Have you ever had this conversation with your mother/aunt/sister/grandmother? “So, do you remember that girl from first grade/our former neighbor/your old teacher?” You: “Not really.” She: “Of course you remember [insert something you have zero recollection of].” You: “I still have no idea who you’re talking about.” She: “The one who [insert detail you vaguely remember but thought was maybe from a movie].” You: “Oh okay, I guess I know her. Why?” She: “Have you heard? She’s sick/dead/dead to me/divorced/a lottery winner but now bankrupt and fat.” Now, if you’re a man, you’re probably confused by this stroll down memory lane just to hear awful news about someone you’d forgotten existed. But if you’re a woman, you get it. Even though you couldn’t pick the girl you rode the bus to day camp with out of a lineup, you’re glad to know she went through a messy divorce with a man twice her age and got fat. To me, “Have you heard…” is one of the greatest starts to a sentence that a sentence can have. This has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.
I once gossiped about someone’s dad being in prison, only to find out I was talking to the man’s daughter. Then I had to backtrack and say it really wasn’t such a big deal and I’m sure he was innocent (he most certainly was not). I’ve dished about who slept with whom, who didn’t sleep with whom and who gave whom a hand job on a wedding-party bus in front of the bride’s family. But I committed my worst gossip faux pas in my early 20s. I kind of…sort of…totally casually implicated someone in a murder. Yes, murder. It wasn’t great. Turns out, nobody wants to be implicated in a murder, even casually. I learned that the hard way when friends of the person I’d implicated called me out and called me names. Also, people love repeating that someone they know could be implicated in a murder. If you mention that someone might be implicated in a murder, it’s going to spread like wildfire. So my advice is, don’t implicate anyone in any murders, just to be safe. I felt horrible. I know it’s wrong to gossip. It’s rude, tacky and downright despicable—but so damn irresistible.
Men don’t really gossip. I don’t get it. It’s frustrating, because my guy could go to dinner with a dude who’s in the middle of a juicy breakup and come back and say they just talked about football and work. I mean, come on. Nada? Then I ask questions to sound as though I care (“Do you think he still talks to the woman he had the affair with? I imagine it’s hard for her too. What was her name again?”), but deep down there’s a gossip animal begging to be fed. That’s why every January I resolve to quit. It’s a terrible habit, a dangerous habit. You can hurt people’s feelings. You can spread untrue rumors. You can wrongfully implicate someone in a murder. Gossiping can have emotional, romantic and legal implications you don’t even realize. Your whispering could get an investigation reopened, for example. It makes me feel guilty to think I could cause any of that, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling as though I’m sitting on a diamond mine when I have some information. Because it’s all about information.
Boyfriends have asked me in the past why I love gossip so much. Well, that’s it. Information is social power. You want to be the first to tell someone something. And because other people love it too, it’s currency. But I’m not a bad person, and I don’t think most gossips are. When we clutch our chests and say “Bless her heart” after finding out someone has diabetes, an infected belly-button piercing or worse, we mean it. We may take an ugly pleasure in spreading the news, but at the root of it, we feel bad. We want to help. We want to send flowers or food or unfriend the ex on Facebook—every little thing helps. Yet we can’t escape the seduction of information. Why do you think celebrity rags sell so well? We want to know the gory details of everyone else’s lives. I would read a People magazine just about people I went to high school with!
I think what it comes down to is the things we gossip about are the things we’re worried about happening to us. Disease, death, divorce, tax audits. If something does happen to us, at least it also happened to someone else. The grass isn’t always greener. Maybe their grass was foreclosed on or their wife had an affair with the guy who mowed it. Other people have problems too. I know people gossip about me. I broke my vagina once; try not telling someone that. But I know it’s not great to gossip. I should spend my time doing more productive things, like reading the classics or falling asleep during the movie versions of them. This year is the year. I’m resolved! I’m really going to try to stop the gossip for good.
But real quick before I do, I’d like to point out that nobody was ever arrested for that murder…just saying.