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Nigel No Friends

James Holmes.

James Holmes.

In the week since Denver's Dark Knight cinema shooting, there's been a mountain of media coverage as well as commentary from people who have claimed to know the gunman.

One article I found particularly sad was a series of recollections from high school classmates of the alleged killer, James Holmes, in which the journalist pointedly wrote his "friends are notable by their absence".

Good old Nigel No Friends.

You know that guy - most of us try not to be him and his lack of mates is often first thing we ridicule when asked to pick apart his idiosyncrasies: "Oh, he keeps to himself", "He doesn't have many friends", "Looooser".

Is it any wonder that America's latest brooding loner mass killer was drawn to a brooding loner mass killer like the Joker - the nemesis of an equally brooding loner, Batman?

It must have seemed a hilarious irony to a mind like Holmes's that in a culture that so idealises the lone wolf - fictional characters like Dirty Harry, the Pale Rider, Travis Bickle and Tyler Durden - he struggled so much for acceptance.

I guess the reality is that, though Western culture might admire the fictional loner - the dude who keeps his own counsel and gets shit done - in real life, few things freak the herd out more than someone who rejects it.

Perhaps the only person who is more suss than one who "keeps to himself" is the one who tries too hard to be your friend.

It's difficult to know which comes first; the awkward personality that leads to social isolation and rejection or the social isolation and rejection that leads to an awkward personality.

Recently, my friends and I were approached by one of Australia's most famous schizophrenics - a woman who made big news some years back because of legal complications with her illness.

The woman was insistent on joining our group - she wanted to know what we were doing, where we were going, could she come? - which was odd because it was 8pm, on the street, and none of us had ever met her.

However, her complete ignorance of social norms - that you don't push too hard to be part of the group - was the first thing that made us realise she was ill.

It speaks volumes, though, that someone as troubled as this woman is still driven by the urge to be accepted by the herd.

What's that quote? "If you have one true friend you have more than your share."

It's funny - "mates" so often attract negative reviews because they "urge us on", "lead us astray" and "get us into strife", but certain friends are also an essential moderating influence, particularly when voices start telling you to buy automatic weapons and booby trap your apartment.

This is why the absence of friends in a person's life can be so catastrophic - they have no one to bounce their anxieties off, no one who can put their suffering in perspective, no one to just give them a hug and say "You're a good man."

However, it's not just the socially awkward who are denied friendship.

I know several men who run nightclubs and bars, who are very successful, extremely socially competent but they have no close friends. Hangers on, yes, acquaintances by the dozen, but no real mates.

Often this is because friends - the people who really know you - tell you things you don't want to hear, they hold up a mirror to you that sometimes even lovers and relatives cannot.

A lot of dickheads choose to walk away from their mirror and their friends, rather than do the work on themselves that's required to not alienate the people closest to them.

You can get a new girlfriend in a week, but not a new best mate.

True friends keep your weirdnesses in check and it's a damn tragedy for every one of his victims that James Holmes did not have one to do so.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

65 comments so far

  • "I know several men who run nightclubs and bars, who... have no close friends"

    You know, I read this and thought "I probably wouldn't want to be friends with these blokes you're talking about."

    It might have been where you said "socially competent", because I do not think I possess such skills. As this is the case, I've often found it difficult to make friends. I'm happy with the friendships I have now, but it's taken nearly three decades of habitually committing social faux pas, a bit of loneliness, a lot of self reflection, some growing up and events in my life that sent me reeling.

    One important thing I learnt is the simple act of trying to see things from someone elses' point of view. This resulted in me changing my behaviour. The thought process went along the lines of 'so, if I act like a dickhead, this person will think I'm a dickhead; ergo, stop being a dickhead, ya goon dickhead, or else they're gonna think you're a dickhead'.

    Sometimes, though, I'm still a dickhead. For old times sake.

    Back to the point of the blog - it's easier to feel sorry for the guy with no friends than it is to be his mate, and that's the problem. Even if you don't want to turn your back on the guy, you don't want to be involved his life either.

    Commenter
    hired goon
    Date and time
    July 25, 2012, 7:36PM
    • With such self honesty, you would make a good friend.

      Commenter
      Joel
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 7:06AM
    • "I've often found it difficult to make friends. I'm happy with the friendships I have now, but it's taken nearly three decades of habitually committing social faux pas, a bit of loneliness, a lot of self reflection, some growing up and events in my life that sent me reeling."

      I'm getting a bit worried, Hired Goon. That sounds so much like me that I'm beginning to think you're my alter ego and my other personality is posting under the name Hired Goon. Time to send around the guys in white coats to take me away!

      But being serious, it is hard being an introvert and a bit of a loner in a world that looks suspiciously on anyone like that. I've lost count of the times people have questioned me, wondering why I'm not more out there or giving useless advice like "you just need to get out there and get amongst it".
      Fact is, I don't want to! I find too much human contact to be tiring and do need downtime to recharge so I can join the world again when I need to. This is why I find myself living alone. I do have a couple of close friends but those weren't easy to come by, which is why I value them so much! Flipside of this is that in the past, I've hung on to one or two friends for too long even when it's become toxic or they've turned to using me. Simply because that at the time seemed preferable to being alone. Hard lesson learned there!

      Commenter
      Nerdy Guy
      Location
      Mos Eisley Spaceport
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 8:45AM
    • Hired Goon,

      Your experience resonates with me.

      The point that Sam has missed here is that these guys (me too) are too reflective. They are more aware than anyone of their social awkwardness and their faux pas. They don't need to be told that they are weird - they know that. rather, they need to be told how normal they are. When normal is unobtainable, weirdness is all that is left.

      There is nothing wrong with being an eccentric, in fact, it is perfectly normal and healthy for some people to be that way. Per person, eccentrics and outcasts contribute more to society than anyone else. Friend is a big word, it's better just to accept people as individuals and let friendships develop by themselves. The trouble with 'charity friendships' is that intelligent people can see through them and once discovered just become another rejection.

      Commenter
      JohnA
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 11:47AM
  • "True friends keep your weirdnesses in check..." Or in my case encourage and foster my kind of weirdness.

    It seems that the people who do these kind of atrocities are known as "such a quiet man", or "he kept to himself'. Sadly it is a pattern of treatment they have been subjected to over their lifetime. Likely to be bullied at school and through young adulthood and has created a view of the world that it is cruel and unsafe and unfair.

    As long as there are bullies and the opportunity to retaliate with gunfire is an option these things will happen. It is most certainly not the right response and in a way I can understand the desperate state of mind that drive people to respond this way.

    Commenter
    M
    Date and time
    July 25, 2012, 9:40PM
    • intra-species predator, mentally ill or bullied social maladapt?

      agreed - nothing more unsettling to the herd
      than 'a quiet man' or 'he kept to himself' type, especially
      if he knows the periodic table by rote.

      top of the food chain, only microbes can compete
      with modern man. prhaps scientific aptitude will be
      increasingly selected for survival of the species.
      the necessity to hunt in a pack to kill a mammoth
      seems to be waning.

      perhaps these objective science types need to
      be fenced off early and engaged in science/tech/space.
      give them a seat at the table before the vultures get
      them and they return fire.

      or does their mere presence
      innoculate the herd, keep it vigilant against
      even more dangerous 'outsiders'.

      and the world is awash with small arms.

      let's put a blood and death tax on the manufacturers
      of small arms, on weapons and bullets as they
      leave the factory and fine them post-hoc for gun crime.

      Commenter
      beno
      Location
      campin'out
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 11:07AM
  • The batman dude looks brainwashed to me.

    The socially awkward many times have a condition or illness. I've tried to assist a couple of people in this category, at times it works and other times it just becomes too frustrating.

    Commenter
    kermit the log
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    July 25, 2012, 11:56PM
    • great piece, Sam

      Commenter
      Fluellen
      Date and time
      July 26, 2012, 7:07AM
      • Is this article fair dinkum ?

        Commenter
        jj
        Date and time
        July 26, 2012, 8:33AM
        • "It's difficult to know which comes first; the awkward personality that leads to social isolation and rejection or the social isolation and rejection that leads to an awkward personality."

          It starts as a child, in primary school or before. Someone doesn't instinctively know how to be part of the group - sometimes they're accepted anyway and given a chance to learn, sometimes they're not. If they're not, sometimes they can figure it out by brute force as their lives go on and find a group, and sometimes they can't...

          Commenter
          JEQP
          Date and time
          July 26, 2012, 9:14AM

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