I saw some hope for Aiden.
This is true, though this
indicates he finds people toxic far less often than he used to. Now it doesn’t follow from your first statement that “if you don’t find toxic people everywhere you go, you’re not toxic.” Perhaps he finds them less toxic because they kiss up to him. But it’s a sign he’s got something right. Maybe I’m sympathizing with him because I felt there were certain people (authority figures) I had to deal with, longer than I did, because I was convinced I couldn’t do better. (I could. I did.)
I think certainly, up until the wedding, a variation on this holds true: he’s probably less toxic than the people he hangs around with (they’re just cheerier when they snipe,) though he doesn’t realize how toxic they are, and that’s good enough for him. He’s not the nicest guy in the room but (apparently) the least outwardly toxic person. It’s a low standard–and one you can sandbag to achieve. That’s all he has to make him feel special, and maybe after giving the wedding speech, he wants to raise the bar.
It’s so difficult to go about this formally, though. Especially in high school there were some people I wanted to tell “I’ve moved on from you” or “I want to move on from you” but telling them point-blank, well, feels self-contradictory.
Certainly when I re-visited my high school after X years away I visited a classroom that was toxic, because of a certain teacher, and in the big picture, I had some thoughts: I’d learned what the teacher claimed they were teaching, I really WAS Interested in Stuff, I’d seen things the right way, and I was frustrated over some lost years and opportunities and lies, but I didn’t need to complain about it. I simply took some pictures with my phone, of things that weren’t there any more. (Yes, there’s one other place I’d like to revisit in order to put things aside. Yes, I visited a bunch of classrooms of teachers I grew to respect more over the years, teachers I wish I’d done better for.)
I don’t know how much I can trust Aiden, because his claims are a bit grandiose, and I think he has a hard ceiling well below “legitimately great guy,” but it might be “not the worst guy to call a great guy, though clearly not the best.” I think his final statement is a bit unclear. He does talk about “people who appreciate me, who know I’m a good guy,” which is self-indulgent, but he does give at least lip service to “we.” There wasn’t much “we” (if any at all) before Laura’s wedding, besides “being on Laura’s team” with the white suit (most weddings, I understand, don’t have teams.)
And the wedding statement is unclear, too. On the one hand he says “I said something that MATTERED” and at face value, without knowing histories, it is. But on the other hand he says “I’ve won.” But won against what? His own inner demons and urges to lash out? Or he’s showed his friends, sneaky-style, he’s better than they are?
If nothing else he may have redirected his narcissism to something slightly better. For someone with flaws as glaring as his, that’s not all bad. When I worked through, I was worried the ending would be: Aiden gets up, makes a speech, and he finally gets people to laugh with him at Laura and John, and he defends how right he was, and how nobody called him a liar, and years down the road, everyone admitted privately to him how right he was. So he exceeded (minimal) expectations for me. At least on the surface.
Given all that, though, he’s not going to come straight out and say he’s a red-piller or incel or what-have-you at the end. People don’t say it like that.
The Best Man had me thinking a lot about Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. How his fantasies aren’t just about showing everyone he’s tough, but also at the end, where he shows he’s cool and ready to move on when he takes the Cybil Shepherd/Betsy character’s fare and just moves on with his life, but did he really?
Yes … that’s a problem! I’ve definitely shifted obsessions. It’s humbling to realize that you’re not over X, you just switched a new habit. Sort of like “I don’t spend too much time playing game Y” turns into “Oh, that’s because I’m playing game Z.”
Certainly there were people I felt obliged to impress. Some actually were good people and some weren’t. Either way it took away from more helpful relationships.