89. How well do we ever really know someone?

It struck me today that the longer we know someone the better we think we know them.

I’ve been told anecdotes about mutual acquaintances by people who hardly know them and thought at the time that there was no way they knew what they were talking about. I mean, I knew that person better than them. Or did I?
We can write them off as first impressions or superficial judgements but I think they can count for a lot. The more we know people the more we make excuses for them, cushion what they do, start to fill in the gaps. We begin to block out anything that conflicts with our preferred vision of them. We start to believe that they are incapable of certain things, and then we are shocked when they prove us wrong. Confucius said ‘Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without'; sometimes the people who are the most flawed shine the brightest, it makes them interesting and is what draws us in to them in the first place. But they are not perfect, noone is, and recognising that is important.

Twice now I have been told really early on in a relationship that a man would break my heart and it wouldn’t work out. Both times I reached a smug point in time where I felt like I’d proved that person wrong. I thought I knew my boyfriend better than anyone. But was I really blind to the reality, happily filtering out what other less compromised parties might be able to see?

They say if you want to know about a person, look at their friends. Actually, I say look at their enemies. Surely a wronged person knows them just as well as those they’ve been kind to. That’s not to say that anyone is all bad, but we all have different sides, and those flawed aspects of someone’s character are just as important as the nice ones. What people are capable of at their worst has just as much bearing on who they are. If we look through rose-tinted glasses we will never truly know someone.

Arthur Miller said that ‘the imperfections of a man, his frailties, his faults, are just as important as his virtues. You can’t separate them. They’re wedded.’ If I ever feel ready to trust someone else I’m going to try and see them warts and all, and if I still like them anyway then all the better. Maybe we can never really know anyone, but I’m willing to get as close as I can.

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