The nomadic life of military spouses introduces them to a new community and a sea full of strange faces every few years. For an extrovert, this is a dream. But for an introvert, it’s an occupational hazard.
All military spouses struggle at one point or another with the sacrifices we are required to make, but some sacrifices look a little different for the spouses who thrive on routines and their own circle of lifelong friends. Plus, it just gets tiring to have to explain your introverted personality every few years when you enter into a new social circle.
So this article isn’t just for you, introvert. While we have to unite (separately in our own homes), stick together (figuratively), and speak up (quietly), we want our extroverted friends to understand why we do the things that we do.
What Are Introverts Like?
If you’re an extroverted military spouse, floating around on your cloud and having difficulty empathizing, here is a brief glimpse into an everyday kind of task your introverted counterparts might dread.
After weighing your two options of staying in sweatpants while Netflixing the day away or stocking the kitchen for your family’s survival, you bravely put on your biggest sunglasses — to hide the recognizable features that might dare spark a conversation — and head out to the grocery store.
Knowing better than to go to the commissary — because you can never escape without running into someone who knows you have more fashionable clothes than sweats, you opt for Costco. In the vastness of Costco, the crowds ironically become a weapon you can use to fade into the masses. But it doesn’t work. Because in the first aisle, another military spouse is already setting her extroverted sights on you.
Wishing your oversized sweatpants would swallow you whole, you plaster on your own form of war paint, don a smile and prepare for the inevitable battle: small talk. Because, for an introvert, the awkwardness of forced conversation with an acquaintance is exhausting.
What Do Introverts Need?
Contrary to popular belief, being introverted is not the same as being anti-social. While every quiet personality manages a crowd of people differently, the common denominator is that introverts need space and opportunities to recharge. And in a community where there are people constantly vying for your attention — like neighbors wanting play dates or another spouse trying to bring everyone together — these recharging moments are necessary so the introverted spouse can actually meet these expectations.
Recharge sessions can look differently for each individual. If you come across a self-proclaimed introvert, but then hear them talk about how much they wish they could be around their spouse 24/7, don’t take them for a hypocrite. Some spouses may need to get out of the house and sit at a coffee shop alone for a few hours, while others actually recharge by relaxing at home with the doors locked, a beer in hand, just hanging out with their spouse the whole evening.
Just because they like their alone time, doesn’t mean spouse social events are out of the question. Hey, introverts have to get their adrenaline thrills somehow. Being military spouses, we know the importance of community, and while sometimes we have to force ourselves into social outings, we understand the effort is worth the reward. Please be understanding and patient. And don’t judge the deer-in-the-headlights look that crosses our face when you make us stand up and introduce ourselves.
Speaking of startled — we also tend to get that look when someone suddenly springs a social request on us, like, “Hey, we should go get a cup of coffee and just talk [dun, dun, duuuun] tomorrow!”
We may be Lorelai Gilmore and take coffee with our oxygen, but our inherent answer is a resounding no. The introverted spouse prefers to have social outings scheduled days ahead of time because we have to get used to the idea of going out. Like an athlete jamming to a rockin’ playlist before game time, introverts have to psych themselves up for social events, even when they’re as benign as a coffee date. Insider secret: Celine’s “All By Myself” is on our playlist because who doesn’t love belting out a song that you don’t understand.
If you toss out an invitation, like a coffee date, to an introvert, don’t feel offended by the sudden look of apprehension or hesitant answer. It isn’t that we don’t like you. We just might be saving tomorrow for a recharge day, and now we have to try to explain that we have plans that don’t actually involve other people.
Instead, just casually mention how much you would like to hang out. When they’re are ready, you guys can set a date. The introvert will feel respected by your understanding and flexibility and then come to the table willingly and openly.
Living in Close Quarters
Just like running into people at the commissary can make an introvert’s heart pound, living on the installation can also pose an anxiety-inducing threat.
One self-proclaimed introvert and fellow military spouse, Justine, knows what it means to be surrounded by community and has learned how to cultivate meaningful relationships with her neighbors while still letting her introvert flag fly.
She worried about the lack of boundaries her neighbors might have, but was also nervous about being seen as unfriendly. So she decided from the beginning to adventure out of her comfort zone, open up her door, and simply be available.
“I wanted to force myself to be social and be a part of the military community because I had been told how important it was. My neighbors were never intrusive or overbearing in any way,” Justine said. “They learned, after talking to me, that I was actually more of an introvert and enjoyed my alone time.”
You see, the majority of introverts are not hermits at all but can actually be rather talkative and extroverted when circumstances call for it. It’s a choice we have to make, and sometimes the option to be a homebody for the whole day under a blanket is too tempting. And that’s OK! But knowing we have an understanding community surrounding us will make us open the door the next day.
“I think it is important to understand and know it is OK to be an introvert in the military community so that you can explain that to other people. It has helped me make such a smooth and easy transition in a world where your neighbors are always there for you, but also respectful of your space,” Justine reflected. “It doesn’t have to be all the time, but a little bit of effort can go a long way and help build a foundation for some amazing friendships just among your neighbors.”
So next time you see a spouse in large sunglasses and baggy sweatpants keeping to the outskirts of the grocery store aisles, just smile and let them be. You’ll see them again at the next social, and you will have plenty of time to get to know them then.
Starting over socially for the introvert comes with a soundtrack of the Debby Downer cadence (wah…waaaah). Get some advice on Building a Community Wherever You Go, introverted military spouse, and make it as painless as possible.