You Think You Know a Guy

This article in the Boston Globe today suggests that even your closest friends are in some fundamental ways strangers to you — and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. While not 100% on board with the methodology of the survey on which the researchers base their conclusions, I find the general proposition largely non-objectionable, since I find that I’m often surprised about the things I learn about close friends, even the ones I’ve known for decades.

I’m not saying that it’s one huge revelation after another, followed by heartfelt reassessment of the friendship, or anything like that. I just mean that every now and again you get one of those “Huh. I didn’t know that” moments, and then you pretty much go on as before. I’m sure I’ve sprung a few of them on friends as well. Keeps things interesting, it does.

31 Comments on “You Think You Know a Guy”

  1. Facebook has accelerated the “Huh, I didn’t know that” for my circle of friends cultivated since high school/college. G’bless their friends for posting old pictures and reminiscences. It’s very entertaining.

  2. Same here. Facebook has people going, “I didn’t know that!” to me as well.

  3. I think it’s interesting that they say not knowing everything about our friends may make us happier to spend time with them. Especially when it comes to friends we have chosen because their interests are similar to ours. If they really aren’t so similar, or the friends aren’t as steadfast in their love of whatever brought us together, I can see how not knowing that would make time spent together less strained.

    Still, most of my actual friends are not on Facebook. :)

  4. Heck – I don’t know myself that well sometimes, how could I be expected to know others.
    Besides some of the fun of friends is knowing that they will forever be a source of surprise to me but hopefully I will accept them, and that I will be a source of surprise to them but they will accept me.

  5. I’m with Kate at #6. One of the things I most treasure in people is their ability to surprise me even after years and years and years of friendship.

    Fortunately, the surprises are almost always interesting and/or delightful.

  6. I still remember the day I learned my friend was a Buddhist anarchist. That was an interesting conversation.

  7. I didn’t know until today that you have a degree in philosophy.

    However, I didn’t learn it on-line.

  8. An interesting snippet from the linked article:
    The team’s as-yet unpublished finding was that while people do have some idea of the political beliefs of their friends, especially their close friends, they also made significant errors. The most common one is assuming their friends agreed with them on issues where they didn’t.

    I’ve also found it rather interesting how often people make assumptions about your political views on the basis of something else they do know. Which leads to conversations like: “How could you possibly being a right-winger when you’re gay?” Or vice versa. Or other exercises in adding two and two and coming up with pi — which, as John says, keeps life interesting. :)

  9. I feel compelled to reveal a decades old secret, but I really can’t think of a thing you don’t already know about me.

    You know on the pie vs. cake issue, I’m a cake man, right?

  10. Sort of goes back to the quote:

    “The only normal people, are the people you don’t know very well.”

    Attributed to Oscar Wilde. Who was definitely not normal. And as a gay man, I say that in the most positive sense!


  11. Huh. I guess I’m not really sure what to make of the article. On the one hand, well yes, DUH. I’ve got friends I’ve known for decades whose c.v.s have gaps in them, from my perspective. On the other hand, I’m not sure that I define that as ‘not knowing’ someone. The emphasis seems to be on knowing data points about a person versus knowing their personality.

    Example: a month or so ago, I found out that a friend of mine and his partner aren’t actually married. They don’t have a shared last name (though their two kids have his last name), but I didn’t realize that they weren’t married in the legal sense (I opined that an argument could be made that they were married in the common law sense).

    So, was I shocked about this? Did it change the very foundations of our relationship? No, not really. It opened up a new topic of conversation. But I didn’t feel like I suddenly realized I had no idea who these people were; quite the opposite, in fact. It matched my knowledge of who they were and made sense. Which I rather think is what the article is saying….that and sometimes friends agree to disagree when such conflicts come up (if it’s even relevant to their relationship).

    So, you know, interesting idea but I’m not sure if I see it from the same perspective as the studies authors do.

  12. So true.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that not only do we never really completely know a best friend or spouse, we probably don’t really know ourselves.

    I mean tomorrow we could be challenged in a certain unforseen way and possibly react in a way we didn’t think possible of ourselves.

  13. I think it’s interesting that they say not knowing everything about our friends may make us happier to spend time with them.

    When I was in college, we did one of those Newlywed Game style games about ‘how well do you know your roommate?’ My roommate and I did the worst of anyone. The pair who won fought constantly. My roommate and I were friends through the rest of college.

  14. So I’m at a conference last week and late one night we’re hanging out at a local watering hole. Bar is packed.

    Long time friend (LTF) goes to get the next round, looks at me – usual? yup. Usual for me is Jack & Coke.

    Comes back with several beers, nothing for me. Um, I’m a little dry here, I protest.

    LTF- barely got the beers, and they’d just finished the bottle of Jack, didn’t want to wait for them to dig up another one.

    Me – Well, you could have just gotten me a Rum & Coke.

    Other long time friend at the table nods knowingly.

    LTF (picking jaw up off floor) – I’ve known you how long?? and I’ve NEVER seen you drink a Rum & Coke??

    Other LTF – you just weren’t paying attention. She used to be Rum & Coke, then 7 & 7, then Jack & Coke.

    Me – I’m calling it a night. You boys have fun.

  15. I’m intrigued what you say about your Philosophy degree, John. I got one too, at the same time as you. In the following years, I often regretted not doing something more practical. I since retrained (twice!), and it is no longer an issue. But I wonder if some day I will really appreciate the value that a Philosophy degree (as opposed to a good all-round liberal arts education) added to my life.

    I am hoping that it has added an intellectual richness that I merely do not yet appreciate, but one day will.


  16. @20 Touché!

    Hey, I like philosophy, don’t get me wrong. But, as they used to say, “that and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee.” (I guess in modern parlance, it should read, “that and $3.50 will get you a moccacino.”)

  17. Not long after Lewinskygate, I saw an interview with Hillary Clinton, where the interviewer flat out asked her: why, after all this, are you staying with Bill?

    Now, her answer may have been canned, but it made a lot of sense: that even after 30 years, they still hadn’t run out of things to talk about.

    Something about that rang true to me. Of all the possible reasons she could have offered, that one I believed. My best friend has been my best friend for more than 25 years, and every time we see each other, we talk for hours and always part before the conversation is done.

    I value my friends who can consistently surprise me and bring new insights. I love that most of the people I’ve known forever still do this.

  18. Live with a man forty years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject, then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge and on that day you will finally meet the man. -Shan Yu-

  19. Part of marriage and friendship is loving people enough to let them grow. There was a line we wrote into our wedding ceremony, which I think actually ended up surprising the longer-married couples, that relates to this: “With everything you know about and trusting in everything you do not yet know about…”

  20. Finely crushed Cheetos? I never knew you were such a food snob, John.

    How else do you plan to snort them? Coarse Cheetos would tear the crap out of your septum..

  21. Don’t ever tie me up and hold me over the edge of a volcano. My mother tied me up and held me over the edge of a volcano once. Once.

  22. It’s not what you don’t know about friends or what you find out about them, it’s what you know (and vice versa) and ignore that makes for good friendships.

  23. I read that the best way to really get to know someone was to observe where they lived, inside their home. That would reveal things about them that even their friends might not know.

  24. I suppose many in today’s world would be put off by my sense of privacy. It seems as if I am out of step with our times, when everyone is expected to give a data dump on first meeting and nobody is permitted to be a stranger. Sales clerks insist upon a first name relationship and telephone solicitors greet me heartily as though we’re long lost friends. I just don’t understand why my private life needs to be on display and why it’s wrong to prefer courtesy and dignity in personal dealings. Or am I the only one who feels it’s an imposition to assume immediate intimacy with every personal contact?

    And I must confess I feel such people, who are compelled to open every corner of themselves to public view, have diminished themselves. How little self respect must one have, how insecure must one be, to need to provide a complete catalog of personal traits, wants, desires, goals, and regrets?

    As for the utility of a philosophy degree, I have one in history and have never regretted it. While my earnest friends majoring in microbiology or electrical engineering are all doing something else by now, I have enjoyed my hobby of studying history for three decades and expect to do so for at least three more. I believe it’s more enriching to learn a new way of thinking or seeing, that can provide enlightenment and entertainment throughout life.

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