Is One of Your Friends Talking Behind Your Back? (It’s Actually Okay, and Here’s Why)Jun 27, 2016
Judgement feels like an ex that I can’t quite seem to break up with. These days, it’s such a common theme in my life, creeping up pretty regularly and calling attention to itself. We all judge—even (and sometimes especially)—those of us who try desperately hard not to.
Amidst all of this, I’ve been reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, and then wondering why the hell I didn’t pick it up earlier. It’s beyond good, to say the least. One story, in particular, resonated especially well with me.
In the story, a bunch of good guy friends get together for a camping trip every year. Mr. Odd Man Out, one of the men in the group, wanted advice after hearing his friends talking about his relationship with his girlfriend. Their comments were riddled with judgements, and Mr. Odd Man Out was hurt. While his first instinct was to tell the guys to go f*@# themselves and drop out of the group, he also understood that these sorts of convos happen among friends all the time.
Ever been in his shoes? I have, and let me tell you—it’s not a great feeling to show up completely and truly, speaking your truth, only to have friends, family, and strangers judge you. When they judge and speak about you behind your back, it’s akin to being stripped naked.
Here’s what Strayed has to say about the whole thing:
We talk about our friends behind their backs. We do. Ask any social scientist who has studied human communication behaviors…Our friends are witness to our attributes and flaws, our bad habits and good qualities, our contradictions and our contrivances. That they need to occasionally discuss the negative aspects of our lives and personalities in terms less than admiring is to be expected. Like anything, there are healthy and constructive ways to do this, and unhealthy and destructive ways.
Strayed points out that the healthy and constructive ways to do this are rooted in respect and love, while the unhealthy ways come from cruelty and ill will. Basically, the good way is a discussion; the bad way is gossip. In every relationship, the people involved are going to have their own opinions about you, but the good ones will be there for you—no matter what—because you showed up and spoke your truth.
Ultimately, I want you to know that “gossiping” behind your back is totally natural and completely okay. Your friends might have concerns that they want to talk about with someone else, just like you’ll talk about them. It’s part of sustaining a true, long friendship. It’s not betrayal, but a blessing.
This entire thing makes me want to reach out and hug Cheryl Strayed. It’s so comforting to hear that constructive gossip is normal. So often, friendships end because of “betrayal,” with years of trust and caring thrown out before the air has cleared and the dust has settled. So many relationships could be saved with a heart-to heart, but those conversations are so uncomfortable that sometimes we opt out and pull the plug on our friendship.
While I’m a believer that things happen for a reason and sometimes it’s best to let go of a friendship that doesn’t serve you, think about everything friend-related with a critical eye. Is it really that the friendship’s toxic, or is your ego simply bruised? (Sometimes it can be tricky to tell the difference.)
Lasting friendships, just like marriages, take effort from both people. Unfortunately, while you can’t make it work if the other person isn’t willing to do their share, it’s important that you allow yourself to be vulnerable. To have a real conversation, even if the conversation isn’t well received. To show up. Why? Because you owe it to yourself to speak your truth, and you owe it to the friendship to try and salvage it. After all, if it doesn’t work out, at least you know it wasn’t from lack of trying. Instead, it wasn’t meant to last, and it’s time to let it go.
Wanna know what Strayed’s final words to Mr. Odd Man Out were?
That’s what you have in these men. Odd Man Out. True friends. Real blessings. Forgive them. Feel lucky you have them. Move along.
Thank you, Strayed, for being so simple and real. For knowing the importance of forgiveness. And for giving us permission to be human, flaws and all.