It started out as just a casual conversation among friendly acquaintances. A little how-are-you, a little what's-happening, a little what-do-you-think-of.... But then she decided to get a bit more personal, and pass on some information she thought I needed to know. She wanted to warn me, and took the risk of hurting my feelings to present me an unpleasant truth.
Someone I've considered to be a friend for years, that I've been supportive of and shared personal news with, has been telling others behind my back nasty things about me. This acquaintance gave me two more names of people who've heard these statements and would be willing to confirm them if I wanted to check them out further. We didn't have a lot of time right then, but I was invited to drop by sometime and get an earful of details. In parting, she apologized for hurting my feelings, saying she hadn't wanted to speak out before but things had gotten now so that I needed to know what was going on. It was starting to make a difference with some other people.
I thanked her, assuring her she wasn't the one who hurt my feelings. I'm not even sure that hurt feelings are an accurate description of what's going on. Had she told me I was awful because of ______, that would have hurt my feelings. But this was different. This was informing me of a betrayal.
Now I have some decisions to make.
The obvious one is to pull back from my two-faced friend, and in fact, I haven't talked to her since this conversation. I'm not sure whether I want to pretend everything is just as before, but be very careful what I share with her, or whether I want to be more confrontational. It seems to me that in order to be fair, I should get more details from the people who can share them with me. Imagine a conversation where I challenge her with the awful stuff she's been saying, and when she asks "What?" all I have to come back with is, "I dunno, just stuff." Real helpful.
There's also the possibility that what's being said is true, and I'm unaware that I need to clean up my act. After all, the way I judge my own actions is not necessarily the way others do. Perhaps I need an attitude adjustment. That's certainly been true before.
It may be true that this friend is simply poisonous and needs to be shed for my own health and wellbeing. Some people show that up front and are easy to avoid (unless they're close relatives). We've all met them. They could be the blame-everybody-else folks, the I'm-such-a-martyr types, the only-me ones, the need-need-need kind, the I'm-good-you're-awful folks, the I-can't-tell-the-truth people, the all-I-can-get-away-with ones, or any of a dozen other permutations of warped personalities.
The ones who go behind your back are harder to spot until something comes back to you. I must be naive. I honestly didn't think I knew any of those. I suppose it must be common: gossip is a very active pastime. But betrayal is very hard to digest when it's just not how you see the world. My own integrity is very important to me, having had my share of struggles with it, and I demand it in my true friends.
So: decisions to make.