I knew a man once upon a time who liked to ‘take a drink.’ John also liked to philosophise a bit – mostly about himself! His most memorable line; spoken with great feeling as he gazed into his half-full pint of the black stuff went something like this: “One of the greatest mysteries of life is how I managed to court the sweetest girl in County Cavan for three years and finished up marrying the greatest b***h in Cavan!” Now … now girls, hang on a minute and allow me to save myself here.
There are two things I need to establish. Firstly, any Cavan women I have ever known have all been the loveliest women in the world – and as I have a drop of Cavan blood in me, I feel entitled to tell John’s story. The second qualification to be applied to John’s tale of woe, is that for every man who might echo his sentiments, there are two women who could say much worse about the man they married. ‘Going out’ with the loveliest human being and yet marrying a ‘B’ (apply either 4 or 7 letters of your choice to follow the ‘B’) is not a gender thingy.
You have all heard about the ‘street angel and ‘house devil’. I have known many such men. (And this category is predominately male). These are guys who behave exemplary in public but are abusive and controlling within the confines of the family home. A real live ‘Jekyll & Hyde.’ More than once in my lifetime I have been shocked when a couple who were friends of ours – and both apparently lovely people, split up without any third party being involved. This bears out a related saying to the above; ‘if you want to know me, come and live with me.’
I bet that few of you know the origin of ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know’? I’ll tell you this instant – just before you lose interest and move to page eleven. That saying comes from an Irish proverb going back to the sixteenth century.
It makes good sense then to hitch your wagon to ‘the devil you know’. Here we come to the crucial ceist. How do you know you know somebody? Take those nice couple I told you about, for example? How many people out there courted the nicest person they ever knew – ‘and yet finished up marrying the greatest ‘B’ in the county’?
The human animal is capable of maintaining dual, or even multiple personalities. Truth is that we can all play vastly different roles to suit the script of the day. This humble columnist has claimed to be ‘a good judge of character’, but I have been wrong in many instances. Worse than being wrong was the fact that it sometimes took me years to realise my naivety.
Let us look at extreme examples of how difficult it is sometimes to be sure you have ‘the devil you know’. Rapists and murderers have managed to sustain a double life as, on the one hand playing the devoted husband and loving father, whilst living a parallel life of stalking unsuspecting victims for their sick games. I regularly watch some of those true detective stories on TV. There is a never-ending cast of ‘respectable men (mostly men) – even the occasional ‘man of God’, who manage to hide their dark side from their partner and family.
The Internet provides a fruitful hunting ground for dangerous types – but you don’t need to go online to risk becoming entangled with a predator. They are hiding in the open out there and passing themselves off as your ordinary nice guy in the street. Pubs, clubs, sporting ventures and dance venues give cover to ‘the devil you don’t want to know.’ They move around effortlessly in ‘polite society.’ These are some of the extreme cases.
The worst specimen of the ‘devil you don’t know’, who sets out to become ‘the devil you know’ is very good at his calling. He will lavish gifts and affection as he grooms his prey and is difficult to spot. We will all get our calls wrong sometimes, but the really unlucky ones get the big call wrong.
Yes, you don’t always know ‘the devil’ you think you know – but this is part of the great adventure that is living. We should never become so distrusting or suspicious that we don’t take a chance on people. Knowing someone is not a one way street and this unique human bond is a vital part of being happy.
In a nutshell, if ‘the devil you know’ doesn’t show you unselfish love, affection, trust and respect, I suggest you take another look at ‘the devil you don’t know!’
Truth can be stretched, but it cannot be broken.