Group Therapy is a relationship advice column to which readers contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: We have agreeable neighbours and value their friendliness. However, we’d like to find a way to get the wife to stop discussing us. Her gossip is not malicious but invasive. She tells other neighbours we don't know well when we are on vacation. And the staff at our neighbourhood store have asked about a health problem, something we shared only with her. How do we preserve a valued neighbour and curtail the gossip?
It's simple. Never tell a gossip any details you don't want the world to know. Usually a gossip doesn't change their stripes, so you have to stop providing them with intimate details. If there are things you can't help, like telling them about a vacation because they are watching your house, say very directly that you don't want this information shared for security purposes. If you find the word has been spread again, ask someone else to watch your house.
– Darby Brown, Kitchener
One person's gossip is another's general news, especially if there's no malicious intent. Your neighbours may not realize that they're passing on information you don't want others to know. They might be responding reflexively to the type of small talk that goes on in every community. Health issues are a different matter. Perhaps, because they genuinely like you, they overstepped their boundaries. Preface any comment that you don't want passed around as something that's strictly between you and these friends. If it is repeated, then perhaps it's time to speak more pointedly to your neighbours.
– Janet Futerman, Toronto
With friends like this ...
The way I look at it is this: A friend wouldn’t be gossiping about people. Perhaps there is no reason to preserve a friendship that, possibly, wasn’t there to begin with.
– Judy Taylor-Atkinson
Port Moody, B.C.
The Final Word
I once congratulated a husband on his wife’s pregnancy, only to get a strange look. I interpreted his befuddlement as worry for spreading news that was not my business. I assured the husband that I had received the news directly from his wife who had told all her friends so I was the last to know. Turns out the husband was the last to know.
Being a gossip and oversharing information are two different things. To me gossip is the harmful, untrue things you say about someone, “Did you notice how friendly Margie was with Steve at the garage sale?” It can ruin a person’s reputation. But someone who overshares information is in a different category. They may not know they’ve overstepped their boundaries and have caused other people embarrassment.
More than likely, your neighbour passed on the health information as a way of showing concern for your well-being. Janet is right about letting her know how sensitive this information was. Gently tell your neighbour how difficult it was to hear about your cankles/botox/liposuction being discussed at the local Valumart. Tell her you value your privacy and you don’t want personal information, like a vacation, known throughout the neighbourhood. And for extra insurance, if you really have a secret, like Darby says, just don’t tell her.
I think that Judy’s probably overreacting a bit. Your neighbour is your friend who overshares. I wouldn’t give up on her just yet. In fact, I’d use her strategically. You can always give her other information to spread, like you’ve just had a baby, but would love some tandoori chicken to tide you over, someone to help cut your lawn, and those windows aren’t going to wash themselves.
And for the love of God, tell your husband about the pregnancy first. He shouldn’t have to hear about it from the neighbours.
Regina-based Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Next week’s question
A reader writes: I'm a twentysomething gay male with a straight male acquaintance who admits to flirting with me. He makes comments about sexy guys and even once pretended to be my boyfriend when I ran into my ex. When I've confronted him, he firmly states that while he is an LGBT ally, he’s straight. He’s also got a female partner and kids. I'm attracted to him but confused by his mixed signals. What should I do?
Let’s hear from you
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are published anonymously, but we’ll include your name and hometown if we use your advice. (Note: All responses are edited.)Report Typo/Error