It’s happened to you … I’m sure of it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Susie, who told me, heard it from Teressa, while chatting with Belinda about the trouble that Samantha had with Julie and Claire, that you have a friend who gossips, and you don’t like it one bit. But what can you do?
A good friendship goes sour when someone you cared deeply about talks about you behind your back. Or perhaps, they tried on more than one occasion to pull you into their negative talk about someone else. And just like that, you have found yourself no longer trusting one of your best friends.
I know it’s happened to you. I know, because it is an issue that is forever plaguing female friendships. We have all known a gossip in our lives, and most of us have fallen victim to their webs—even though we always believed ourselves to be above that kind of behavior. There we are, in the thick of it.
You would think that the gossip phase ends in high school. And for most women, it does. We grow up, we realize that friendship is about loyalty, and we stop the cattiness that ruled our circle of friends when we were teenagers.
But there is always one in every group who isn’t quite able to move past that phase; stunted in their emotional maturity by the need to continue her reign as queen bee— the one who elevates herself by tearing others down. Adult gossips tend to be extremely manipulative, and their motivations are often rooted in a need to be seen as more competent and accomplished than those around them.
Think about it. Someone who is forever gossiping about the lives and choices of others, including their “best friends,” is singularly focused on hiding the flaws in their own life and convincing others that they are better than everyone else.
Meanwhile, they are more likely one of the worst friends you could come across. Because you had better believe that someone who is perpetually gossiping about everyone else in your group, is doing the same to you the minute you walk out of the room. They may seem sincere and as though they value your friendship above all others when they probe you for further details about your life, but every intimate piece of information you share is going to be spread around the group the first chance the gossip gets.
So how do you deal with one of these toxic influences in your life?
You’re sitting with an old friend, listening as she tells you how much money a mutual friend spent putting new fixtures in her house. The number is high, and she gives you a look that says, “Can you believe that? How could they spend that much on doorknobs?”
Suddenly, you feel uncomfortable, realizing this isn’t really information you need to know—nor is it even your business. Why is this friend imparting these details, when you never asked to have them?
You flash back to other times in your friendship when this same friend has shared information with you she probably shouldn’t have. The conversation she started to bash another friend’s fiancé, only to later be sickly sweet in his presence. Her phone calls, prompted purely to spill “secrets” about others within your group. And the many times when you told yourself she valued your friendship, which was why she opened up to you like this, only to later discover that others were also now privy to details you had told to only her.
You don’t always realize you are dealing with a gossip at first. There is usually a lightning bolt moment when it hits you that this friend is not as kind, compassionate and sincere as you had once wanted to believe. In fact, she seems to thrive on gossip, and has systematically been driving wedges between all the women in her life—manipulating some to rely on her, and distrust everyone else.
Now is the time to evaluate. When that lighting bolt moment hits, sit down and truly contemplate the extent of this issue. Don’t brush it off or tell yourself her good qualities outweigh her bad. Instead, think about everything she has said to you about mutual friends in recent months—and then turn the tables, and imagine how you would feel to find out she had been saying equally negative things about you to them.
Because chances are, she has.
Confronting a gossip can be uncomfortable. No one wants to be called out on their bad behavior, and often, adult gossips don’t think they are doing anything wrong. Still, part of being an adult is having “adult” conversations—and if you have any hope at all of preserving this friendship, you need to address you concerns and explain what your expectations of the friendship are moving forward.
It might be best to wait until the next time your gossip calls with a juicy bit of information. Stop her before she can finish, and explain that you’ve decided to put an end to negative discussions about others from your life. Turn the focus on yourself, explaining that you are hoping to make changes in how you interact with others, and that you just don’t feel comfortable gossiping about friends.
Here is the tough part—you also have to own your responsibility, because if this friend has been gossiping to you for years, it is because you allowed it and participated in it. So don’t just blame her, but explain your reasons for wanting to change and plant the seed for how adult friendships should actually function.
With loyalty and compassion, not backstabbing and tearing down.
Call It Off
It’s possible that may be the only hint your gossip needs to realize that her behavior has been unkind, and to start making efforts towards change herself. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that she will call you a few days later and say, “I know you’re trying to rise above the gossip lately, but I’ve got something you have to hear.”
After all, someone who has made it into adulthood still functioning as a gossip likely isn’t going to have the strength of character to change. So at some point, you will have to ask yourself what you get out of this friendship, and if it is worth being around someone who has the propensity for being so two-faced.
Happy and healthy adults will realize this isn’t someone they need in their circle of friends. Life is too short, and there are plenty of women who will relate to you, care about you, and have your back if they ever hear someone talking negatively about you.
It’s perfectly acceptable to walk away from a crappy friendship. In fact, sometimes it’s completely necessary for your own mental well-being. A good friend would never say anything about you that they wouldn’t say to you, and even then—they would keep your secrets to themselves. You can’t control others though, or force them to change when they don’t see anything at all wrong with their behavior. All you can control is how much more you choose to expose yourself to that toxicity.
So if you are friends with a gossip, your best move may be to walk away. Turn your focus towards the friendships you have with women you genuinely care about you. And leave the gossiping to the highschoolers.
* * *Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever had to ask a friend to cool the gossiping? We'd love to hear about how you handled this sticky situation.