Some Thoughts On Talking About People

It’s a pretty known thing that gossip is rude, but that doesn’t really matter, because we all do it. It’s rude but often it’s catharsis, and even if you love the person you’re talking about, sometimes you need a safe space to ask why are they like that? or omg I’ve noticed that too. But when does discussing the particularities of our friends and colleagues turn into something hurtful?

There’s that explicit rule of if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. As you’ve probably learned, that doesn’t really work IRL. There’s also more of an unspoken rule that if you wouldn’t say something to the person in question’s face, don’t say it behind their back. That’s certainly a better rule to follow, but still tricky, since maybe you don’t think that you’re saying will cause hurt feelings, but to the other person it does.

I find that I’m very attracted to gossip. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me. I’m curious about everyone’s business because I just want to know what’s going on in the world (and maybe I suffer from FOMO). I’ve been trying to stick to that latter rule by not just saying things that’d I’d only say to someone’s face, but also assessing why I would or wouldn’t say something to their face.

I’ve also been wrestling with what to do when people around me are gossiping or trash talking and I don’t want to participate. To be fair, there’s a bit of a spectrum, with “neutrally discussing someone” on one end and full on trash talking on the other, but what to do when I find myself in a situation when people are saying mean things about someone. Firstly, I try to see if the things they’re saying are true, because it’s rude to stand by while lies spread. If they are true, I see if the tone is actually mean, or if I’m just a sensitive baby who doesn’t like anyone using anything but the most loving tone toward my friends/acquaintances/someone I heard a nice thing about once.

I’d like to say that if someone’s being needlessly mean, I stand up to them, but usually I don’t. I get nervous and quiet and try to change the subject. This is not really advice. But my journey into gossip has left me with one tip: be aware of who is around you. People may have different relationships to the person you’re talking about. People may not know if what you’re saying comes from a place of love and understanding. Create context for your criticisms so they don’t seem like needless bashing, and accept that even if you have negative thoughts about someone, someone else may have a lovely relationship with them.

Or just hide and a cave and don’t talk about anyone, whatever.

The Etiquette of FOMO

FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. I know a lot of people like to say that it’s just another thing millennials or whatever generation coming up behind us likes complaining about, but it’s absolutely a thing. Two generations ago, if your friends went out without you, you either 1. wouldn’t know about it until afterward or 2. maybe would feel a little hurt but could easily ignore it. Now, often those events you’re left out of are flaunted in your face on social media, or just with people talking about them because they forget it’s sort of rude to talk about shared experiences if not everyone in the circle has shared it. It’s easier than ever to see exactly how much fun everyone is having without you, and your dumb brain naturally concludes that they’re having that much fun specifically because you’re not there. Quit it, brain!

Anyway, let’s talk about how to deal with it, both from the perspective of the person involved and the person feeling left out.

  1. Try to include everyone: This comes with a lot of caveats. Obviously in a perfect world everyone would be welcome and present everywhere, except that wouldn’t be a perfect world because that’d be fucking exhausting. You know when you go to a big party and you’re like “that was fun and now I need to wait a month before I interact with that many people again”? TOO BAD, NO WAITING PERIOD. This is all to say sometimes you just want to hang out with one or two or five people instead of every one of your friends at once, and that’s reasonable. But if you’re planning a party and invite everyone except one person in your friend group, that sends a message, so try to at least keep groups together. This changes if there’s limited space, but you know, do your best.
  2. Ask yourself if you really wanted to be invited:  If you’re feeling left out, try to figure out if it’s because it’s really something you would have enjoyed, or if you just want to be included. Maybe you weren’t invited specifically because your friends knew you wouldn’t like that particular activity, or thought you were busy and didn’t want to make you feel overwhelmed with choices.
  3. Don’t flaunt: This is tricky, because obviously you have the right to post as many picturesque mountain views or selfies with all your friends as you want, but if you know someone wasn’t invited who would have liked to be invited, or has a tendency to feel left out if they couldn’t make it to something, maybe take it easy. Because it is hard to see all your friends enjoying themselves somewhere if you didn’t know about it.
  4. Don’t whine: The temptation to call someone out and go “why wasn’t I invited?” is strong, but generally it is not a good look. Instead, talk to your friends after the fact if you’re feeling raw about it. There may be a reason why you weren’t invited (limited space, other relationship dynamics that have nothing to do with you, email problems), or you could use it as an opportunity to say it’s something you’d be interested in next time around.
  5. Plan your own shit! The easiest way to avoid FOMO is to come up with your own plans. I also think the more people who make plans, the more people understand how tricky it can be. If you email 15 friends, and 5 are gone that weekend, do you change plans for them or forge ahead? If your apartment can only fit 6 for dinner, how do you do it so no one feels left out? It’s hard! And there are no right answers but planning at least makes everyone a little more empathetic to the invitation process.
  6. Mix it up: One great social habit to pick up is to be mixing up which and how many of your friends you interact with, so it doesn’t have a chance to turn into one stagnant “group.” Of course big group parties and outings are great, but plan smaller things too. Get dinner with friends A and B, then next week see a movie with B, C and D, and later invite A and C over for drinks. That way you set a standard of not everyone being invited to everything all the time. People have a chance to get used to seeing their friends doing stuff with out them, knowing that it wasn’t because they weren’t missed, but because sometimes you just hang out in different configurations.
  7. You’re literally missing out on everything all the time: Time to get zen about it! Your friends are probably Gchatting right now. You might be Gchatting or texting or Snapchatting with them too, but they’re having their own interactions every second of the day that have nothing to do with you. And they may even be talking about you! Friends talk about friends, and let’s face it, they’ve probably noticed that weird thing you do (you know the thing). If that makes you uncomfortable, learn to live with it, because just because people you know see each other without you or talk about you when you’re not there doesn’t mean they don’t love you or want to see you. It means they’re people with their own lives and schedules and relationships that naturally look different than yours.

But if it makes you feel better totally brag those vacation Instagrams.

What I Learned About Making Plans From Planning A Wedding

Every summer it happens–there are weekends to use up, and warm weather to be enjoyed, and suddenly I’ll find myself 20 replies deep in an email chain and ready to kill all my friends. Not that they’ve done anything wrong, it’s just that watching these plans being hashed out and having ten people trying to figure out a free weekend in common makes my head spin. Making plans with a large group of people has gotten really complicated, largely because we’re all so nice. We want to accommodate everybody. But if there’s one thing I learned from wedding planning is that that is not possible, and it’s been freeing.

The bigger your wedding, the less likely it is that everyone is going to be able to make it. Four people at City Hall? Easy. Twenty five in your backyard? Trickier. A hundred in a banquet hall? Someone is going to drop out. Those are just the facts. There are only so many days in a year, and people have their own lives and plans and conflicts. So when we picked a date, we double checked with our parents and siblings, and then set it. Yes, some people we dearly wanted to be there couldn’t come, but that would happen no matter which weekend we picked.

I’ve started applying this to making plans in the rest of my life. The other day, instead of having all of my friends tell me their free weekends for a beach trip, I just said I was going to the beach next Sunday and any and all who want to join should. Some people had plans, and some people could make it. Of course, this is predicated on the idea that if nobody could make it, I would still be going to the beach, which actually I would. But the point is that making firm decisions before you talk to all your friends can cut down on a lot of back and forth and hurt feelings.

For instance, let’s say you and some friends want to see a movie, but there’s no night in the next week that works for all of you. If you start your planning by asking when everyone is free, it’ll become clear that not everyone is free at the same time, and then you’ll have to make a decision about who to leave out, which could hurt some feelings. On the other hand, if you said “I’m seeing Mad Max at 9pm on Thursday if anybody would like to join” then people are free to accept or decline, knowing plans have already been set, and that it’s not personal.

This doesn’t work for all things. Obviously if the point is seeing specific people then a little more coordination has to happen, and if absolutely nobody can make it then you’ll have to change things around. But what I learned from weddings is that, while it’s the planner’s job to make reasonable accommodations, no plan will satisfy everyone. Picking a date and giving everyone reasonable notice of plans is all that’s really required, and if a few people can’t make it, that’s just fine. Maybe it’s pre-anxiety over FOMO that’s making us worry about including everyone. Of course we don’t want anyone to feel left out, or feel like our friends are doing things without us. But sometimes that’s life. Personally I’d rather miss a movie outing than suffer through another 40 emails.