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Gossip is the fuel for friendship

Secrecy, gossip, bitching . . . it's the glue that keeps some girly friendships afloat. In any gang of pals, you'll find that the phrase 'promise you'll never tell anyone this' has been uttered time and time again. The men in white coats have proved it, recently finding that women are overcome by the desire to gossip and can typically wait no longer than 32 minutes before spilling the beans. The study of 3,000 women, by facial skincare brand Simple, found one in 10 admits being unable to keep a secret -- no matter how personal or confidential the news. And 85pc said they relish hearing gossip from others.

Almost half questioned said that they often felt the need to offload their secrets to someone, while a sneaky 13pc said they intentionally relayed gossip so that it would spread. Other research suggests that we can often be our own worst enemies: 40pc of women who have cheated on their partner admit that they've told at least one friend.

And in a US study from the University of Texas, only 10pc of people said that they would never reveal a secret no matter what. Long story short, we really struggle to keep it in the proverbial crypt.

Even celebs are prone to an ill-advised blab; it is thought that the tensions that brewed between the stars of Sex & The City were down to a secret that Kim Cattrall lifted the lid on during a script meeting. According to a report in Heat Magazine in 2004, Cattrall told the room of staffers that Cynthia Nixon had suffered a miscarriage.

Elsewhere, the most famous spat in reality TV -- between The Hills' Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag -- was thought to have occurred after Heidi blabbed about a possible sex tape that Lauren made.

More recently, Kelly Rowland let the world know that former bandmate Beyonce Knowles was expecting a baby girl. Surely this is information that Beyonce herself might like to have shared with the world? Was Kelly even aware of the consequences of this seemingly innocent slip-up? Perhaps we shall never know.

Of course, some women pride themselves on their ability to keep it zipped, while others simply can't hold in vital information. Me, I'm somewhere in between. As soon as the phrase 'keep this to yourself' is uttered, my texting finger begins to itch and I start to go through my mental Rolodex to think who might enjoy this particular tidbit.

I confess I have uttered the phrase: "If it gets back to me, I'll know exactly who it came from, so say nothing."

But then the moment passes, and like many others, the fact that I am the 'chosen one' starts to weigh heavily and I feel a swell of pride that I've been trusted enough with the classified information.

I won't lie: I hate the act of keeping secrets. At this very moment, I am sitting on a number of secrets; a clandestine affair, an early stage pregnancy, a life-changing job offer, and a slow-baking plan to emigrate.

On the other hand, I have blabbed secrets in the past and spent a rather tense few moments waiting to be found out.


Yet here's the really curious bit: once the secret is out in the open -- the pregnancy announced, the plan to emigrate posted on Facebook -- I feel an odd, not-entirely pleasant pang, as though the magic of the situation has gone.

Last night, at a girly dinner, a friend announced news that I had been chewing down on for weeks. "See! I could keep it a secret! No-one knew but me!" I cried out. Why in the name of Perez Hilton and all who sail in him did I feel the need to do that?

Much of the time, this sort of indiscretion stems from a lack of self-esteem and social confidence. In a bid to climb up the social ladder and gain favour with our peers, we try to place ourselves as a hub of all social knowledge within our group . . . regardless of the outcome.

When we learn information that's confidential, we can feel more important if we let others know we have been trusted with it. Often, people feel the need to 'unburden' themselves of the supposed weight of a secret.

Some simply don't get the gravity of the situation -- or consequences -- when they drop secrets into conversation. Yet the two most frequently cited "good reasons" to betray a confidence are concern for the welfare of the secret's subject and a conclusion that the person they told had a right to know. Then, there's what some experts are calling the 'emotional slut'; the person who tries to create an instant intimacy with people by spilling all and sundry about their lives.

Sharing secrets, in other words, is an instant way to see if you can trust someone else. And, of course, it's therapeutic for the teller of the secret.

US writer Martha Beck describes emotional sluts as "psychological wolves in sheep's clothing. They consciously or unconsciously manipulate others with displays of openness and vulnerability. We all have an innate tendency to mirror the level of intimacy presented by others, so when someone confides information, we feel social pressure to reciprocate".

Once upon a time, female friendships were marked by camaraderie, sisterhood and unconditional kinship. Now, however, relationships marked with secrecy and backstabbing are less the exception and more the rule. And while secrets, bitching and gossip may grease the wheels of friendship, it's bad for the soul.


"Female relationships are more intense than male ones, but this can work both ways," reasons psychotherapist Colman Noctor. "When things are good between women they're great, but when they're bad the backlash is much more severe.

"Vulnerability and sensitivity is timeless but the capacity for damage is much greater nowadays. For example, in the schoolyard, bullying has always gone on, but now the events can be relayed on Facebook, Twitter and Bebo and they stay there for much longer."

It's long been thought that the fact that women's intuition and superior cognitive powers give us the edge over men. However, it's a skill that ensures that we're often our own worst enemies. "Females think more reflectively than men and their cognitive senses are much more refined, which is why their bitching is that bit more entertaining," observes Colman. "When boys fight, it can be physical and, generally speaking, is not particularly thought out."

Bitching and gossiping may provide a quick fix to your dull day, but in the end the negativity and malice will drag you down.

"In terms of your conscience, it is fun for the 10 minutes you're doing it, but then guilt creeps in," says Colman. "Most people don't realise the cost of bitching in the long term."

Ultimately, like any bad habit, breaking down your gossipy impulses takes time and practice. Yet if you feel you need to unburden yourself of a secret without consequence, try a website like Postsecret. That way, you get to vent and rid yourself of the damning knowledge, without worrying if the skeletons in your closet will present themselves again. Unless, like me, you can wear your (occasional) ability to keep it zipped like a badge of honour.