“There’s something democratic about being the occasional asshole—you make a mistake, you apologize and everyone else breathes easier”—Tony Hoagland, “Dear John,” What Narcissism Means to Me (2003)
Aristotle maintains that you’ll never know if someone is really your friend until the shit hits the fan. So long as you’re fun or useful to them, you just can’t be sure. The friendship’s true colors will come into view only at that moment when you cease to be useful and fun. For instance, I know a charismatic young creep who befriended a professor friend of mine just as long as he needed letters of recommendation and mentoring from him. But as soon as my friend’s usefulness to him was done, he broke off contact and moved to Japan. What’s worse, when my professor friend’s daughter went out for dinner and drinks with this guy in Japan, he proceeded to trash talk her father the entire night. Apparently he had never even liked my friend. Alas, their “friendship” was never more than a matter of convenience for him. Betrayals like this are always sad. But Aristotle insists they’re for the best. Purging your life of false friends is one of those things that’s best done sooner rather than later. True friends stick by each other even when it’s no longer convenient. And it’s good to know who your true friends are.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a rather Aristotelian philosopher when it comes to ethical matters, maintains that you can never really know what a friendship is made of until you mess up. This is, I think, a rather important addition to Aristotle’s theory of friendship. Can your friendship survive “the occasional asshole” incident? Is it ruined by it? Does it become stronger? Can your friend accept a heartfelt apology? Can they forgive you? Will they hold a grudge? These are questions of vital importance, questions that will ultimately decide whether or not it’s possible to have a long-term friendship with this person. But alas, these questions can be answered only after someone makes a mistake. As such, perhaps it’s best to get this stuff out of the way as soon as possible. To that end, I suggest that you make a big scene at tomorrow night’s dinner party. Seriously, get wasted and make a total ass out of yourself. Talk about how much you love The Da Vinci Code and Ann Coulter. Be loud and silly. Spill a drink or two. And let the chips fall where they may.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)