I knew it was a problem when they named a TV show after it: Gossip and girls.
It can be super tempting to talk about someone behind their back. Sometimes it’s a classmate or coworker who has been acting like a total dickhole for months, and you feel like the agony of interacting with them can only be quelled by bitching about their behavior to a friend. Sometimes it’s someone you barely even know, perhaps an acquaintance whose feelings you have little to no investment in; who cares if they wouldn’t want the world to know about their problems? Sometimes, dangerously, it’s a family member, and your words are carefully whispered to another family member, in the bathroom of a Bertucci’s during an awkward family reunion.
Whatever the situation, gossip is cathartic. Releasing information or complaints about someone you know is a brief respite from the burning need to tell someone. But whining about someone behind their back, or divulging their personal information, whether it be fact or rumor, is not ladylike, and can be extremely damaging.
Let’s say you are having an issue with someone at work. Perhaps they are constantly slacking off, hanging out in the break room sexting their babysitter while they are supposed to be working. This not only puts unnecessary pressure on you, who has to pick up their slack, but is by all means inappropriate. When you come home from work that day, you spend an hour moaning incessantly to your significant other about this fuckstick of a coworker and all the annoying things they do, while your s.o. plays GTA 5 and hopes against hope that a meteor falls directly on you where you’re sitting.
What your partner is too kind to tell you is that a) they don’t give a shit, and b) you telling them has no purpose on this earth other than to distract them from Animal Crossing. Is bitching to them going to solve the problem? I can hardly see how it would. If the problem is solvable at all, the only way to accomplish this is to tell the perpetrator that their actions are making you want to pull their asshole out through their mouth. If they don’t know that you are having wet dreams about their untimely demise, there is little to no chance of them ceasing their behavior. And I should add that if their behavior is truly inappropriate, or they have shown uncompromising behavior when confronted about it, you should still talk to a boss or other superior before flipping out.
Sometimes the problem is of a more disastrous nature, to the point where telling the person about it can’t be fixed. Say you take a salsa class, and the person you’ve been assigned to partner with is awful. Let’s say his name is Horatio Macdoogle. He is 5’6″, 350 pounds. He spits when he talks. He always smells like sauerkraut. He has a glass eye with a crack down the middle of it. He always has his pet raven on his shoulder, and it is permanently incontinent.
You do not like Horatio. Horatio cannot dance. Horatio’s pet raven cannot dance, either. You have asked your dance instructor if there is anyone else you can be partnered up with, and he says that it took him three hours to figure out these pairings based on each individual’s hip flexor range and astrological sign and he is having none of your bullshit, senorita. Short of quitting the class, there is literally nothing you can do about Horatio Macdoogle and his sauerkraut B.O.
Again: there is no point in gossiping to your Thursday night margarita buddies about Horatio and how much you hate him. It’s not Horatio’s fault that he spits when he talks. Saying mean things about him is not going to make him disappear and be magically replaced by Fabio. And your girlfriends do not want to hear the gory details. Well, maybe they do, but only in the name of schadenfreude. It doesn’t matter that you heard through the grapevine that Horatio and his pet raven have a romantic relationship. It ain’t noneya business, schweetheart.
Talking behind someone’s back can even make the problem worse for you. The more you exaggerate about a problem, the more it tends to fester inside you. Talking incessantly about how you think your statistics professor is skating by on tenure brings your attention to it repeatedly. It sits inside you, festering, day after day, until you are lying awake nights, visibly seething over how much you hate him and his stupid tweed jacket. (In my mind, statistics professors wear tweed. I don’t want to discuss it.) Ain’t nobody got time to be losing sleep over Doctor Bowtie von Briefcase. Plus, if it comes back to him, the consequences are going to make themselves apparent on your midterm grade.
Think of a woman you know for whom you have great respect, one who never orders her steak well-done or shits with the door open.
When was the last time you heard her talking shit about some poor sap behind his back?