In my mid-twenties, I worked in an office with a bunch of other women. There was one in particular who was my age, and we had lots in common. We became friends instantly, sometimes meeting after work for drinks and appetizers or going for a run. She even helped me decorate my apartment and clean out my closet one cold February afternoon.
I thought we were more than just coworkers; I considered her a friend, and a good one at that.
We’d swap stories and vent about how we sometimes felt other folks in the office were controlling or would treat us unfairly because we were almost 20 years their junior. We constantly backed our conversations up with ” You are the only one I talk to like this” or “This is between us, you’re the only one I trust.” Eventually we stopped needing to add these caveats because we trusted each other and knew there was an unspoken understanding between us.
At least, I thought there was until one day she let me know what a few of the coworkers were saying behind my back.
She clearly was delighted to bring me the news. She spoke fast and seemed excited to be sharing, and before I could stop myself I said, “I can’t believe they felt comfortable enough to tell you that.”
She didn’t catch what I was saying, and went on. And on and on.
The sinking feeling hit me, and I realized something: they were comfortable bad-mouthing me in front of her because she was listening to them. She was putting up with it. And she was maybe even agreeing with them or chiming in as well.
With that, it was clear: She wasn’t a friend, and I could no longer trust her.
Fortunately, I was able to see that so clearly because I’m lucky enough to have a best friend I’d met in college and I knew this wasn’t how it worked in a true friendship. Because no one ever badmouthed me or my BFF in front of the other. We knew it was because others knew that we would fiercely defend each other.
“Our friendship is on a different level,” she told me one day, and it all made sense. That level is called having a bond and trusting each other — and that includes not wanting to hear anyone badmouth your best friend.
To be clear, if you have a friend who constantly comes to you with goodies that have been flowing from other people’s mouths about you, they aren’t your friend. So check yourself and the amount of time you are investing in them, and what you are sharing with them.
If Suzy shares all the gossip people say about you, then Suzy is joining in and sharing just as much about you. Suzy isn’t your friend.
That “friend” is allowing you to be talked about in a negative way.
That “friend” isn’t putting a stop to it — they aren’t defending you. And in doing so they are welcoming the gossip, even if they are “just listening” and not saying a peep.
And on the flip side, you know the feeling when someone dares badmouth one of your besties? You shut that shit down and make it crystal clear you aren’t going to tolerate it.
It’s not even hard or uncomfortable; it’s your knee-jerk reaction to change the subject (if you are nicer than me), or let them know you aren’t the person they should be talking to about such things.
A true best friend is there to lift you up, have your back, and defend you even if they know you will never catch word of their conversation. If you hurt their feelings or say something they don’t appreciate, they talk to one person about it, and that person is you. (Okay, maybe they also talk to their partner or their mom about it too, because they are human, but that’s it.)
Your friendship means a lot to them and they want to solve and get past the conflict so you can continue on with your relationship. They don’t want to swim around in the muck with other people about it.
A best friend isn’t interested in being a sound board for someone else to trash you. EVER. And you never want to hear them talked about in a negative way, period.
And I’ve come to realize this one thing is what matters most in any friendship.