I've been thinking about how people relate to each other a lot lately. In particular the notion of gossip has been intriguing me. Not the sort of distinctly mean-spirited gossip we associate with soap opera or Jerry Springer-ish extremes (almost universally derided), but the sort of everyday gossip we almost all engage in.

For instance, say persons A, B and C are having a mean-spirited gossip session about persons X, Y and Z. Understandable, as no members of the two cliques are friends. But then person A leaves the group, suddenly becoming the object of conversation. It's not gossip of the mean-spirited sort ("X is such an asshole!"), but it's definitely not stuff said in their presence (-"A is such a nut!" -"yeah, A can be a bit much sometimes."). The odd part of the phenomenon is that it doesn't matter which member of A, B and C steps out: when any member of the circle of friends is gone, and conversation happens to turn to that member, things will be said behind their back that no member of the group would feel comfortable saying to their face.

I know the cold, clinical and detached way I'm phrasing this sounds like a haughty "something other people do." Not so. I must confess being completely guilty to this mode of social behavior. I describe this not in order to disparage, but in order to get at the root of why we are the way we are.

We need a shorthand to describe this. A terminology I have found useful borrows from Shakespeare's famous "All the world's a stage." When A, B and C are in each other's perceived presence, they can be said to be on the stage of each other's consciousness. When D and E (and X and Y and Z) are not present, they can be said to be "offstage."

My hypothesis: there is a great need, in the psychology of creatures social enough to be language-bearing, to share "offstage" observations about other characters in the great play of our conscious lives. In fact, the number of characters you can share offstage observations with another person might be the single best indicator to how good a friend that person is.

Now relate my observations about gossip (attack my ideas! criticism will only make them stronger!) to the notion of "best friends," something supremely important in our pre-teen and pubescent years. A best friend is a rehearsal for the role a mate will ultimately play in our lives.

Which leads to my second hypothesis: that our mate (ideally our best friend, right?) is the one person with which we can share all backstage observations about all players in our lives. Further, the only person with which we relate (some of) our backstage observations about that person! Really good, tight couples frequently share not only observations on bedroom and bathroom functions, they also seem to delve into deeper psychological territory in heart-to-hearts than they do with other persons.

This is my prolegomena to a (secular, non-moralistic) defense of monogamy as a superior way of life, in the sense of being more psychologically-rewarding than celibacy, polygamy, or perpetual-bachelorhood. (Emphatically NOT EASIER, only more rewarding in a time-scale measured in years and decades.)