I was walking home from school when Gary, a kid from my third-grade class, fell in beside me and started chatting. I'd never spoken with him before, and I had no idea why he was talking to me, but I enjoyed it.
Here was someone, who I did not know, who was interested in me—it was a new experience and it felt good. We said goodbye at his house which was about halfway to mine. He walked with me again the next day; and the day after that. On the third day, he asked me if I wanted to come into his house and play. I called my mother from his home phone and she said it was okay.
He was the first friend I'd made on my own without my parents arranging it. Of course, Gary had done all the work. He initiated contact, he started the first conversation, he then had an effective transition question to move us to the next level. Gary had social skills and courage that I did not have. We became best friends for the next three years until my family moved to a new neighborhood.
Unfortunately, I didn't learn many of Gary's skills and found myself isolated once again in the new neighborhood. Oh, there were plenty of kids around, but they all seemed to have their own friends, and I was too afraid to approach them.
One day, Steve, another new kid in the area found me and struck up a conversation. He too, had social skills that I lacked—including a transition question: "Do you want to "hang out" at my house?"
Over the next several weeks, Steve and I spent a lot of time together, but he made me uncomfortable. I ignored those feelings because my hunger for connection was a stronger motivator than my fear of trouble.
Steve used stronger profanity than I was used to. He stole cigarettes from his mother and Playboy magazines from his father. He stuck out his thumb to hitchhike when we walked to the store, and if someone stopped, he got into their car. Worst of all, he enjoyed vandalism and threw rocks to break windows in houses that were under construction. And, he talked me into joining him in all of that.
Our brief friendship lasted until our parents caught us doing one of those things, and forbade us from seeing each other again. I learned that I needed to be more choosy when accepting friendships, but I still hadn't figured out how to create one. In the meantime, I was miserably lonely.
I would make my first best friend in high school purely by accident. Tony and I walked into class one day wearing the same garish outfit: red jeans and a white shirt with red stripes and roses (hey, it was the 1970s!). Not only were we dressed alike, but we looked similar enough that people often thought we were brothers. The kids in class immediately started calling us the Bobbsey Twins which made us cringe in shame. We had two more classes together, so Tony suggested we cut school for the rest of the day. We did and hid out at his house.
I made my next several friends just by hanging out with Tony. He was a people magnet; he was gregarious, funny, and lived on the edge. His charisma attracted an array of satellites—one of whom became my next best friend. Dick and I were alike in many ways and developed a friendship that exists to this day (that is if he doesn't read this and see that I called him a satellite).
By the time I reached the end of high school, I had some passable skills for making friends, but it wouldn't be until adulthood that I learned the simple lessons Gary knew as a young boy.
We live for human connection. We greatly desire relationships because they increase our confidence and self-esteem. They make us feel important, worthy, and good enough. We are motivated by those powerful feelings to develop social skills so that we can meet people and develop friendships.
Personally, I've craved connection so strongly that I have occasionally ignored "red flags" and made bad choices of those I've allowed to get close to me. The consequences never landed me in jail, but they did come close a few times.
Once we've broken the ice and made a few friends, we are motivated to refine those skills. We become more discriminating and find people who better match our values and personality.