“If you can’t complain to your friends, to whom can you complain?” My pal Jane announced the other day when she was venting to me about her ex-boyfriend, who dumped her for a redhead.

“And the redhead wasn’t even another woman, but a golden retriever,” she said. “Can you believe it?” she wailed into the phone. “I’ve been replaced by a dog.”

“Man’s best friend,” I consoled, as I continued channel surfing while lending my verbal support.

There’s an art to complaining, and no one does it better than women, who know practically from birth that “conversation” is code for “complaining.”

There’s a magnet on my fridge that reads: “The more you complain, the longer god lets you live.”

In that case, we’ll live a long time, my friends and I agree.

Complaining is instinctive, it’s part of a woman’s genetic makeup. Men get into the act, too, except their topics differ. Men complain if their team loses, if a restaurant is out of a menu item, or if they nick themselves shaving.

“That’s not complaining, that’s whining,” I say. “Whining is an altogether separate category. It’s self-indulgent wallowing, doesn’t change a thing and is a complete waste of time. Complaining, on the other hand, is constructive. Women are more sophisticated in their approach. Complaining is whining on steroids — the grand kvetch.”

Take for example, my friend, Sue, a woman who ends every sentence with a deep, audible sigh signifying that her plight in life is extreme dissatisfaction.

Just the other day, I inquired as to how Sue was feeling.

“You don’t want to know,” she said, meaning she couldn’t wait to unload. And unload she did. Over a 45-minute lunch she explained in agonizing detail how her grown kids are driving her nuts, and they’re setting poor examples for her grandchildren by over-indulging them.

“Don’t get involved,” I told her, “It’s not your domain.”

“Of course, it’s my domain,” Sue said. “I’m the grandmother. I’m supposed to provide feedback.”

“Adult children don’t want feedback. They want only two things: money and for us to remain mute.”

“Do you remain mute?” she asked me.

“Never,” I said. “I voice my opinion every chance I get. It’s very cathartic.”

“My point exactly. And when it’s not the kids, I complain to Harry.”

Sue’s husband Harry is her captive audience. He agrees with everything she says just to keep peace.

During a two-hour dinner with three of my closest friends, we covered all the minutiae starting on a low and ending on a high. We dissected every emotion that was on our respective minds ranging from kids, work, men, politics and the world at large. We laughed. We cried. We spilled our guts. We complained bitterly over everything that had bothered us since we last met. We provided sympathy, empathy and large doses of TLC. Then we ordered dessert.

Sue’s therapist recently told her she was making great progress.

“I owe it all to my friends,” she told him. “They hang on my every word.”

“I hang on your every word, too,” the shrink said.

“Except, you’re not cost effective. You charge me for complaining, and not only that,” she struck the final blow, “you’re a guy.”

“Meaning what?” he asked, scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad.

“Meaning you don’t get the ‘it.’ ”

“What ‘it?’ ”

“The whole enchilada,” Sue said. “The Sturm und Drang — the motivating force behind my existence.”

“Which is what?”

“Complaining. I like to complain. It fulfills me. It makes me happy.”

“Happy is over-rated,” her shrink said. Sue terminated her therapy a week later.

Which leaves me with a question to ponder: “Why does complaining feel so good?” I asked my friend, Ann. “Why, when I purge my soul, do I experience such an utter and complete sense of relief and euphoria?”

“Because, “Ann said. “You’re transferring your problems onto another person, namely me. I take on your burdens while you feel liberated and cleansed. It gets you off the hook while I’m a complete wreck.”

“Oh,” I said. “That makes me sound ego-maniacal, annoyingly redundant and excruciatingly boring.”

“That’s what friends are for,” Ann said.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer. She can be reached at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.