Every summer, a fresh crop of newly PCS’ed military spouses emerge from housing like swarming termites in search of pulp. They follow other spouses to school, approach them in the commissary and ring their doorbells, threatening to infiltrate their established social circles. Some see them as a threat, having forgotten that every spouse was once the new kid on the block.
Truth be told, I was a pestering new spouse many times over my 23 years as a Navy wife. After each move, I’d slowly transform from a strong, confident, responsible adult into a pathetic, insecure middle schooler, desperate for friends. After the first few weeks of living in the base hotel while waiting for housing, the novelty of our suitcase existence would wear off and loneliness would set in. I’d find myself chatting with the front desk clerk and the commissary baggers to combat my growing solitude. Once moved into housing, my daily routine would involve shamelessly scanning the neighborhood for potential friends while walking the dog, taking the trash out and schlepping the kids to school. I’d make eye contact with those who looked approachable, and offer a friendly smile in an effort to initiate interaction.
But women seemed to avert their eyes when I glanced at them. Moms pushed their strollers a little quicker when they noticed I was behind them. As I walked by the shared stairwell patios, groups of chatting ladies got a little quieter.
Inevitably, extreme desperation would set in and I’d make rash choices. One summer after moving to Patch Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, I hastily joined the Thursday Morning Spouses Bowling League and paid for a full-year commitment, despite the fact that I’d never particularly enjoyed the sport.
I showed up on the first day to meet my team, Great Balls of Fire, thinking this would be casual and kitschy, and that I’d make some much-needed friends. But to these spouses, bowling was serious business, and I was soon intimidated.
When it was my turn, I nervously stepped onto the polished runway at the same time as a player from the opposing team, Lady Strikers. She glared at me, and I quickly realized my error and retreated to the scoring table. The irritated bowler restarted her approach, which involved her getting into a curious crouching position, then pouncing up to throw her ball just before the foul line. My team members told me that she’d been in the league for years, and this was her signature move.
When she was done, Crouching Tiger whispered to a woman at her table with a very high forehead, and they both looked in my direction. The Forehead got up and walked toward me. Intimidated by these kingpins of the military spouse community, I nearly soiled myself. Was I just being paranoid? They wouldn’t want to scare a new spouse who is just trying to make new friends, would they?
“Are you the new person?” the Forehead asked sternly, peering down where I hunched in a swing-out seat at the Formica table.
“Uh-huh,” I answered with a nervous smile.
“Well, listen, my teammate sent me over to explain the rules,” she said. My mind raced with humiliation and regret. Why had I committed to play in this league for an entire year? Would I ever fit in? Was it possible to make any real friends at this duty station?
Despite my newcomer’s jitters, I persevered and survived my year on the bowling league. In an effort to add a little levity to the humorless group, I even started a league diet group I called “Bowlers United To Take Off Kilograms Sensibly,” or B.U.T.T.O.K.S. for short. Not everyone was amused, but ultimate justice was served when our team’s generous handicap earned us the second place cash prize in the season finals.
The experience taught me that bowling didn’t strike my fancy, but also, that new military spouses need companionship, not competition.
Newbies will inevitably break the rules, throw gutter balls and step on the foul lines, but the kingpins should spare a little compassion and welcome all fellow spouses into their lane.
Lisa Smith Molinari is an award-winning syndicated columnist, author, blogger and speaker, as well as the wife of a Navy retiree.