Nigel No Friends

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.