Outfit Post - Gossip: Relationship poison or societal blessing?

My relationships with other women haven't been easy. I've struggled to avoid seeing other women as competition. I've had issues with confrontation. I've also battled insecurity, especially when I feared I was more attached to the friend that she was to me. However, the friendships I've had that crashed and burned the hardest all had one element in common: gossip. Former "friends" have spread gossip about my tattoos, my eating disorder, the way I dress, and the ways in which I raise my children.

Whether we're talking about our friends, our work acquaintances, or our family members, it seems only a matter of time before someone says something negative about someone else. Gossip is everywhere. At last count, over 40 newspaper columns, dozens of magazines, 50 television talk shows, and three major tabloids are spreading the word. In addition, there's gossip via cyberspace and, of course, old-fashioned word of mouth.

The dictionary defines gossip simply as "chatty talk; the reporting of sensational or intimate information." It's most often perceived as a dangerous practice that can ruin reputations, poison relationships, and halt careers. We gossip for a number of reasons:
  • It gives us a feeling of fitting in with others: Gossip is like telling a secret with someone else, which means you trust the person you're talking to. 
  • It helps us process our experiences: According to Irina Firstein, LCSW, a relationship expert: "Women have a need to share their experiences with another person, much more so than men," she says. "Gossip helps us dissect and digest what's happening with us."   
  • It helps us validate our feelings: When you're looking for empathy for your point of view, it helps to commiserate with a friend and talk about the person (or people) who have wronged you. You want your feelings to be reaffirmed. 
  • It is a learned trait: You might have seen it in your mother, or older siblings, or  childhood friends you admired. By the time you entered middle school, you probably learned that gossip is a key element in female relationships. 

      The most important (and dangerous) function of gossip is that it creates a false sense of closeness from sharing negative information. In one study, participants rated a college professor they had taken. They then were told that someone else (presumably in the next room) felt the same way about the professor. When the attitudes shared were negative, the participant reported feeling more familiar with the person they believed was in the other room. In other words, holding shared negative views about someone created feelings conducive to friendship and closeness.

      However, some researchers are contending that that gossip is actually more beneficial than it gets credit for, and is a universal glue that holds us closer together. "For a real understanding of our social environment, gossip is essential," agrees Jack Levin, Ph.D., professor of sociology and criminology at Boston's Northeastern University and coauthor of Gossip: The Inside Scoop. "Its primary function is to help us make social comparisons. For example, if we read bad news about celebrities in the tabloids, or get into the gruesome details of our neighbor's misery over a cup of coffee, our own problems begin to pale in comparison."

      Gossip, researchers argue, teaches us how to behave, determines our standing in the community, keeps us connected to one another and weeds out liars and cheats. Nearly two-thirds of adult conversation is devoted to people who aren't in the room, which translates to more than two hours a day. Some researchers believe that without indirect evaluations of other people's behavior, society would simply fall apart.

      How has your life been affected by gossip? Has gossip permanently affected the relationships you've had with other women? Are you inclined to agree with researchers that gossip might have beneficial effects?

      Thrifted Ralph Lauren silk top; thrifted vintage skirt; Buffalo Exchange python clutch; Gap sandals; TIKKR watch; Buffalo Exchange turquoise necklace; Charming Charlie silver necklace


      1. Firstly (is that a word?) LOOOOVE your outfit! Cute tummy!:) As for gossip, its why I don't have any friends. I could have friends, I'm friendly, gregarious and damn it people like me (snort:). But the lie's, backstabbing, it is all I have ever experienced from anyone but my husband and two childhood GUY friends. No girls, there not worth it.

      2. You are just gorgeous. I hope you know that.

        I am drooling over this outfit combination. I want everything.

        I hate gossip. The older I get the more I realize how hurtful it is-I went through a time of depression and anorexia and finding out what my "friends" were saying about me was extremely hurtful. I talk about people, but I always try to say positive things. It's very hard to do because it feels like the correct thing to do is to gossip, and sometimes I fail. But I think it's important to try.

        P.S. I think your tattoos are awesome. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

        The Bombshell Manifesto

      3. I do agree that gossip, in the broad definition, can have healthy benefits. But the word has *such* a negative feeling to me. One of my favorite professors used to say (and he was quoting someone else): "Small people talk about other people, Big people talk about ideas." I've been guilty, of course.

        You look fresh and fabulous!

      4. I have to weigh in on the positive side of gossip. I belong to a very close-knit social group. How close? I'm still BFFs with everyone I hung around with in middle school and high school. Everyone knows everyone else, the good bad and ugly. The difference, I think, is most of us like each other no matter what else is going on in our lives. Last year, I was at a major reunion in Las Vegas and realized that gossip was the only thing preventing me from making huge faux pas right and left. Knowing that someone was separating from her husband kept me from bouncing up and innocently asking how he was doing. Gossip has also warned me away from bad guys and let me know that someone was less than trustworthy.

        Maybe the difference here is that while we exchange information, nobody really rejoices in each other's misfortune? In fact, one of my friends was all excited recently because the girl who slept with her husband had her reputation trashed, and while I understand the schadenfreude impulse, the rest of us were a bit put off by her attitude.

      5. I think the big challenge in talking about gossip is that the word has multiple meanings. There's the general, and perhaps more old-fashioned, definition of "chatting about people and their lives and relationships and what they've been up to," and then there's the other definition, wherein "gossip" is used to mean "malicious gossip which is often untrue and sometimes deliberately harmful." With two such different but potentially overlapping meanings, it makes it hard to talk about gossip.

        To my mind, in the "having a good gossip" and chatting about people sense of the word, gossip seems like a reasonable and deeply-founded part of our social interactions. Though of course even in the most harmless and well-intentioned gossip session, misrepresentations and hurt feelings can occur. It can turn into the malicious kind of gossip even by accident.

        I don't think there's anything wrong with chatting about people, even when they're not around, even when it's not all 100% bad, but it's important to keep the negative comments in the right situations, with people who can be trusted not to repeat it inappropriately. There's really no reasonable place for malicious gossip though - there are better ways to bond with people than being unnecessarily negative about others.

      6. I can't stand gossip and try not to engage in it, though it does happen from time to time (as it is extremely difficult to escape it). I haven't yet seen it ruin anyone's life, but I think that is because I make an effort to remove myself from gossipy situation and people. I am really one of those people who would rather find out something from the horse's mouth, even if it is something that is less than positive. I see very little gain in gossip, and lets be honest, gossip is not very intelligent, and I would rather for relationships on intelligent conversation and connections.

        P.S. Your outfit looks fabulous! Love the color of that top, and that skirt is so summery!

      7. I like what you've done with the top. Your post seems to have two definations of gossip. I don't see that talking about another is automatically gossip. We talk about people all the time out of interest and concerns. The kind of talk that invites comparisons is of a different type...and I really do try to avoid that. We don't need judgment to run our lives.

      8. Thanks for this post, it's a real 'thinker'. I tend to agree with Terri and AvaTrimble. Talking about others out of concern, interest and sometimes a need to 'let off steam' with friends you TRUST can actually strengthen bonds with the person who's being discussed and lead to a better understanding. The intention of the 'gossip' is key here; but, as we all know, malicious gossip says more about the speaker's insecurities than the person being discussed.

      9. I find this post so timely. Right now I am dealing with the end of a friendship, all because of gossip.

        Last week she thought she was sharing enjoyable gossip with me, telling me what someone had been saying about me behind my back (I am a writer and they were bashing my writing).. she thought that it would just speak to his character, but really didn't realize that it would upset me (apparently). I completely lost confidence in every single word I typed for a good week and a half.

        Then I got upset and realized that our still very young friendship is basically only based on gossip... and I don't like it. It's not healthy, at all.

        I'm realizing that I want to be friends with people who don't take pleasure in putting down others through gossip, although I agree with some of the commenters - some 'gossip' can just be in terms of "oh have you heard what so and so is up to?" without being negative, but I almost think that should fall under a different term, because gossip's connotation is so negative.

      10. i kind of agree with terri here...i don't view all conversation that focuses on a person/people as "gossip." to me, and maybe this is just connotation and not actuality, people's talking about others *can* have positive effects, but "gossip" in and of itself is inherently negative/malicious. (of which i've been guilty and have spent the last 15 years trying to control my tongue and/or knee-jerk competitive nature.) either way, this is once again an excellent post that leaves me thinking. and you look so gorgeous, elissa--purple is your color!!

      11. I am new to your blog, but I must say I love it. Your outfits are always great and the writing is stellar.

        Now on to the topic at hand: Gossip did ruin my life for a while. Dramatic? Maybe, but I'll explain a bit and let you decide. I attended a church for a while, and dated the pastor's son. We broke up, the youth of the church started gossiping, and I was asked to leave the church. Church was my life, and all of my friends were there. I was also told that I couldn't contact anyone from the church. Now yes, I am/was an adult and can decide who and when I want to contact someone, but out of respect for them and the position it would have put my friends in, I quietly slipped away. The church doesn't know the full story, and every time I run into someone from that church I can feel the tension.

        Needless to say, I was very low for a very long time. I've since learned that what anyone else says about me is their business: I know who I am and my close friends do as well. If someone wants to gossip about me, it's their business. It hurts them more that I can allow it to hurt me. I can't go down that road of depression, panic attacks and lonliness again. I've held myself aloof from a lot of people because I've seen the snarkiness of their gossip about others.

        In short, yes, talk is good for the human race, but malicious gossip is not necessary and should be stopped. I've since found that church can be a haven, and doesn't always have to be like the place a came from. It's good people like those I go to church with now that have restored my faith in humanity and God.

      12. LOVE this outfit and your blog. Keep up the good work!


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