And that always made me feel so good. And they really take a lot of pride in that. Especially my girls who really did grow up moving a lot in the beginning. They’re very proud of that time, you know, where they’re like, “Oh, we were here. And then we were there.” And you know, different things that they… people that they met. That’s another bond that they don’t have to talk to some of their friends for a long time. And then they could reconnect, tell stories about this or that. And so that’s a neat thing. So the military children, relationships are strong as well I feel like.

Alex Alexander  47:18

I mean, that’s quite the shared experience. Even if you’ve never met somebody else, I’m sure who was a military child… of your children met somebody, like, an instant understanding of what…

Laura  47:28

Yeah, they have… and they’re like, “You remember this?” or “Were you here?” I don’t know. It’s very…

Alex Alexander  47:32

Yeah. The right questions to ask.

Laura  47:34

It kind of, like you said, sense of belonging that immediately a conversation like that, they immediately bonded. You know, they bind even if they never met each other, or they went to college, and they met somebody that wasn’t a military kid. And so, they immediately have a bond.

Alex Alexander  47:50

Like, that’s the shared experience. I think that’s also part of that, like, you know, formal community piece of the structure and the way of life and the circumstances that come with it is so broad, and like, overbearing in a military family’s life. It touches literally everything, I’m sure. So that is such a deep connector for anybody you meet immediately. , absolutely.

Laura  48:18

Oh, absolutely it is. And also a lot of people go into the military, whether they’re the spouse of the active duty member, and they don’t have the best family or they were really seeking somewhere to call home and that’s why they join. So that’s another interesting piece of this is meeting people who either themselves or their spouse, or both of them, really were looking for a community that they could feel comfortable and be embraced. And because they didn’t have that growing up, and I’ve heard lots of stories of that, and I… I love that. I love that they found somewhere where they found common bonds and interests and so, it’s cool. 

Alex Alexander  48:59

Well, yeah. And I mean, how beautiful that that exists out there for people that need it beyond our military members being of service to this country like that, in and of itself, but all the added pieces, all the added value that families and people are getting out of their time in the military. 

Laura  49:19

My mom and I are very close and she loved coming. And I was meeting all of my people and she would… you know like it was fun because I could mention any of my adventures. “Oh, yeah. How do they do?” You know, and she would know who their kids are. You know, and so that was also a fun part of kind of bringing my own family into that.

Alex Alexander  49:40

I’m sure that even though you’re not an active duty family anymore, that this has infiltrated your life, still is, so many of the ways your family operates and understands the world still probably is affected by this, the people you’re connected to, it doesn’t just end ever. You always have that.

Laura  50:04

And we miss it. You know, that’s the funny thing. And I enjoyed it when we were in the middle of it. And I knew that even when it was hard when we moved, that I would establish, you know, new friendships or people and, and when we retired, it is an interesting feeling of like, my one friend and I talk about all the time, we… our little son starts turning two and a half years, like we should be moving soon. Like, why don’t… you know, like, at the three year mark, as you moved every couple years, so you start getting the itch.

Alex Alexander  50:34

I mean, familiarity and the unfamiliarity, like talking about that, and the uncomfortable. 

Laura  50:39

Oh, yeah. And then you kind of get used to it. 

Alex Alexander  50:40

Yeah, you’re a little too comfortable. And you’re like, wait, I’m ready to go now. Let’s try something new.

Laura  50:44

We ended up in Florida for three tours, 11 years. And that was the first time that I was like, we were able to set some roots down. So, I think that that was why it was hard when we did leave, because I did then… I was happy that we put some roots down because then my kids could have some stable situation.

Alex Alexander  51:06

I mean, not even just a different situation than what they had before. Because I think there’s, I’m not there, right, but it sounds like there was some stability and like the traditions and the routines every time you moved. There was familiarity in so many pieces of it.

Laura  51:25

Mm hmm. And I started adopting the phrase like, because my husband would worry sometimes like, gosh, the girls were little, he was really in and out a lot. And he’d be like, this isn’t good. And I’d say it’s quality. Well, somebody said it to me one time, and I just never let it go. You know, it’s like, I’ve had so many mentors in my life, and that I kind of became a mentor, it was just that whole thing. But she said it’s quality, not quantity. Your whole life is like that. So the time you have this quality, but it doesn’t have to be the quantity. You know, it’s… you can have a dad that’s not there all the time, have a better relationship with a dad that was there three months out of the year, but really put the time into that relationship, even with letters and phone calls throughout the year, then somebody that’s, you know, barely there. So…

Alex Alexander  52:15

I mean, I think that so many people try and control it with the time piece. And when you lose control the time piece, you’re so intentional with what you do have. Like scarcity, almost I think creates a little more awareness of how important this is and how you’re spending that time. 

Laura  52:33

Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah. 

Alex Alexander  52:34

But so many people are grappling for, like so much time all the time. And then in doing that, kind of like losing sight of what they are doing in the time they have.

Laura  52:44

Right. Because you’re so worried about the time.

Alex Alexander  52:47

You’re so worried about the time you’re not worrying about like what you’re doing in the present, right now.

Laura  52:51

Yeah, you definitely are better. I’ll save it from having my husband that deployed all the time. And then now I have him all the time. When he was gone a lot, I felt like it was more cognizant of making the most out of time. You know, now sometimes I’m like, feel guilty if I don’t just enjoy the time. That’s ridiculous, because I know, but it is, that is something that you deal with after retirement is just trying to, like, you have to pack so much in and actually, you know, you never know when they’re gonna leave.

Alex Alexander  53:20

Yeah, I mean, it’s a totally different way of living. And when you don’t have this two and a half year marker where you’re about to get a new assignment like, time can pass really quickly. And suddenly you’re like, wait, it’s been six years.

Laura  53:31

Right. And you have choices where you didn’t… which is all on other things. So, yeah. Mm hmm.

Alex Alexander  53:35

Yeah. Laura, I think that this has been, I mean, I think this is so fascinating. And I think so many people are gonna have a really cool view.

Laura  53:44

I’m glad because I’ve always wanted to do that. Yeah.

Alex Alexander  53:47

This is a formal community that so many people in this country are partaking in that. Maybe not everyone understands what it’s like on the day-to-day and the kind of bonds you’re building.

Laura  53:59

Yes. And not to be fearful if they end up in a situation where they’re married to somebody’s and/or their child is going at, you know, it is… I think it’s good to hear that there’s a… it’s not all bad, or you know, just different. I will say it’s different. 

Alex Alexander  54:14

Yeah, yeah. I hadn’t even thought about that necessarily. But like your kids, yeah, if you have a kid that’s going into active service, and you have this anxiety about being away from them, like hearing this might be so beautiful to realize they’re going to be able to grow this like broader support system that is great for your kid. But also, as you were saying, like your mom loved hearing like it all trickles back if you let it.

Laura  54:38

It does. Exactly. If you let it, I like that.

Alex Alexander  54:42

Thank you again. I so appreciate you being here.

Laura  54:45

Oh my gosh, this was a pleasure. Thank you.

Alex Alexander  54:49

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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