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XOXO Gossip Boy

Or the unexpected virtue of blabbing



I don't like bad-behavior confessionals. You know the kind: "Here is a great story about the time I stole $5K from a church" or "I pushed my sister down the stairs and her dreams of ballet were forever ruined — ain't I a stinker?" Nobody needs to know those things. No great truth of the human condition is ever discovered when one of these things is written.

I do, however, think people should be as honest as they can about their faults. I'm lazy. I'm prone to hyperbole, which is the worst thing in the whole wide world. I have recently (and delightfully!) been described as an "opinion bully" — the kind of person who finds it hard to budge when I know my take is the right one. (That dress is black and blue!) I'm trying to be better about those liabilities.

But there's one mistake I make over and over, and will probably never give up on: I'm a gossip. And I bet you are, too.

I come by it honestly. Last summer, my grandma was reminiscing about a conversation she had with her late mother-in-law, and it began along the lines of, "Well, we were making fun of so-and-so ..." I had to cut her off.

"Do you realize how many of our family stories start with the phrase, 'We were making fun of ... ?'"

I don't remember her response, but I'm sure the answer was, "Not enough." My immediate family has amusing/cruel little nicknames for people in our social circle. In our defense, these nicknames are not based on anything as cruel as looks — more like on annoying personality traits. You know how you have one friend you kind of hate? I think that's all of my parents' friends.

Friendship is gossip's bread and butter. Who do you blab to, if not your pals? To talk shit into the ether, to no one, is useless. Gossip is social capital. It strengthens the bond between husband and wife. It turns acquaintances into besties. It lets you know who is in and who is out. It has power. Have you noticed how weird Anna has been lately? Oh, well, that's because she and Ben are getting a divorce. Is such an exchange gossip? Absolutely. Is it helpful information, though, as to the goings-on of one's social circle? Absolutely.

And guess what. My friendships with men are not fundamentally different from my friendships with women. I'm friends with people of either-slash-any gender because of the things we have in common. Yelling about television. Yelling about desserts. Yelling over beers. And of course, up-until-3-in-the-morning dishing about how so-and-so got turned down for a promotion. Has the mental picture you've been painting this whole time been me with a coven of vicious harpies, cackling about our acquaintances' misfortunes over a cauldron of yogurt and push-up bras? Sorry to break it to you, but my male friends are just as good — if not better — at letting me in on juicy secrets.

The fact that something as vague and universal as "gossip" is a gendered concept at all is kind of befuddling to me. What is gossip, if not news? It's news on the small scale. It's not wars and politics and economics, big important worldwide issues meant only for the serious. It's local. It's homes, it's families, it's sex, it's love, it's dating, it's life. Oh, there we go! That is why it's seen a woman's foible rather than a man's: It's just the minutiae of the everyday. Nothing important. Just life.

Of course, I think gossip and what I will colloquially refer to as "shit-talking" are two totally different things. One is necessary. The other is cruel. And I think the two are often unfairly conflated. Gossip is your dad telling you that your uncle and aunt are getting a divorce because your aunt had an affair. Shit-talking is your dad telling you your uncle and aunt are getting a divorce because your aunt had an affair because your uncle has a small wiener and smells really bad. See the difference?

The reason we like to pretend we never gossip, of course, is because we know deep down that someone out there is talking about us. It's easier to imagine yourself as above it than grapple with the truth that sometimes people who genuinely, truly love and respect you also happen to speculate behind your back about the appropriateness of your new boyfriend. I know that I'm talked about. You know that you're talked about. We all are. By our friends, by our families, by men and by women. It's hard, because we can always kind of guess what the topic is, too. No one knows your faults better than you do.

Which is why, I assume, my friends are gathered together right now, blabbing about what a blabber I can be.

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