There are moments in life when it becomes painfully evident that a change is needed. You know, those moments when you don’t fit into your stretchy, downtime jeans; when you realise that your car has run out of petrol (like actually 100% empty) for the third time this month; when you check your bank statement and realise you’re overdrawn and the rent comes out tomorrow (and you got paid last week). Those are the little pushes we need to effect some serious personal change.
For me, I had a couple of moments that should each have been enough, on their own, to shove me right out the door and on to the road to Changeville. In a friend’s house, watching the World Cup, I regaled the group with stories of a mutual friend’s recent terrible behaviour. She had asked me for a huge favour and hadn’t thanked me; she’d ditched me for her new boyfriend for the fifth time running; she’d called me up at 2am to tell me about her devastating breakup (from her new boyfriend, who’d been around all of three minutes).
I was just getting to the juicy part when I felt a hand on my arm. “I think you can lay off her now,” said my boyfriend, usually a gentle giant who is rarely, if ever, the dissenting voice of the group. I was shocked – and horrified. I suddenly looked around and realised that, throughout my hilarious rundown, I’d definitely been laughing the loudest.
At lunch later that week, I launched into criticism of a girl I barely knew, who’d lived with my friend for a few agonising weeks, an experience upon which I’d based a strong and unyielding hatred. Another girl at the table began to object. “Really I think she’s lovely,” she said. “Any time I’ve met her, she’s been so nice.” I started to argue – quite vehemently – the case, until said girl looked close to tears and there was a stark and awkward silence. My bad.
It’s fair to say, then, that I am no stranger to being bitchy – so the idea of taking a week off, going cold turkey, felt like a challenge worth taking on. Above all else, I had to make my boyfriend see that I’m really nice, underneath it all.
First things first: let’s establish what constitutes bitching. For the purposes of my experiment, this was going to be really important. According to the Oxford Dictionary online, to bitch is to complain, but I think the true definition is a little more nuanced. Bitching implies some kind of pointless complaint – a rant of sorts, usually directed at someone who’s not within earshot, with the purpose of… well, not very much, really. Complaining, on the other hand, can be productive: in a restaurant, for example, when the service you receive is sub-par; at work, when you feel as if you are being treated wrongly. Bitching is neither productive nor constructive.
So, the lines were drawn: complaining about bad service was fine. Complaining about a friend, acquaintance or peer behind his or her back, not so fine.
The thing that became immediately apparent, when I began circulating the news that I was having a bitch-free week, was that everyone – and I mean everyone – knows that I’m a bit of a bitch. Close friends and family laughed in my face; Facebook acquaintances expressed scepticism (usually in the form of a cutting “LOL”). C’mon, I thought, I can’t be that bad!
It turns out that when I am prohibited from bitching about people – friends or otherwise – my default mode is silent. That’s not to say that I am entirely mute for the whole week, but cutting out the possibility of cutting down women I know and / or love (and, let’s face it, it’s nearly always women) means the only things I can say are positive things – and, for the first few days at least, these are hard to find.
But, like so many things in life, I soon get into the swing of things: talking positively about people is fun! Dare I say it, being positive is fun! I only tell stories about people I want to big up (not tear down). When I see something I’d like to bitch about (usually on social media, which is such a ripe playground for the bitchy and sarcastic), I ignore it and move on – well, with the exception of one moment, where I screengrab the tweet and send it to a friend.
“This is absolutely brilliant!” she says. “But you’re totally cheating – just because you haven’t said anything bitchy doesn’t mean I don’t get your intention.”
Ultimately, a week of living un-bitchily has taught me that sometimes, it’s better to just say nothing and, above all, if complaining about something isn’t going to achieve anything, then perhaps my default silent mode is the best course of action.
Of course, everything has its exceptions – and, while I’m determined to attempt to keep on this straight and narrow road of positive thinking and general do-gooder-ness, there’s one thing no one tells you about being bitchy: sometimes, it’s really, really, seriously funny. From now on, I’ll just be making sure I’m not laughing loudest (and saving the bitch fests for when my boyfriend’s not around).