“If you wish to truly know someone, do not ask him about himself. Instead, ask his friends about him. You are sure to get a much clearer picture that way.” -Theodicus
Have you noticed that when there’s a serial killer who has recently been exposed, the news goes to his neighborhood and speaks to the neighbors, who all talk about how they had no idea, how he seemed like such a normal guy? Of course they say this, because serial killers know something a lot of us forget. If you have a lot of acquaintances, you can make yourself invisible among them, but if you have even a few true friends, you are never invisible. These neighbors only have contact with the serial killer in the light of day, when they can shrug off any suspicious behavior because they have too much going on in their own lives to take a moment to notice. This is why the serial killer has the “serial” prefix to his name. He was too smart for too long, not letting anyone in. Because friends, true friends, they know you better than you know yourself.
We often delude ourselves with what we wish we had done, what we hope to be, and what we strive for in this life, instead of recognizing ourselves for who we actually are. This makes us readily susceptible to making the wrong decisions, and to trusting the wrong conclusions. It is a slippery slope that leads us nowhere good if we don’t have a solid core of friends to keep us honest. These are the people who have seen us laugh, been with us when we cried, kept us out of trouble, and shared our pain. And we have done the same for them, which creates a bond that is thicker than ink. If we do something out of character or something that could be a mistake, they are there to help us reconsider, to save us from ourselves.
I remember when I was 19 and I had a group of friends I met through my college job. We worked together, ate together, drank together, hung out together, spent more time with each other than we did with our own families. We stuck with each other despite knowing each other. One of my friends had a drinking problem, and we worked through it as a group. The same was true of another who had issues with smoking pot. And I was the classic rebel partier, the one who had really no boundaries, the one who rebelled due to a sheltered childhood, and who could have really gone to a place of no return if not for them. We helped each other through difficulty after difficulty, which made us stronger individually and as a group. It may sound cliche, but it’s very true. I knew they had my back because they had seen me at my worst and still cared for me.
The problem is finding friends like that, because there are too many people out there who are fair-weather friends. You find out who your real friends are when you go through those difficult times. If they’re there for you and they don’t run the other way, or find convenient ways to avoid you, they’re not people you can count on. That’s why bad times are important to go through and get past. They give you a good gauge of who your true friends are, and they also weed out the poseurs. I think TLC said it best when they sang, “Goodbye goodbye, to all the fake people in my life. I never wanted you around me so be on your way now.”
Also, don’t forget to talk to your friends. Don’t be so insular that you become little more than a shadow. Take advantage of times to get together with your friends. They honestly can keep you sane. But don’t just use your time with friends as “bitch” sessions. While they’re good listeners, if they’re always listening to you complain, what do they get out of the friendship? You need to listen to them too, to share both the good and the bad in both of your lives.
After all, if you create that firm network of friends, it also protects you from becoming a serial killer. And that’s good enough for me.