There I was, walking into a hotel ballroom for another military ball. As usual, my husband was in his dress blue uniform, looking sharp.
I was in a formal dress with hair styled and nails done. The kids had been dropped off at childcare, and we were ready for a fun evening! There was just one problem… as we looked around the room, we realized neither one of us knew anyone there.
My husband had only checked into this military unit a few weeks ago, so all the couples happily chatting, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company were strangers to us.
It was an unusual experience because we typically look forward to going to his annual USMC Birthday Ball together. It’s nice to spend a formal, kid-free evening with co-workers and friends. But we had never been to one so close to his check-in date.
I quickly realized that a military ball is a lot less fun and a lot more awkward when it’s a room full of strangers.
Whether you are a significant other flying out to attend your service member’s ball for the first time, or a more seasoned spouse at a new unit, there are times when you won’t see a familiar face in the room.
But don’t panic! There are ways to make the most of the situation so you can still have a fun time with your date.
6 ways to have fun at a military ball without knowing anyone.
1. Make social connections in advance.
When you realize you won’t know people attending a military ball, use social media to make a few connections ahead of time. Follow the unit’s Facebook page or join the Facebook group for spouses.
You can ask a question about the ball or tell people you are new and looking for friendly faces. “Meeting” a few people online can help break the ice.
2. Don’t miss cocktail hour.
A military ball is usually preceded by a cocktail hour. Regardless of your drinking preferences, this is where people can mix and mingle, enjoy light snacks, take pictures, shake hands, etc. This is the best time to meet some of the people you will spend the evening with.
Have your service member introduce you to a few co-workers. They will have dates or spouses who should help you start conversations and have fun. You can also have your ball photo taken with your service member, so don’t miss that opportunity. (There’s usually a line.)
One bit of caution: Don’t rely on alcohol to make you feel relaxed 😉
3. When in doubt, compliment.
Not sure how to break the ice with a group of strangers? A safe bet is to compliment someone’s dress, hair, or outfit color. Everyone wants to look and feel their best at a ball, so a sincere compliment goes a long way.
4. Stick together.
It’s common for the service member to get caught up in a conversation or stuck in a long line at the bar, while their date is sitting alone with no one to talk to. Avoid this awkward scenario by staying at their side!
There’s no reason you can’t wait in a line with them or be introduced into their conversations. If your service member is the only person you know, you might as well spend the whole evening with them.
5. Chat up your tablemates.
Eventually, you will be seated at a table with a ridiculous amount of fancy silverware and glasses. Depending on the branch or type of ball, you may be at this table for most of the evening during the ceremony and the dinner. Sometimes seating is assigned so that service members who work together will be seated together.
Other times it’s open seating, so you have no idea who will be at your table. Try to make connections and be polite with the other guests at your table. Even if you never see them again after this evening, it’s nice to find something you have in common. I have been surprised to have a Gold Star family and an elderly veteran guest seated at our table, so you never know who you might meet!
6. Get on the dance floor.
You don’t need to have friends with you to enjoy dancing! Grab your service member and hit the dance floor after dinner. Most balls end with a DJ dance party, so this is your time to relax and cut loose with your date.
Even if you don’t know anyone at a military ball, you can still have a fun evening with your service member. Between dressing up, eating good food, taking pictures, dancing, and meeting new people, it can be a night to remember. Make the most of this unique opportunity and enjoy it!