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Prompted By Gossip

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It started with a whisper . . .

I don’t know if there has ever been gossip about me. I have certainly done many things that would have made for juicy gossip, I just don’t know whether they got talked about or not. They never came back to me, at any rate, so either there was no gossip, or it was done discreetly.

I have certainly done things that would have made for juicy gossip, I just don't know whether they got talked about or not.

I can think of four items of rampant gossip over the years in which I may have participated. The first one turned out not to be true, although I only found this out decades later. The second one definitely was true. The other two may or may not be true, but I will probably never know.

The first one is from the year when I was in seventh grade. Okay, in those junior high and high school years, everybody was always talking about who liked whom, who said what to whom, who was going to this dance or that party, and other details of daily life, but most of it wasn’t memorable. However, one topic of conversation stands out. There was a girl in our class who was already beautiful and charismatic, even at the age of twelve. She became friends with a senior boy, very cool, the proverbial big man on campus. Why was he hanging out with a seventh grader? Of course everyone assumed they must be having sex. That didn’t make us think less of either one of them – or maybe I can just speak for myself, it didn’t make me think less of either one of them. Everybody talked about it, but nobody questioned whether it was true or not. About forty years later I was visiting her (we are still friends, much closer now than we were then), and the subject of this guy came up. I said “you know, everybody assumed you were sleeping together.” She seemed completely surprised by that. Apparently the gossip had never gotten back to her. She also told me that they had not had sex. I believe her.

The second one occurred my freshman year of college, and I have written about it previously in my 2018 story We Can Work It Out. Early one Sunday morning, my roommate went to the suite of some guys we knew, climbed into bed with one of them while he was still asleep, and woke him up to have sex. She called me on the phone from his room to prove she had done it. She had already been quite a topic of conversation in our dorm because of her sexual escapades (the rest of us only slowly getting to the point of losing our virginity), but this was the wildest thing of all. Quite a tidbit of gossip, and verifiably true!

The third one is from about twenty years ago. There was a couple who lived nearby and had two young children at the time. I knew them only slightly, although we had a lot of mutual friends and acquaintances. Somebody told me that the husband had a second family who lived in a different part of town. This seemed surprising to me, but when I mentioned it to my husband, it turned out that he had heard the same gossip from another source. So after that I may have talked to a few other people about it, not with the intent of spreading gossip, but to ask people who knew the man better than I did, “do you think this could be true?” I don’t know if that caused it to spread farther or not. Most people thought it was unlikely, but nobody could say for sure. I am now somewhat closer with the wife, and in fact was recently in a group with her where the talk turned to cheating husbands or second families (possibly about Charles Lindbergh). I was tempted to ask her about this rumor, but in the end I chickened out. It was probably just as well that I didn’t mention it, but now I’ll likely never know if it was true or not.

The fourth one started at a college reunion almost ten years ago, and has resurfaced upon additional sightings of the person in question. One of the reunion events was a panel discussion, and as we were waiting for it to start, a classmate turned to me and said “who is that person on the end [of the table of panelists]? She couldn’t have been in our class, she looks much younger than us.” I looked carefully, and saw that it was J.G., whom I had known fairly well in college. I said “she is definitely in our class, but I agree, she does look younger. I bet she has had work done.” This may have led other people to talk about J.G. having work done, or they may have come to the same conclusion on their own. Over the years, at every class event, whether in person or (now) on zoom, somebody starts speculating about whether she has had work done or not. Is that gossip? Or just an observation. In a group of 70-year-olds, if one of them looks like she is 45 or 50, it seems reasonable to assume that Mother Nature has had some help. Of course we don’t know for sure, but it is worth talking about. And it’s not as if we are telling people who have not seen her that J.G. had plastic surgery – that would be gossip! We are just asking each other “how else could she look that good?”

Does it have to be malicious to qualify as gossip? We all wish we looked as good as she does!



Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Very specific moments of gossip, Suzy. And juicy topics too. Some verifiable, some not, none particularly malicious, but the garden variety type it seems.

    As we age, having work done seems a rife source of speculation. Certainly there can be good gene pools at play (or staying out of the sun; I’ve taken skin care seriously since turning 30). But I’ve also seen BAD work done. That’s a whole other thing.

    Nice discussion of your own encounters.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Fascinating stories of the various permutations of gossip, Suzy. Not being averse to gossip myself — so long as it is not about me, of course — I have thought about all four of your examples. Here are my quick takes.

    As to the first, this woman would confirm my pal Mike’s view of all the girls in our class, so bless her.

    As to the second, as you know, I also know all about that story, being in that same circle of guys. But, as you also know, I wasn’t that (lucky) guy.

    As to the third, I’d always heard that “second family” guys made sure their second families lived far away. (Like Charles Kuralt — Manhattan and Montana.) To have a second family living in the same town sounds just too risky. Of course, so is having a second family at all, let alone in the first place (literally).

    As to the fourth, my wife and I were just talking about women “having work done.” We agreed that women gossip about that a lot more than men do — but not exclusively.

  3. How true Suzy that our adolescent gossip was usually about girls who we thought had “gone all the way”! And although in our whispering we labeled her a slut, we were all secretly jealous!

    BTW years later I reconnected with one of those gossiped-about girls – she’s now a kindly 77 year-old grandmother. I’ve never bothered to ask her if those rumors were true – at this point who cares!

  4. Marian says:

    All very good examples of verifiable and non-verifiable “gossip,” Suzy. I agree there is a gray area between gossip that reflects curiosity, like having work done, or being overtly malicious. I’m OK with the former and try to avoid the latter. And thanks, I’ve had writer’s block on this topic, and your story finally helped me recall a gossip incident I can write about later today.

  5. This was really interesting to me because I think I have generally been tuned out to gossip, or in a larger sense just oblivious to many happenings in my surroundings; perhaps living more in my head? Reading all your examples ended up bringing back a memory I had forgotten: one of my staff at a child care center decided to tell me that she was dating one of the other guys on the staff. She was concerned that, given we were fewer than 10 people, I would surely notice it or people would gossip about it and I might be thinking it would undercut her professional commitment. I was blown away because I had not noticed the slightest evidence of this liaison, though everyone else seemed to know about it.
    i’m sure my obvliviousness worked in my favor at times, but I am also a bit envious that you were noticing (or attuned to the gossip about) all these events.

  6. Suzy, I think there’s a difference between gossip and speculation. Maybe not by definition but just general usage, gossip is mean-spirited and used to spread malicious rumors as fact. On the other hand, most of us engage in speculation . . . isn’t that just human nature?

    Love your featured photo . . . those lips are worth speculating about. Natural or enhanced by cosmetic surgery (or Photoshop)? Enquiring minds want to know!

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I was especially drawn to your last example because it is a frequent topic of conversation among friends in my age group. Usually it is a celebrity who draws our attention. Most recently, how can Chita Rivera look that good at age 90? Jane Fonda is another topic, although she readily admits to having had lots of work done. People used to say I looked like Marlo Thomas before she had so much work done that, at first, she looked much younger than me. Eventually, her face looked a bit like Michael Jackson’s, so I’m no longer envious. I guess this is gossip, but fairly harmless as none of us will ever know these people.

    • Suzy says:

      Laurie, I think you mean Rita Moreno, not Chita Rivera, but the point is still the same. And I’ve always said that if I were going to have plastic surgery I would want to go to Jane Fonda’s doctor, because she looks so fabulous! I agree this is harmless gossip. I think celebrities WANT to be gossiped about – it’s better than being forgotten.

  8. As testimony to the power of gossip, I was on the edge of my seat (for real) as I read each anecdote. That surprised me. I don’t think of myself as a gossip hound, but I certainly wanted to learn the juicy details of each story. You have a gift for delivering loaded material factually. Have you ever thought about a possible career in law?

  9. Suzy,
    I liked all four of your accounts of gossip-provoking episodes.
    I agree with Charles’ reply (above) to the effect that each of them is like the trailer to a movie I would like to see (each of them a tip of an iceberg). Like what were your (radiant) 7th grade friend and her much older beau doing together in their not-socially-correct relationship? It got tongues wagging re the prospect of sex, or possibly predatory sex, but if we excise that prospect what was their glue? Like what was your frosh roomie saying with her dramatic (Sunday morning) promiscuity? I would like you to lay her on the couch for a de-briefing. Like the guy who maybe maintained a second family across town, which was titillating (and is apparently not that uncommon), but not titillating enough to precipitate a direct (intrusive) inquiry by you of his first-family spouse in your talk group (I guess you decided it was none of your business, or at least none of your business if it would expose you as a busybody). And like your younger-looking classmate (I would have enjoyed your private inquiry of her, after telling her how great she looked, of exactly what work was done, and by whom, and does she have second thoughts, or perhaps future thoughts for future work?). Which is all to say, among other things, that each of your episodes could be the germ of a feature film (or novelette), exploring or inventing the back stories.

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