If there’s one thing I miss about office life, it’s the sweet, sweet sound of a Gchat from a coworker asking me to grab Starbucks. But it’s not the caffeine I’m craving (frankly, what I brew at home is superior), but what I know will surely come with that bitter double shot: the opportunity to talk shit.
Gossip generally gets a bad rap. There are any number of proverbs out there scolding against it: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all; loose tongues are worse than wicked hands; gossip dies when it hits a wise person’s ears. But to me, gossip has always felt like harmless venting—a way of staying sane through impossible deadlines and project demands. And I think in condemning it as catty or something to be avoided or ashamed about—even though we all know (a) everyone does it and (b) everyone enjoys it—we fail to recognize the positives gossip brings into our lives.
Sure, I’m as giddy as anyone when I encounter a loose-lipped assistant with juicy intel, but when I look back on the past decade of “coffees” throughout my work life, I never think about whatever gossip was delighting or pissing me and my colleagues off on any given day—in fact, I barely remember any of the stories we shared. What I can never forget, though, is how letting off a little steam helped deepen my relationships with my coworkers. And how over time these walks around the block built on one another, ultimately helping us to transition from being “work friends” to being, well, friends.
Gossip bonds us because in sharing a story in confidence, you’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable with that person. And when they prove themselves trustworthy by keeping what you shared to themselves, it brings you closer. To me, the gossip itself is superfluous; the pleasure I derive from it lies in the joy that comes from bonding with someone new. And I’m not alone: Researchers at the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma found that two people sharing negative feelings about a third party are more likely to feel closer to one another than they would if they both felt positively about the other person.
For me, these harmless little gossip sessions have become such a tried and true method of making friends that when the city came to a halt a mere six weeks after I started a new job last year, I had no idea how I would ever get to know my colleagues, many of whom I had yet to meet in person, without them. There were so many other things to be sad and scared about at the time, but still, I found myself worrying I would never feel close with my new colleagues—that I would always be the weird outsider, the one who was never in on all the inside jokes. How would we ever have a chance to connect without an impromptu gossip-filled elevator ride to the cafeteria?
Thankfully I realized with time that of all the things we’d lose during the pandemic, gossip would not be one of them. In fact, we wanted more of it than ever. After the initial panic and hoarding subsided, we were left bored at home, eating everything in sight, feeling petty as hell. Who among us wasn’t switching between a COVID-19 tracker and DeuxMoi during the early days of the pandemic, or rehashing every deliciously awkward moment of Ziwe’s interview with Caroline Calloway via group text?
Blissfully for me, work gossip also made a fairly seamless transition to digital. Coffee runs became Slack calls, and eyerolls from across a room became text messages sent on the sly during Zoom meetings. I’ve never thought myself very good at web-based chats—having struck out too many times when attempting to flirt with a boy via ICQ or AIM as a teen—but the world was going digital and so would I! So I tenuously typed lols and lmaos in response to my new coworkers’ Slacks, hoping they wouldn’t sense my desperation to get to the next level.
I can still remember the precise moment several months ago now when I knew I had finally made it. (It, being a work friend who seemed capable of becoming a real-life friend…) One morning as I stood in my kitchen, cooking grilled cheese #578 of the pandemic, I received a text from a colleague. She and I had been chatting on Slack for some time, but this was the first time that she had asked for my number. (A HUGE step, I know!) And what had prompted her to do so? THE LOVE OF GOSSIP, BABY! Specifically, she wanted to rant about something that felt too incendiary for a work-based app. And just like that, I was in. After all, as science has proven, nothing builds a relationship faster than having a shared nemesis.
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