Marian Keyes: away with the gossip!
Marian Keyes realises that her previous penchant for a good old gossip has strangely lost its appeal.
THE LADY in the bottle store started ringing my 18 bottles of wine through the till. “What’s going on? A party?” “Ten women coming over for dinner tonight,” I said.
“Ten women?” she replied. “That’ll be some bitching session. Nothing as enjoyable as a good old bitch.” She began warming to her theme. “Who’s got fat? Whose husband’s done a runner? Who’s been done for drink driving? Ha-ha-ha.”
“Ha-ha-ha,” I repeated, because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool people pleaser.
But my laugh was definitely hollowsounding, because the idea of a good old bitch suddenly seemed horribly unattractive. Unsettled, I drove home, the bottles rattling in the boot. Had
I a virus? Was I coming down with something? Because the idea of gleefully dissecting someone else’s misfortune was utterly repellent. And surely I hadn’t always been that way?
No, I hadn’t. I could be very bitchy. On occasion, I could summon up a funny turn of phrase and generate a cheap laugh, which was fine when it was at my expense, but not fine at all when it was at someone else’s, which, to my shame, it sometimes was. Worse, I mistrusted people who refused to bitch. Like, what was their problem? Were they Christians or something? In fairness, I wasn’t toxic 24 hours a day, but I had a robust shadow side. All of a sudden, though, it was clear that making people laugh at someone else’s expense was like being able to play table tennis using my lady garden – worthy of comment, but not exactly something to be proud of.
I realised that over the past year or so, a new pattern had been forming in my life. If I said something bad about someone, I felt a little, well, poisoned. In one recent conversation with a friend, we touched on a person who drives us both mad, then abruptly, the chat stalled. After an odd little hiatus, I said, “Let’s not be mean,” at the same time as my friend said, “But she’s so good-hearted.”
Also, it seemed that everywhere I went, I was meeting wonderful people – young, old, men, women. People I wanted to get to know better, to have over to my house and go on picnics with (yes, picnics!). I was sort of in love with every one of them, and from time to time I speculated on why it had taken so long for my path to cross with all these wonderful people. I was starting to suspect that the wonderful people had been there all along and that the only impediment had been my attitude.
The dinner for 10 women at my house was happening because
I’d developed a wild crush on an especially fabulous woman – we’ll call her Louise. I’d met her at a couple of work things, then we followed each other on Twitter, then a friend, Roisin, said: “That Louise is great. Can we get together to show her some love?” I also had a wild crush on Roisin, so I hopped to it, inviting them both, along with some old friends and a couple of other women I didn’t know so well, but thought might be good eggs. And trust me, taking a punt on some women that I suspected might be good eggs was way out of character for me. At least, way out of character for the old me.
I used to be the person who seized on details of an acquaintance’s misfortune (bankruptcy, illness, take your pick), hoping that the law of averages meant it was less likely to come knocking at my door. Ghoulishly picking over the minutiae was something I used almost as a talisman. With every gossipy word I spoke, I felt as if I was weaving a protective spell. (Codswallop.) To make matters worse, I had a zero-sum attitude to life, in that if someone else got something (success,
I wasn’t toxic 24 hours a day, but I had a robust shadow side.
thinness, a cheery nature), it meant there was less left over for me. (More codswallop.) And by bitching about the lucky owner of the success/ thinness/cheeriness, I could rebalance life’s scales in my favour. (Further codswallop.)
Somewhere along the way – and I had no idea why – my codswallopy thinking had stopped, and so had my bitching. Worse still, it dawned on me that I no longer wanted to be around people who were mean for mean’s sake. Where had my shadow side gone? It was skipping around on the sunny uplands, showing up for barbecues – and not just because it wanted a look at the barbecue-holder’s house, but because it felt a strong fondness for the people involved. This meant a fundamental reassessment of my personality. Who was I now? Had I become – horrors! – a sap? Would I ever make new friends again? After all, bitching is a great way to bond, right?
But the mad thing was, I’d never had so many friends. I’d been approaching people in a spirit of openness and getting back a lot of love. Clearly, it wasn’t just me who wanted to be nice. Half-convinced I’d uncovered a breaking Zeitgeist, I floated my New Niceness idea on Twitter and got back a ton of “Nice? Are you insane? Look at Isis! And Boko Haram! And North Korea!” But I think it’s precisely because the world has got a lot scarier that we’ve started being nicer to each other. It’s not that I’m suddenly blind to the failings of others – lateness, being a little too smug about having snagged a bargain, a tendency to show one too many photos of their toddlers, and so on. We’ve all got faults on account of the fact that we’re all human, but I’d rather just let stuff go. This isn’t me advocating tolerance of people whose behaviour is genuinely objectionable, but even then, sitting around and eviscerating their character over a curry doesn’t hold the allure it once did.
So, the 10 women came over, and I can tell you that, yes, it’s possible to be funny without being bitchy, and it’s possible to have a laugh without being mean. ‘They’ say you get back what you give out and – I haven’t entirely lost my reason – of course, you don’t always. But I’d rather be open to the goodness of the world than to the badness. And I’m not the only one.
With every gossipy word I spoke, I felt like I was weaving a protective spell.