Vital signs: Who's your friend?

Vital signs: Who's your friend? - How many friends do you have to have before you start killing them? The Talented Mr Ripley took it all rather far in his trajectory to Somebody status. He killed his role model, killed another friend who was on to him for

by PETER YORK
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How many friends do you have to have before you start killing them? The Talented Mr Ripley took it all rather far in his trajectory to Somebody status. He killed his role model, killed another friend who was on to him for imposture, killed his lover and would have sliced Gwyneth Paltrow if someone hadn't turned up.

Friends can be tiresome. They can make you waste time doing silly things; they can be an opportunity cost - you could be cultivating the chairman or the kindly venture capitalist who'll incubate your dot.com They can be deeply embarrassing creatures, wild and woolly, way off the careerist message. Worst of all, they can know too much about you.

Maybe that's why there's a certain sort of careerist whose friendship group is so startlingly homogenous that it leaves you gasping for air - like those power-couple parties where the men are all senior corporate types or professionals and the wives are doctors or investment bankers. Don't they know anyone else? Or have they culled the wild and woollies, the drunks, the superannuated hippies, the Hartlepool homeboys and the rest.

People's friends sometimes say the most extraordinary things: 'Of course you were out of your head on ... all that year'; 'I've still got these pictures of you and Robbie in the red leathers at the Eartha Kitt night at Heaven'; 'I really didn't know you with those teeth, they're great'; 'Last I heard of you, you'd met this really rich bird - oh, sorry, love' (to the wife).

Careerists have always culled their friends. Move to another town, another region, another country even and get some new ones. People have long memories in your home town and, anyway, careerists have to move to bigger places.

You can engineer strategic quarrels, tell them that, much as you respect them, it's never going to work because you're two such singular characters. Better still, you make their spouses hate you so much they don't dare risk seeing you. You can find God, give up social drinking, forswear major-league chemicals or unusual sex enthusiasms; and you can inveigh against it tediously. They won't want to be saved. You can invent a mission so comprehensive that they won't expect ever to see you. It's a no-brainer that if you're off saving the planet or working for the security services or marrying a royal, they'll have to cheer you on from the sidelines.

There's a mass of traditional strategies for getting people out of your life, many more subtle and humane than contract killing. Think of the time you'll save not going to the old bar or club with your retarded single friends when you're thirty-something and married. Or not going on the Home Counties 'young marrieds' dinner-party circuit when you're still single and spending more ambitious evenings in sharper places. Wouldn't you rather not know how it turned out with Henry's hamstring or Helen's hysterectomy? Just how much human drama can you take?

I lay these options and perspectives before you in all fairness. I owe it to you, dear reader, to parade the conventional careerist possibilities, to sympathise with your agonies on this delicate matter. But as a sort of one-man, One Nation multi-culti Pollyanna type, I have to admit I don't really believe in culling friends, apart from people with severe behavioural disorders - arson or homicide, say.

I'm afraid I'm on the 'rich tapestry' side of things. I find it deeply worrying when people have only one kind of friend, are interested in only one kind of gossip and only ever pitch up on one circuit. Conversely, I like meeting strategic planners with a rigorous critique of early Spandau Ballet based on two misspent years as a record-plugger, or bankers with a real knowledge of Das Kapital.

A wider circuitry is a career advantage too. The more kinds of people you know, the more culture shocks you experience, the more valuable you'll be.

And all the standard Conservative constituency committee, Foreign Office weekend, FTSE head-hunter discreet enquiries are changing too. They want more local colour, experience, reformed-bad-boy-in-your-history. Alkie, druggy, pervy, sink estate background - they can all work for you, add interest to your CV. And wonderfully dull friends help you learn how the real people live; see them as an investment. There's room for everyone if you manage your time. Better still if you have a dragon to manage it for you - that way you can stay unspoilt.

Peter York, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing director of consultants SRU.

e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk.

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