I've certainly experienced my share of FRGs that are down-right caty. I remember one FRG meeting many years ago in which a senior enlisted spouse said to another, newer, enlisted spouses, "You know I don't like candy. Why in the world would you bring candy to the meeting when you know that I can't have it?!" The senior enlisted spouse said this to another spouse for bringing a bag of leftover Easter candy to an FRG meeting. The upset spouse then ran out of the room only to return with the worst mood I've ever seen from a grown-woman in public. These women didn't know each other. The woman who brought the candy was new and shared candy to appear friendly and welcoming. And yet the cattiness from one to the other was so palpable that it left the rest of us feeling ridiculously uncomfortable. There we all were having a meeting to discuss plans of action for the FRG's sisterhood, and there was one woman who ruined the experience for the rest - A senior spouse, no less, who could have used her seniority as a catalyst of how to build a life around the military lifestyle. Instead, she showed us the exact reason why FRGs fail. Several of the women in attendance that day did not return to the following meeting because, I'm convinced, they didn't want to be a part of an organization that absurdly immature.
When the meeting with the dramatic candy senior enlisted spouse ended, I went right up to the spouse to talk. I'm no psychologist, but anyone in the room that day could see that she was clearly going through some deep emotional stress, and was taking it out on that poor new enlisted spouse for bringing candy to the meeting. Before her public display of immaturity, she had disclosed to the group that she was a native Phoenician. Having also been born and raised in Phoenix, AZ, I wanted to connect with her on a personal level. (As an aside, isn't it exciting to meet someone from "back-home" when you're very, very far away from home?! LOVE that feeling.) So, when the meeting came to an end, and with everyone watching, I walked right up to her.
She was sitting down in a chair. I knelt down beside her so that she was above me. I looked up to her to demonstrate a nonthreatening nature, and we began talking about our childhood in Phoenix. We discovered that we went to high schools that were a mere few miles of each other. Then something remarkable happened... she smiled. During the whole meeting she had this dark cloud above her. No one wanted to talk to her - not even the FRG leader and meeting facilitator - for fear of getting sucked into the black-cloud vortex in which this woman was clearly mayor of. But in the 5 minutes I sat and spoke gently with her, all of that rigidness sanded away and we connected on commonalities.
She was at least 15 years older than me and had so much more life lived and military experience that could have intimidated the crap out of me. I could have easily left the room, never attending another FRG meeting like many of the other spouses did that day. But my undying passion to lift up other women, and to connect with other military spouses, runs deep in my core. I have no idea if that woman's mood was truly lifted after we parted ways that day. But maybe, in a small way, I made a difference in her day, if not only for 5 minutes.
As military spouses, we're often all we have - each other. Sometimes when we look like we're at our worst - which is apparent in our nastiness to one another - it's really when we need someone by our side, literally, the most. If we don't step forward to reach out - be a sister to a fellow spouse in spite of the drama - then it's likely that our relationships will never change. This is how we can all begin to fix the negative military spouse and FRG reputation.