Growing Pains

They're growing up.  It's inevitable.

They’re growing up. It’s inevitable.

When you’re pregnant, people say, “Enjoy your sleep while you can!”  When they’re babies, people say, “Enjoy it before they’re mobile!”  When they’re toddlers, people say, “Enjoy it before they start talking back!”  When they’re in preschool, people say, “Enjoy it before the friend problems start!”  When they’re in elementary school, people say, “Enjoy it before they’re teenagers!”  But when they’re in middle school, well all that “enjoy it” shit comes to a screeching halt.

Why do people say these things anyway?  Is it to give you pause, make you think?  Is it to make themselves feel better?  Or is it so you can look back and say how fucking brilliant they were?   By the way, it’s not really a loving little tidbit meant to engage you in the present.  It’s a reminder that they have laid the groundwork, you are the novice and your happy little life is about to get a kick in the ass.   In any event, you won’t find many middle school parents telling you to enjoy it.  Sure, it’s the last rodeo before teenager-hood sets in.  But it is a road paved with tricky twists and turns. It was formed from the anxiety that you experienced not so long ago.  After walking this road for about a week now, I’ve decided that I need to pull over.  I need to regroup.

In my house, we’ve had our share of nervous excitement, first day jitters and existential preteen drama.  What I was unprepared for, what I am still unprepared for as a parent to this day, is how completely and fully I inhabit their experience.  After my first heartbreak, I remember my mom telling me, “As a mom, when you hurt, I hurt.  When you’re sad, I’m sad.”  As a fully realized teenager, I of course shrugged it off.  How could she possibly know how I feel?  She is old.  She is married.  She is boring.  But as the years pass, it becomes clearer and clearer.  She was right.

In a 2013 article published in the journal Neuroscience, saliva samples were obtained from middle schoolers who were making the tough transition from elementary school.  As it happens, their saliva is chock full of cortisol-meaning they are in a state of stress where their brain is having to intervene to try and achieve some calm.  In addition, a preteen’s brain is way more focused on emotional processing than logical reasoning.  Uh-huh.  I see you all nodding.  This is referring to the moment when your preteen’s head literally explodes in front of you and you are left wondering, “who the hell is this person?”  All of a sudden, when everything seemed to be going along swimmingly, you are having to set boundaries, delineate rules and establish order.  And guess what?  Despite the fact that chaos is ruling your home, it’s all perfectly normal.

There’s nothing like novelty to get your brain supercharged.  Some people thrive on newness.  They get bored when things are all routine and predictable.  They need intrigue and new ideas to explore.  I am not one of those people.  And guessing from the talk of the suburbanites around me, we are all feeling a bit challenged.  Yesterday at a mom gathering at a friend’s house, some of the moms were wondering where their child had gone and who was that stranger now occupying their body?  (Here is where I apologize to parents of younger children.  I won’t be that bitch who says, “Enjoy it!  Before your kid gets to middle school!”) Last night, my husband astutely told me I was in supermom mode right now, but that it was temporary and everything will normalize soon.  It’s all gonna be fine.  I tried to believe him.

But it wasn’t until today while talking to my wise friend Tami that it all came together.  She was talking about how she had left a note on her daughter’s bed before she left for work.  Without knowing the exact wording, essentially it said the following:  I’m sorry.  I love you.  This is a transition for me, too.  She acknowledged that she was going through this as well.  We are in this together.  I’m not perfect, but you can count on me.  Isn’t that cool?

There are no easy answers, I suppose, although I wish there were.  There is great advice to read and be gained from your friends who have been there.  But, there is heartache ahead for your child, no matter who you are.  My daughter, who is too big for my lap, cuddled up in my lap last night.  She said, “When I was little and I had a nightmare, you told me it was okay and I wasn’t scared anymore.  Now I guess I have to do that myself.”  Sniffle, yes.  We can help.  We can listen (not to be confused with that other “L” word:  lecture).  Spend time with them without their siblings. Keep our shit together when she is losing hers.  Remind ourselves that their brains aren’t finished growing yet; that emotions often control their behavior.

And let her know, your lap is always there if she needs it.

Give her the goods, then let her go.

Give her the goods, then let her go.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen, for the beautiful photos.  She has a high schooler and a middle schooler.  You should talk to her about it.  She’s a great mom.

Pretty Cool

I'm thinking about being pretty and feeling pretty.

I’m thinking about being pretty, and if that matters.

Next week, I am going on a girl’s trip to a sunny location with some great friends.  Stop drooling.  Before you get too green with envy, consider that instead of occupying myself with which books I’ll bring or which sundresses I’ll wear, I am instead thinking about how gorgeous my friends are compared to me.  I am thinking I am no longer pretty in that singularly youthful way.  What does it mean to be pretty?  And does it really matter?  And does anyone besides me really give a shit whether I am pretty?

Circulating on Facebook recently is a video by Dove.  Yes, the beauty bar (apparently NOT soap).  In it, female subjects (around my age) are drawn by a forensic artist first as described by themselves and second by someone else who had recently met them.  The drawings are of their faces.  Without exception, the subjects recounted their own perceived faults and inadequacies.  Chubby cheeks.  Mousy hair.  The other person who was asked to detail the subject’s features was decidedly more focused on the positive aspects of their appearance.  Lovely eyes.  Shapely cheekbones.  In fact, the describers were far more accurate when the artist completed his renderings.  (The subject’s faces were occluded from the artist’s view). When the female subjects finally saw the finished product, you could see the heartbreak on their faces.  The images were dramatically different.  The describers got it right.  The subjects got it wrong.  Just plain wrong.  And then I wondered, am I getting it wrong, too?

Earlier this month, President Obama was praising California attorney general Kamala Harris for being brilliant but in the next sentence, he called her the best looking attorney general in the nation.  Whaaa?  After an apology brought on rightly by protests, it’s still sobering to consider that women are still being given credit for their good looks on the same level as their accomplishments.  It’s bullshit for sure, but it happens all the time.  Gordon Patzer PhD, a professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago, runs an institute on physical attractiveness.   His website is called Looks Rule.  Seriously, it is.  He has spent the last 30 years researching why it does matter.  Basically, his findings are that attractive people are valued more highly than others.  That’s it.  On a whole, they’re not happier, more organized, more interesting or smarter.  Just more valued.  Maybe that’s the reason that all these beautiful people are idolized who really haven’t done anything.  Paris Hilton.  Kim Kardashian.

They are more likely to have attention lavished on them, such as having others pick up their dropped papers while those less radiant are left to fend for themselves.  More attractive candidates get elected.  Less attractive students get less attention from professors.  It’s no wonder we want to be pretty and attractive.  You get to be liked and sought after!  You get promotions!  You get attention!  But then…  It’s must be hard to keep up that level of interest after your looks get you in the door.  After all, you don’t morph into a different beautiful person every day.  You are you.  And don’t we all use what we have?  Not everyone has supportive parents.  Or lots of money.  Not everyone is athletically gifted. Or endowed with a high IQ.  And you can bet that those things are highly valued too.  And also, what happens when your looks fade?

The reward circuits in your brain fire when you gaze upon a person, male or female, with physically attractive features.  The subcortical and paralimbic parts of your brain are activated, meaning that this happens without you being aware of it and also that it effects you emotionally.  So, as part of human evolution, we are programmed to be drawn to the prettiest of the species.  On the whole, men are more influenced by pretty women than the other way around.  And women are much more interested in being perceived as attractive.  Hmm… So, here in suburbia, do pretty women have more friends?  Not that I have seen.  Do they have better jobs, better husbands?  Sometimes, but not anywhere near statistically significant.  Do they seem happier?  Maybe.  Do they have less worries?  Definitely not.

One of my daughter’s friends asked me recently, would you rather be pretty or cool?  I told her I’d like to be pretty cool.  She seemed to like that answer.  Women rail against the status quo, me too, but we are fighting a biological instinct.  Attractiveness is a favorable attribute no matter how you slice it.

But here’s the thing.

I am pretty sometimes.  When I go out, when I wear mascara, when I watch my children play, when I go on a hike with my husband.  But I am loved all the time.

Have you ever known someone and at first you don’t see them as all that attractive, but as time passes, you find them more and more appealing?  As you discover their absolutely infectious laugh, their eyes gleam even more.  As you find out you both love Rob Lowe movies, you notice a glow about them.  As you are hugged by them in your saddest times, you close your eyes and allow yourself to be surrounded by their beauty.  That’s the rub.  You can change your biology.  You can create a pretty face when initially you didn’t see it.  You can even do this for yourself.  I just did.

Pretty cool.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood Mama Photos for the pretty photos.  She is really pretty, too, by the way.

I confess. I didn’t work out today.

I'm thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I’m thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I didn’t go to the gym today.  My gym shoes lie dormant in the shoe closet, festering in dark silence.  My yoga mat sits neatly rolled up in the corner.  The pad of my index finger did not sit on a screen to check me into the gym.  My dog did not pant gratefully, then flop onto the cool tile after a run.  My speedy green road bike hangs on it’s hook, its odometer stuck on the same number from my last ride a few days ago.  Still and peaceful in my drawer, my heart rate monitor awaits it’s next challenge.  But my brain?  Ah, my brain.  That’s been going a thousand miles an hour.

The clock now reads 7:47 pm, and I am still thinking about where I could have squeezed in a workout.  (Okay, dammit!  Not “thinking.”  Obsessing.)  In the 45 minutes I had before I picked up the kids?  Could I have gotten up early?  I should have gotten up early.  The mental space taken up negotiating, fact checking, brow beating and ass kicking has been a workout in and of itself.  I mean, seriously.  What a waste of time.

Now, I grew up Catholic and my husband is Jewish so we are no strangers to guilt around here.  But my fellow suburbanites also carry around a fair bit of guilt themselves.  They work too much.  They don’t exercise enough.  They don’t make enough money.  They should be more crafty, more creative.  More interesting.  Less critical.  More kind.  More productive.   They should take more classes, go back to work.  (I swear to you all overheard in one happy hour).  There are multiple structures in your brain which are responsible for how you perceive and process guilt.  What motivates one person is different than what motivates another, but we are all profoundly and universally influenced by community.  This means that if your friends and community didn’t exercise, it would be a hell of a lot easier to hit the snooze button rather than get up and go to the gym.  Conversely, this is often why groups like Crossfit and for me, my yoga community, are intrinsic motivators.  You think about who you will see and who will miss you if you don’t show up.

In suburbia, if you see other people making good money, working out/looking fit, having good marriages and managing their time wisely, you want to do it too.  It’s a testament to my social network and neighborhood that there are some pretty hot 40 somethings (with great lives to boot).  So that’s probably why I feel bad when I miss a workout.

Personal blame, like when you are a lazy ass and don’t work out and beat yourself up for it, is mitigated in the subgenual cingulate cortex by the limbic (primitive and emotional) region of the brain.  These layers of emotion, blame and guilt make for some very busy collaborations.  It also makes sense to me, given all the stuff your cranium is processing, that you would be exhausted.  At this point, you should do yourself a favor.  You should, as my grandma used to say, shit or get off the pot.  For me, I should either not work out and chalk it up as a rest day or I should just go work out and be done with it.  Today, I am choosing to call it a night.   And I’ll tell you why.

First of all, it was a great day.  Beginning with a fun field trip with my 8 year old daughter, followed by getting some errands done, doing some writing, talking with a friend and ending with some real magic, it’s okay that my day didn’t include breaking a sweat.  Also, rest days help the following day to be stronger and better.  Maybe it will help that nagging knee pain I’ve been experiencing.  Maybe I’ll tackle an 8 or 10 miler tomorrow with my pup.  And you know what else?  There is SO MUCH more time in the day when you don’t work out!   I got my paperwork organized for work tomorrow, got my daughter to swim lessons on time, grudgingly mailed the taxes my hubby thoughtfully prepared, wrote a note to my sister-in-law and did some yard work.

As for the magic, the picture below was a rainbow we saw right out my front window tonight.  We would never have even known it was there if my neighbor hadn’t called to tell us to look out our window.  Thank you, neighbor.

Thank you, community.

No more guilt for me.

Now that's a little suburban magic right there.

Now that’s a little suburban magic right there.

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen for the image at the top of this post.   She continues to inspire me with her creativity.

Hibernating in the Suburbs

I’m thinking about hearth, home and hibernation.

As I sit writing this, my Costco-purchased light therapy box is illuminating my keyboard.  Lack of light where I live can make me and my fellow suburbanites rather sun-starved.  Recent conversations I have had with friends include the beaches we’d like to be occupying, the sunlight we are craving or the absence of social events.  It’s funny how I can live across the street from someone, drive their kids to school and know what’s going on in their lives via text or email and yet never actually see them.  In the warmer months, we may ride the kids to school on our bikes, stop in our driveways to chat or engage in backyard barbeques.  But now, as the winter darkness and cold compel us to wrap hands around a warm mug or cuddle up in blankets, we see less of each other.

What do we as humans, I wonder, have in common with our fellow earth-dwellers who do hibernate?  Those species who hibernate are characterized by their ability to slow down their heart rates so they are barely detectable and reduce their metabolism and oxygen consumption to levels that are just above what is required to actually stay alive.  So, those nights as I am sitting on my couch, cocooned in a heavy throw, lights dimmed and barely moving:  Is that hibernation?  As any parent knows, that “barely moving” part lasts for approximately two minutes before you need to spring into action at the call of a child, the ding of the dryer completing a cycle or the overflow of a dinner pot on the stove.  And oh those dark chilly mornings!  My bed begs, literally pleads for me to stay!  But alas, life continues it’s frenetic pace.  Yet another by-product of winter is the domino-effect of illness.  You hear one kid has it at school and no sooner than you can boil the tea kettle, your clan has the chills, the pukes, the crud.  C’est la vie!  No hibernation for you!

Well, what about seasonal affective disorder?  Isn’t that a little like hibernation?  In fact, SAD does share some “symptoms” with SAD such as avoidance of social contact, desire to oversleep, lethargy and lessened physical contact.  However, with SAD, people tend to gain weight in the winter months as a side effect of overconsumption of carbohydrates (ie: bread slathered in butter, gooey chocolate chip cookies.  yumm…  I digress) combined with inability to tolerate stress which ups cortisol production, resulting in…you guessed it!  Five additional pounds on the scale!  Also, in SAD, people under-exercise because of depression so those pounds really add up.   Conversely, bears aren’t depressed, irritable or socially withdrawn.  They are just fucking asleep.

In the book and on the website “Better Together,” Harvard psychologists and researchers have studied extensively how the idea of “social capital,” basically that our well-being is directly tied to our trust in and willingness to engage with others.  By the same token, doesn’t it feel good when a few hearty folks organize a happy hour?  Or when you gather some friends for an impromptu game night?  In fact, joining a group of some kind boosts your life expectancy.  Even better if it’s a group where you are actually burning off some comforting carbs,  such as an adult soccer league or running group!   Whatever it is, whatever you heart desires, your connection to your peers is what makes the difference between being feeling cut off and being in your cave.  My husband and I have been talking for weeks about having a happy hour at our house with our friends.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s on the horizon.

On the other hand, there are some wonderful perks to this time of year.  Yummy soups and stews aromatically waiting for you in the crock pot.  Hot chocolate with marshmallows after a day in the cold.  Fuzzy socks in which to wiggle your toes.  Football whistles screeching from the television as the family huddles together to watch.  The swooshing sound of skis through thick snow.  The cozy feel of down, fleece and thick cotton.  A snuggle with the kids and dog.  And as the beautiful photo above from my friend Barbara shows, a warm crackling fire with a purring cat.

Happy hibernating.

Happy Birthday to Suburbo-types! And me!

We’re all in this together.

Okay it’s not my birthday until mid-November, but this week marks a year since suburbo-types was up and running.   (Suburbo-types is only 1, but as my daughter pointed out, I am going to be 44, not 43 as my brain had originally thought.  Nice.)  It’s a natural time to think about this project, what I’ve learned and where it’s heading.  Originally, suburbo-types was meant as a platform for my understanding of the truth of our relationships in suburbia, how and why we stereotype each other and to gain a fuller understanding of my fellow suburbanites.  Alas, a year later, I have no solid answers, but the questions are evolving.  And the truth as to why I began is starting to make more sense to my often hard-headed skull.

It’s a biologically human and rational inclination to desire contact and connection with others.  In the months before I began the blog, my best friend Tracy moved away and I found myself wanting to get to know people more.  Tracy was my lifeline as we raised our babies together (our kids are the same ages). We talked on the phone sometimes 3 times a day.  My baby projectile barfed! Her baby sprout a tooth!  I’m worried, I’m scared, I feel incompetent, I’m lonely!  I was able to say whatever I wanted and I knew she understood.   It is an intense time for all new moms, but it was made easier by Tracy who juggled making me laugh, listening to my incessant chatter and hearing every word I uttered without judgment.   She is still there for me, but she lives 2 hours away, works and has a life of her own.  So do I.  But when she left, I wondered how I would ever feel as connected again.  Not to mention the pain of living so far away from my family, especially my new niece.

Shameless promotion of adorable new niece.

In the wake of going back to work part-time, raising young children and navigating the suburban landscape, I found myself being incredibly judgmental and critical of my suburb-dwelling peers.  I was constantly sizing people up, and in the end, I was really only judging myself.  I realize I was making other people seem scarier than they were to protect myself from, what, getting attached and having THEM move away too?  Maybe it was easier to keep everyone at arm’s distance.  But as I came out of my shell,  and as I met new friends and let myself (and them) off the hook a little more,  I came to see that all of us hide a little and we certainly protect ourselves.  Maybe we criticize others for how they parent, how they dress or what they say.  I am guilty of doing these things too, but I am willing to let go of it bit by bit to make the suburbs feel less strip-mall and more Main street.  In Dave Goetz’s book Death by Suburb:Keeping the Suburbs from Killing your Soul, he states that cultivating deep friendships (note: not the get your mail for you, wave from your car-kind), those that bring deep joy and satisfaction, is the antidote for social climbing,  people pleasing, ass-kissing and perpetuating your mask.  I know, deep, right?!

In the compelling book Incognito by neuroscientist David Engleman,  he lays out a complex interplay between two parts of your brain.  The first, the prefrontal cortex,  does it’s best work by stretegizing and analyzing.  It plans and thinks.  It tells you that you have exactly 24 waking hours on the weekend in which to do laundry, finish that report by Monday, help with homework, make meals, prepare for the coming week etc.  Then, the more primitive limbic system, or emotional control center, begins to feel the freak coming on at about 4 o’clock on Sunday when all that shit has no chance of getting done.  It works the same way when you are building relationships .  The prefrontal cortex examines what you will say or wear, then the limbic system causes you to worry about that joke you told or the red shirt that you wore that may have been just a little too low-cut.  All of us have these two characters battling it out in our heads.  For me,  genuinely connecting to others and putting myself out there makes my inner soldiers a little less likely to get into full-blown war.

The suburbs have always felt a little lonely to me.  They with their picket fences and closed doors.  Unknown neighbors.  Long driveways.  Pruned bushes.  What’s really going on in there?  (okay, not everything: private is private) This writing, although making me incredibly vulnerable and fearful at times, has freed me to explore uncharted waters.  Who is beneath the facade.  Where the truth lies.  All the topics for suburbo-types come from conversations I have had or overhead somehere in the ‘burbs.   And the interviews are attempts to understand there is a lot to know about each of us.  Really, it’s just so we all know that those we surround ourselves with are more than who we see.  Of course, you don’t want to be too vulnerable.  You don’t want to tell someone that you are living a shame-based existence the first time you meet them.  The fact that you slept with the entire football team your sophomore year of high school?  Probably TMI.  You have to have a strong base to hold up the weight of the relationship.  Thanks to you,  I hope is what the community of suburbo-types is starting to do.

So, for the coming year, the blog will be focusing on more interviews, more subjects that maybe we all think about a little bit but don’t talk about very much and just being here for a safe 5 minute read during your busy lives.  Please let me know what you’d like to see, any polite criticism (I am human, after all) and insights into your suburban life.  I value your feedback and don’t publish it if requested.

Mt. Hood Mama Photos is responsible for the lovely image at the top of this post.  My sister is responsible for the cute baby photo.  And the cute baby.

Conversation #4: You could learn a thing or two from my friend Barbara

Before I begin writing about my conversation with Barbara, I want to reiterate why I do these conversations, why I interview my friends.  It seems to me that in my home of suburbia,  we are always striving to do something extraordinary or newsworthy.  We subscribe to the bigger, better, faster, more mentality of American culture.  My ultimate goal in writing these interviews is to profile people whom I believe to be stars.   Maybe they are not on the cover of People or Time or anywhere else, but in their own everyday way, they are going about noble, rich, honest and meaningful lives.  Their worth isn’t measured by their bank accounts or their last movie, but they are deserving of the same public recognition.  So there you go.

If you don’t know my friend Barbara, you really should.  I have never met anyone so free of societal expectations or peer pressure than Barbara.  She is absolute in her standards, her choices and the way she lives her life.  Her unapologetic way of living her life makes me appreciate her so much but it’s also what initially intimidated me about her.  I don’t think I really put it together until we had lunch a couple weeks ago, but I have always been somewhat in awe of this gal.  Barbara and I met while my now 4th grader was a preschooler at a local Montessori school.  She was the friend of a friend and I liked her from the start.  She is one of those people that you always think is pretty and then she puts on make-up and she is absolutely gorgeous.  (I don’t know about you but when I put on make-up I get to about pretty.  She goes straight to knock out.)  I remember that she would pick up her daughter at 3 o’clock and she would be carrying her four year old son who was still in his pajamas.  Once I asked her if he was sick. She said, no, he just prefers pajamas.  I love that.

Barbara is a self described introvert.  She enjoys solitude and time to herself.  At parties and school functions, she is the one who might really want to talk to you, but you most likely will have to approach her.  Naturally quiet and “shy,” it takes her a while to warm up to you.  But once she does, she is the warmest and most welcoming person around.  Seriously.  This woman has a fire going and cool music playing when you arrive at her house and you are served either coffee or wine in cups or glasses the size of small bathtubs.  Kick off your shoes, you are about to get comfy!  Barbara describes her childhood warmly as one of three daughters to some very practical sounding parents.  When I asked her about God, Barbara says her Dad used to tell her, “If you want to know yourself, go take a walk outside.”  She admired that her Dad didn’t tell her to find God outside, he told her to find herself, because that was his view of spirituality.  Pretty cool.

Most often complimented as a good listener, Barbara truly gives you the gift of lending an ear.  Don’t expect any advice-giving, though, unless you ask for it.  And when you do, it is brief and powerful.  You may not hear much from Barbara at get togethers, she is more likely to be listening than talking.  But when you do, get ready to take notes.  She may not talk a lot, but what she does say is worth the wait.  Barbara does not like small talk, she is more interested in meaning and substance than the gossipy chatter she sometimes hears.  And she doesn’t much care for the phone either.  She admits to being hesitant about meeting and making new friends because she is already busy enough and won’t be able to make the time for anyone new.  (I mean, isn’t this type of honesty refreshing?! Personally, I am guilty of saying yes to things too readily then having to back out later when I knew from the start I wouldn’t be able to do something.)  Don’t get me wrong, she knows how to have fun and be real and hilarious.  But she will not bullshit you.  Ever.

Right now, photography is Barbara’s passion. She is an excellent Iphone photographer.  Who know there was such a thing, right?  You can see her photos randomly on Facebook and I expect at a gallery near you sometime soon.  Her photos are that good.  It’s great to see her have such passion about it, after devoting so much time to her kids.  She has always been devoted to them, but at this stage with one in middle school and one in fourth grade, she is finding the wiggle room to pursue her own interests.  By the way, did I mention she is a great mom??  Barbara is ridiculously, fiercely and completely in love with her husband.  I mean, these two are gaga for each other!  Without guilt, Barbara says she is looking forward to the time when it is just the two of them.  When asked about the people she admires most, she mentions first a friend of hers who has struggled with illnesses.  A friend who is extroverted, warm, altruistic and sincerely makes you feel special.  Barbara is quick to point out that while she loves the way this friend “moves throught the world with grace,” she is not the same but has her own gifts.  Without missing a beat, she mentions her husband also the one she most admires.  I know, aww.

My friend Barbara is grounded and lives her life with quiet assurance that she is on the right path, and, if she knows you well enough, invites you to do the same.  (She is the one who taught me to hang a garbage bag between the armrests of my minivan.  Genius!)  And in her own soft spoken but nonetheless powerful way, she impresses her ideals upon you and you can’t help but feel the same way:  families teach kids to work together and compromise, apologize when you do something wrong, tell the truth, set good boundaries, be busy with only those things which are important to you and your family, spend your energy wisely, one on one time with friends brings much joy and her mantra, “thoughts become things, choose the good ones.”

Well I hope you learned something.   I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with this great gal, and I am no longer intimidated by her.  But I can’t help but brag about her.

Gossip Girl, um, woman

Looking back on it, spreading that gossip was not a good idea.  In high school there was a girl named Tina who was adorable and cute and all the boys liked her.  Some of my friends told me that she was having sex with lots of boys and that she was “easy.”  This information was unverifiable at the time, but I distinctly remember feeling a something in my stomach resembling a heavy meal. What I have come to believe is twofold:  that feeling was and is entirely real and also that the feeling is my instinct telling me something.  That is why it is called a “gut” instinct.  I knew Tina and this characterization did not sit with me.  Turns out, my instinct was correct.  Tina was not in fact easy, and this was a malicious rumor being spread for a reason I did not know or understand.  But I told the gossip anyway, even though the words leaving my mouth gave me pause.  Why do we spread gossip?  In my home of suburbia, I can attest that a certain amount of gossip goes on.  Maybe not as much as high school, but it happens.

From an evolutionary perspective, gossip was a way for our ancestors to get ahead or warn others about someone in the clan.  In that way, it can be seen as protective.  Scientists call this “prosocial” gossip.  It serves the purpose of informing others about the tricky, dangerous or dishonest actions of someone in the group.  It causes us to pay attention and be on the lookout for this group member, whom we have been warned could hurt us.  Getting this type of information can clearly be useful to us humans.  Staying away from a person who wants our mate, is vying for the same bison herd or is prone to violence is obviously beneficial to the early human.  But what about now?  What is the reason we use prosocial gossip?

Actually, gossip in suburbia can be seen as altruistic.  Stay with me here!  In scientific studies, the gossip actually lowers the gossipers’ stress and lowers their heart rate.  Your friend who just told you not to tell so and so anything private wants to warn you that unless you want your dirty laundry aired, best to keep your mouth shut in certain company.  Maybe you want to know someone who would be a good resource for finding you a job.  Or a new husband.  Either way, you want someone who will not broadcast your intentions.  A friend who cares about you may not want to speak ill of another, but your wellbeing is on the line and so they tell you not to trust someone else with that information.  All very socially supportive and nurturing to our species. See!  Gossip is not all bad!  Gossip also fires all those warming, connecting and friendship making neurons that feel so good when making friends.   Also, when you know others are talking, you are less likely to do something offensive within the group.  It sets up a check and balance system so that the offending parties remain on the outskirts of social acceptance.  So maybe you shouldn’t do things like sleep with your friend’s husband, hit your kids just because you are having a bad day or say mean things about people just to be mean.  Just saying.  Because we will tell that shit.

Malicious gossip is another beast altogether, as I was speaking of with Tina.  I often wonder how she was scarred by such gossip, and how it may have changed her and who she was.  Hearing a bit too much of the word “slut” in the news lately, I have been wondering about this.  I’m so sorry Tina.  If it makes a difference, I always knew it wasn’t true.

“Anyone who has obeyed nature by transmitting a piece of gossip experiences the explosive relief that accompanies the satisfying of a primary need.”    Primo Levi