State Your Intentions

Introverted or not, we all crave relationships of some kind. Nowhere do I see the evidence of this more than in my own children, particularly in our five-year-old, Finnden. He's a sensitive boy, in tune with the needs and moods of those around him while, somehow, being mostly immersed in his own world. He can play for an hour by himself, talking, singing, and making up stories as he crashes his Matchbox cars together. Given the choice he would never leave the house because leaving the house means changing out of his pajamas.

But even my home-bodied, introverted little boy craves friendships.

Not long after he started talking we noticed Finn was having awkward moments on the playground. He and a few other children would be in line for the slide, or chasing one another up and down the playground steps, when suddenly all activity would cease for a moment. The children would all look at Finn, their brows knit together, listening. From the "parent bench" on the other side of the playground we could see his mouth moving, but couldn't make out what he was saying. We saw this happen again and again.

I went into spy mode.

I started sneaking up on him, staying just out of sight, waiting for "the moment." I'm sure I looked like some kind of creeper. I guess I actually was. But it paid off. Eventually I was able to witness one of these moments.

All of the kids were running back and forth wielding sticks, immersed in some game of knights and princesses. Then one of them suggested they run for the swings, and they all agreed. Out of nowhere, Finnden suddenly shouted, "Wait!"

Everyone stopped. They looked at him expectantly.

Finally, in a voice hardly above a whisper, he asked, "Will you be my friends?" The other children stood there, looking from one to the other until a boy about Finn's age finally shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Sure!" And then, together, they all ran off to the swings.

I don't know where he learned this. I don't know why he's developed this awkward way of forging friendships, but we've seen it play out again and again even as he's grown older. He'll meet a kid at a park, or the library, or a Chick-fil-a play area, and he'll suddenly stop whatever it is he's doing, tilt his head to the side a little, and conspiratorially whisper, "Will you be my friend?" Other children's responses to this rather forward request have run the gamut, from furtive glances at anyone who might be listening to tacit nods. Some have ignored the question completely while others have answered with a hearty, "Of course!"

His request is anything but suave, but it is so very honest and earnest. He desires relationships.

I know the feeling.

Inside is that angst, that desire, that longing for close friendships, and it's often coupled with fear, self-doubt, and a complete loss of where exactly to begin.

When you move to a new place you're faced with the prospect of meeting new people. But beyond the need to become familiar with co-workers and friendly with neighbors, there grows a steadily more urgent need to make friends. Real friends. The friends who will become "your people." These are the people who become your go-to's, your impromptu deep-conversationalist, and your open-the-fridge-and-grab-a-whatever people. These are the kinds of relationships we all crave and are so rarely able to craft. We want these people, and we want to be these people for other people.

I've often waited for friendships to come to me. I've waited for someone to show an interest, or to be thrown into a situation that demands friendship. But when we moved almost 11 months ago I started taking a few cues from Finn. Instead of stumbling through the pseudo-dating rituals of forming new friendships, I've begun trying to be more honest, forthright, and clear. I've done the adult version of: Will you be my friend? And I've been amazed how a little daring, a little self-disclosure, and a little feigned-ignorance of social norms is often appreciated and even reciprocated. In addition to some very awkward moments honesty also garners you some very fast and meaningful friends, those rare people who will push past what feels normal to find what is right.