The Hello-Goodbye Continuum

By L.G. McCary

Making friends isn’t the simplest thing for me. I have a quirky sense of humor influenced by British sitcoms, Shakespeare, Calvin and Hobbes, and my dad’s affinity for puppets. I contemplate the zombie apocalypse on a regular basis. I repeat the phrase, “I read an article the other day…” so often that it’s become a joke.

Needless to say, finding my “people” can be a bit of a process.

But making friends within the military sphere is hard for a different reason: friendships have parting dates from day one.

One of the first questions I ask upon meeting someone new is, “How long have you been here?” From their answer, I calculate how much time I have to get to know them and whether it is worth it.

It may sound terrible, but I know the person I’m speaking to is making that same calculation. Is it worth exchanging numbers? Should I friend her on Facebook? Is this someone I will never see again because new orders are in the pipeline?

I met several fun people as we prepared to leave our first post, and they all gave me the same look: “I like you, but I’m not going to talk to you again, sorry.” I’m sure my face said the same.

The truth is, friendships rarely last a lifetime with job changes, changing schools, having children, and a hundred other things small and large that shift your social circle. It may not feel like it, but every friendship is always somewhere between hello and goodbye.

For military spouses, the continuum is compressed into a few short years or months, and it changes the way you approach relationships in some comical ways. For example:

  • Asking someone you met an hour ago to be your emergency contact isn’t weird for a military spouse.
  • If you’ve been at a post for six months, you’re officially the expert. Be prepared to tell the newbies the best restaurants and kids’ activities in the area because they will ask.
  • You could be asked to teach a Bible study at PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) when you’ve never been to PWOC before and have only the vaguest idea of what it is.
  • Having a ten-minute conversation with a stranger in the produce section of the commissary or the bathroom at chapel may net you a new hairstylist, dentist, chiropractor, and best friend.
  • Someone you barely knew at a previous post is now your instant best friend at a new one because she’s the only person you know.

For someone who takes a long time to trust people, it’s been an education. A very wise senior chaplain’s wife told me at our first post, “What you used to do to make friends won’t work anymore. You have to think differently.” She was right. I don’t have the luxury of taking my time.

Instead, I have to take the approach of my lovely friend Tayler who grabbed my arm after chapel one day and said, “I’ve heard we should be friends, so let me give you my number, and we’ll hang out this week.” And we did.

Non-military friends get to stick around somewhere long enough to grow deep roots and enjoy a wider space between hello and goodbye. I admit I envy the breathing room, but I also see how easy it is to waste time.

If there’s anything I have learned in four short but intense years, it is to cherish my friends because time is short.

While social media allows us to communicate news and enjoy pictures of friends who have moved on or stayed behind when we have moved, it isn’t the same as chatting while your kids play at the park or laughing over coffee together at the Starbucks on post.

You won’t get this moment to laugh, cry, pray, and encourage each other again. That goodbye is looming on the horizon, and new hellos will come. You can’t walk alone for long.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

P.S. If you’re still lonely, lure new friends with homemade baked goods. Brownies are especially effective.