So here you are. You have just finished unpacking the boxes following your latest move. You are sick of being stuck in the house and are excited to get to know your new community. You set out to explore, and find…not a whole heck of a lot. You end up feeling lonely and bored, and wondering what to do next. Sound familiar?
For a medical spouse, numerous moves are part of the territory, and the decision of where you will live is not one in which your preferences matter very much…especially for military medical spouses. Even when you know your situation is temporary, as it is during med school, residency, fellowship, and the fulfillment of military obligations, the years ahead can seem endless when you can’t find any outlets or things to do, especially when your spouse spends much of the time away from home.
The first thing to do is to research your new community. Run a search on your city from your favorite search engine, and bookmark anything that looks interesting. See if there is a local chapter of your fraternity, sorority, or philanthropic organization. Subscribe to the local paper, no matter how lame it is, and pay close attention to the local section and to any entertainment inserts. Next, get out and explore. Visit churches or religious organizations related to your beliefs. Find the closest library. Go to the next community event and take note of the organizations that sponsor the booths you see. Have your spouse ask around at work about what people do on the weekends, and then do some of the things you hear, even if they sound dumb. If you work, ask around at your job too. Chances are your co-workers have more free time than the people your spouse works with. If you are at home with kids that are not yet in school, look into preschools or parents’ day out programs so that you can meet other adults and network. If your kids are in school, join the PTA and try to get to know other parents by working on committees with them, or by volunteering in the classroom.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you say, “I’ve done all that and this place still leaves me cold. What else have you got?” Well, now that you have gathered information, you need to sit down and evaluate what you’ve learned, based on the interests you have. Are you a fine arts aficionado? Visit all of the museums in your area and attend at least one concert by each local performance ensemble. A foodie? Read the Foods section in your newspaper regularly, visit restaurants that you’ve heard good things about, and check out all of the grocery stores and specialty food shops in your area. Learn to make a dish that is considered a regional specialty. A sports nut? Attend a game, meet, or match in the sport of your preference, even if it is a high school team, or join an adult league. Love the great outdoors? Visit all of the local parks and check the Parks and Wildlife Department website in your state for other parks within driving distance. Got a green thumb? Visit the largest nursery in the area and get to know the staff. Ask them what grows well in the area, and then plant whatever they recommend. Fitness buff? Join a gym and start working out. In other words, try to keep busy! You may find that there are not many outlets for your particular interests in the place where you have landed. If you are passionate about fine dining and the restaurants in your city all serve chicken fried steak, you might be tempted to give up. However, now may be your chance to become a gourmet cook and prepare at home all of the things you used to order when you went out. You may also find yourself with enough time on your hands to pursue an interest you have always had, but never acted on. This could be your opportunity to learn another language, learn to sew, learn to play a musical instrument, train for a marathon, or have a baby… the latter only if you’re really bored! The couch potatoes among us could rent and watch every movie in which their favorite actress/actor appears, feed their trekkie tendencies, or begin the great American novel…Scrapbooking, online education — the possibilities here are limited only by your imagination!
At this point, you need to give it four to six months. You’re out there, but it takes time to make connections. Whatever you do, get out of the house every day at least once…this is particularly important for at-home parents of small children. There have been times when just seeing the sun from a different angle really lifted my spirits, after I had been cooped up at home with little kids for two or three days. Take care of yourself and maintain connections with friends in other places, in order to reassure yourself that you are still capable of participating in adult relationships. As you find some kind of routine, you can begin to make some social overtures, if none have been made to you already. Start small and invite a co-worker or fellow parent for coffee or lunch. Host a play date for your child and some others at your home or a local park. See if your spouse would be interested in having some coworkers over for dessert some night. If things fizzle, at least you tried, and it made the day pass more quickly, right? Don’t let it discourage you from trying again.
I believe it takes at least a year to really feel a part of a new place, sometimes longer. After a year, one of two things will happen. You will regain your balance and find your place in things, OR you will begin to be accustomed to not having as much to do and you won’t be as impatient with the lack of activity in your life. Either way, it does get easier. After a year, take stock of what you appreciate about your new community, and what you miss. Chances are, you will be moving again, and this knowledge can help you make the next place you live a good fit for you and your family. In the meantime, take life a day at a time and realize that you are earning your stripes as a medical spouse! In addition, you are learning more about yourself and what is important to you, and although it sounds corny, you are growing as a person. Personally, I have resolved that if I ever lose the status of “new person in town”, I will be quick to reach out to new people, now that I know what it is like to be on the outside of things. Despite my dislike for my current “home”, I do consider it a privilege to have first-person knowledge about a region of the country that I would never have chosen on my own. I also consider it a privilege that I will be able to move away in two years!
Time passes quickly (more quickly with each year!), and you may be surprised to find a tear or two in your eyes when it is time once again to pack up your belongings and move away from the place you can’t stand right now. Whether you become acclimated easily, or never really feel at ease in your new place, you will always find a home away from home with all of us who have “been there and done that” at medicalspouse.org.