Definition: The well-intentioned gossip is your buddy who knows you’re in the market for a cool after-school job, so they slip your name into conversation with a friend who works at a café… by mentioning offhand how totally flat-broke you are. They just want to help, so they tell other people your personal business in an attempt to rally the troops. But you didn’t necessarily want help, and you definitely didn’t ask for it, and now you’re super embarrassed.
Exaggerated archetype: The ultimate well-intentioned but meddling mom of Bob’s Burgers, Linda Belcher, whose good-natured conversation about independent study with the school principal leads to Tina, Gene and Louise having to take a mom-led synchronized swimming class.
If you’re the target: Gosh, you know your friend was just trying to help, but this is so unbelievably annoying. If the infraction is minor, resulting in nothing more serious than social embarrassment, then now is the time to be like Mother Theresa—“to pass over the mistakes of others”—and have great compassion for the person who unintentionally wronged you. Few things are harder than figuring out how to handle an unpleasant situation where a person was coming from a place of love. If they screwed something up big time—soccer season is really stressing you out, so they called up one of your teammates and asked if you were thinking about quitting the team, which led to being shunned in the locker room and a concerned coach calling your parents—you need to sit your friend down and talk about how what they did hurt your situation, rather than helping it. Saying something like “I understand that you were just trying to help, but I need you to know that your behavior was invasive and ended up further complicating things for me,” then explaining how it made things harder, acknowledges the truth of the situation, and places the blame on the behavior instead of the actual loving-but-deeply-misguided human. If they see the way their behavior ended up hurting instead of helping things, they will hopefully think twice before they do it again.
If you’re the gossip: People often gossip as a way to covertly share their worries and fears, in order to boost their self esteem, or to feel better when they’re stressed or down. Maybe you want other people to see you as caring and concerned, maybe you’re genuinely worried about your friend—understandably so—but you are not the hero Gotham needs. The most important thing to do when your friend is going through a rough time isn’t taking matters into your own hands. It’s putting matters back into their hands. Being a good friend at a time like this is all about agency. You want your friend to feel supported in their decisions, not like you’re going behind their back to manipulate the situation. Instead of outsourcing, go further in, toward your friend: Ask them what they’d like to do about the situation and how you can help. Listen, support them, and brainstorm solutions WITHOUT acting on them yourself unless your friend specifically asks for your help, you masked crusader, you. You’ll be helping them five million times more that way.
Definition: In their ideal incarnation, the matchmaker gossip fancies themselves a bit like Cher Horowitz when she tries to set up two of her teachers. You’ve let them in on your secret—that you have the biggest crush ever on Bobby Barfbag— and swear them to secrecy…as they’re reaching for their phone, texting 1-800-BAR-FBAG to let him know you’re looking for a date for homecoming. They’re trying to play matchmaker, and in doing so, they’ve accidentally mortified you. Not to be confused with the well-intentioned gossip—in a nastier incarnation, this person might not be all that well-intentioned, but instead, more interested in proving they got the dirt first.
Exaggerated archetype: Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, when he corners Tom’s new girlfriend at Donna’s wedding, explaining to her that Tom said he’d “marry her tomorrow” (by which Tom just meant that he liked her a lot, but man, holy miscommunication.)
If you’re the target: It’s no secret that crush news sometimes feels like the biggest, baddest secret of all. First of all—once you’re ready to come out of hiding—don’t discount the possibility that your friend, albeit via a huge fuckup, may have just opened a door between you and Barfbag. You’ve got time—before you go full damage control, wait a couple of days. Maybe your Crush Object, knowing you’re interested, will find a way to get in touch with you, in which case, hell yeah.
Another possible scenario is that your crushmeat isn’t necessarily interested and won’t do anything with the information, in which case, nobody needs to know that it ever happened—which will rule, unless you’ve already gone around to everyone you know to tell them how embarrassed you are about what went down.
Worst-case, the news is all over school, in which case it’s time to move onto the “damage control” phase of operations. You’ve got choices: You can assert yourself and own up to it (“Of course I have a crush on him, he’s a great drummer!”), you can derail and distract (“Come on, you know I get a crush on every babe who can skateboard!”), turn it into a joke (“Wow, if only you guys spent as much time studying chemistry as you do studying my love life!”) or straight-up pin this one on your friend (“Oof, that’s the last time I ever tell Ron Swanson anything!”), because let’s face it, they earned it this time. The beautiful thing is, most everybody all over the world has crushes, every single day, all the damn time. This too shall pass.
If you’re the gossip: Again, this is the time to ask yourself how you would feel if someone blabbed about your crush to anyone within earshot, or worse, went directly to them to share your secrets. A note: This goes QUINTUPLE if you’ve accidentally outed your friend by talking about their crush in public. Maybe your friend wasn’t ready to talk about her sexuality amongst your friend group, and now everybody knows she likes girls, or at least A Girl. This could be embarrassing, damaging, and at the worst, dangerous (if they needed to keep information about their gender or sexuality a secret because of a tough situation at home, for instance). If this happens, prepare to throw yourself at the person’s feet and do literally whatever you can in the name of repairing what you’ve done, including peacing out for a while if they’re really mad and want space. At the very least, you owe your friend a huge apology. Sit down with your friend when they’re ready to speak to you and ask what you can do to repair the situation. This could be anything from publically admitting you messed up to glossing over your story with a little white lie—telling your friends that you were wrong. Whatever she needs, prepare to do it. It’s a matter of keeping your friendship—and your friend—safe.