I have a confession to make. I'm not a member of the Spouses' Club, nor will I likely ever be.
While spouse clubs can certainly be wonderful sources of connection and involvement, the constant push to increase membership, extreme volunteerism, and the "social overwhelm" that tend to accompany a spouse club isn't a fit for everyone.
However, trying to tactfully explain why my default response of, "Thanks, but no thanks," is usually met with thin smiles and barely concealed cold stares. So here's the blunt truth.
1. It is difficult to participate on my own terms.
I have tried several spouse clubs, I really have, but for me the end result has always been the same. Instead of being slowly introduced to the military community and offered ways to plug-in on my own terms, each spouse club seems to be one giant exercise in how to strong-arm its members into volunteering for everything under the sun.
2. Club politics and "rank wars" frankly, suck.
While the debate of whether "rank wars" actually exist is still contested, the reality of spouse club politics are alive and well. For example, I recently met the wife of my husband's boss. When she gleefully made the connection that her spouse worked with mine, gracefully declining any events she's prominent in became, well…dicey. Say no just one too many times, and I might give the appearance that I'm not a team player.
The added difficulty of, "Yes, I want to do this event, but not that one," and the very real difficulty of saying no – particularly to a spouse in senior leadership is intimidating.
3. The palpable sense that I am "fresh blood" with my newcomer's name badge, terrifies me.
When I do get the wild urge and decide to tag along with a friend to a spouses' group meeting, I'm sorry to say – I usually walk away with the renewed conviction that it was a mistake. Strangely enough, nametags are part of the problem.
Most spouse clubs use name badges, particularly larger clubs – which is admittedly, a blessedly welcome social nicety. And while most spouse clubs issue members permanent badges, newcomers are usually afforded temp badges and a Sharpie marker. Nothing wrong with that either.
The trouble comes once members see that temp badge because the volunteer pitches start flowing like a tsunami's first seismic tidal wave. Any offers of friendship or even mere fellowship are immediately bypassed in hopes of "securing the newbie" as a volunteer. Instead of being asked, "Hey – want to grab a coffee or lunch?" introductions conclude with, "So what event can we sign you up for today?"
Again, thanks…but no thanks. And I run for the nearest exit.
4. Honestly, it tends to come down to balancing social overwhelm with self-care.
With my INFJ (or INTJ – depending on the day) personality, I've finally come to understand that if I do not balance my social events carefully, I'm left with an "introvert's hangover" that can last for days. Left exhausted, I can be of no help to anyone.
"An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows it to shine vibrantly, lighting the way for others. We cannot nurture others from a dry well." – Project Happiness
So very often, I think the message that it is ok to participate on our own terms, whatever those terms might be, becomes lost in the military spouse community.
We are encouraged to support not only our members, but our communities. We are encouraged to be mentors. We are encouraged to volunteer for our children, our spouses, our schools.
(Photo by Giuseppe Milo)
The message that so often seems to get lost in translation, is that there are so many ways to offer support – and it is ok to be involved on your own terms! The spouse club is not the "be-all, end-all" of a military installation's social circle existence – that in my opinion, they seem to like to pretend to be.
Personally, I love the connection of a smaller group and enjoy being a squadron Key Spouse. I know that my efforts help support our squadron's mission, which in turn support my spouse, who supports me. I lose that connection in a big group event and that is the connection which nurtures my soul.
We are constantly urged to give back, with our time, talents, and treasure. Fundraisers, booster club events, bake sales, fun runs, race for a cure, suicide prevention walks, foster a pet (or a child), and more.
The list is daunting, and never-ending.
Our military lives are anything if not fluid and dynamic. Sometimes, that means our emotional and wellness reserves are overflowing and full, allowing us more energy and abundance to give back. But sometimes they aren't and we need to carefully monitor that balance. Some things replenish those reserves, and some things do not.
And it's ok to know what doesn't replenish you…and say, "Thanks, but no thanks."
This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.