A step-by-step guide to avoiding other people's drama

I love information. I love knowledge. Above all, I love knowing what everybody else is doing. And that’s where I draw the line.
(Illustration by Luba Magnus)

I love information. I love knowledge. Above all, I love knowing what everybody else is doing. And that's where I draw the line.

Few things are as bad as finding yourself tethered to someone else's drama. It's one thing to know the details of a stranger's life, but it's another to find yourself morphing into their go-to for advice despite you maybe having DM'd once ever. (And even then, it was only about where they bought their top.) So here's your new step-by-step guide to avoiding other people's drama in a way that gives you knowledge without making you share any of yours.

1. Somebody comes to you with an oral history of the rise and fall of a tumultuous relationship

How you want to react: [wide-eyed screaming, stoppable only by salacious details]

How you should react: The absolute opposite of that — are you kidding me? Friends aside (because it's your job as a friend to help friends through their relationship shit), maintaining the border between "knowing stuff" and "actively participating in it" is a cold, dissociative reaction. Therefore ask, "What would any character in The Crown do?" And then channel that as you apply the mask you will be wearing while receiving details you want so badly to wade into.

Never doubt the power of a slightly shocked head tilt, coupled with raised eyebrows. While together they say, "I'm engaging with what you're telling me," your expressionless mouth offers a surprise twist: "But I will not be weighing in on this because I do not have the time."

2. A coworker approaches with hot gossip about a fellow coworker

How you want to react: "What?! Literally tell me everything about this and then follow it up with everything about yourself."

How you should react: Over the course of my 32 years I have learned that the ultimate shutdown is a simple, faux concerned, "Uh oh." Why? Because I have been on the receiving end of one and know the harsh sting of realizing that whoever I'm trying to lure into my web is above whatever level I live on in every possible way. Nothing says "I don't care" like a non-committal reaction, and nothing will protect you from things you cannot unlearn like ensuring that whoever is speaking to you knows how little you think of their "news."

3. Somebody approaches you, relaying what they've "heard" about your personal life

How you want to react: "Where did you hear that? I will ruin all of you, absolutely all of you, mark my words: you will rue the day."

How you should react: You are Michael Corleone in the first Godfather. You are Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year ("This was very disrespectful.") You are Denzel Washington in American Gangster. So you stand there, you smirk in an unnerving way, and you stare. You stare like the person who dare approach you is the stupidest soul on the planet. You keep staring, even as they begin to laugh nervously and backtrack, saying this is only something they heard and they're sorry, man, honestly it was all [name]. At no point do you offer them a reprieve from their quiet, personal hell. Then you grin widely before saying, "Excuse me, I have some business to attend to." And then you leave the venue, knowing you're quietly capable of destroying someone's life. And you sleep soundly.

4. Somebody you know asks for your advice on a subject that is absolutely bananas (and enticing)

How you want to react: "Absolutely I will give you all my advice" (and then mentally: "Before I tell everybody I have ever met.")

How you should react: Beware, for this is an emotional minefield. Advice is tricky. Advice assumes responsibility. Plus, anyone asking for advice usually knows what they want to hear and what they plan to do, and they just want you to validate that. The foolproof tip? Use any quote from Titanic. Observe:

"I don't know what to do about my relationship."

"A real man makes his own luck."

". . . Oh . . . um, okay . . ."

"Should I quit my job?"

"I put the diamond in the coat. And I put the coat on her!"

"Never mind."

"Should I ask out so-and-so?"

"It's not up to you to save me, Jack."

"My name is Marge."

"I want to travel the world. Would you?"

"Promise me that you'll survive, that you won't give up."

*blocked and deleted*

You're welcome.

5. Somebody asks if, after you post this, it is about them

How you want to react: "Yes. Stop talking to me."

How you should react: "Yes. Stop talking to me, please."

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About the Author

Anne T. Donahue

Anne T. Donahue is a writer and person from Cambridge, Ontario. You can buy her first book, Nobody Cares, right now and wherever you typically buy them. She just asks that you read this piece first.

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