Mar­ian Keyes: away with the gos­sip!

Mar­ian Keyes re­alises that her pre­vi­ous pen­chant for a good old gos­sip has strangely lost its ap­peal.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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