Being Judgmental

“Don’t judge me” seems to be a common defense used by those who don’t like what they are hearing.  But what draws the line between being judgmental and showing constructive concern?  Recently I’ve encountered two people who both feel like they are being judged but I’m not sure that they really are.

The first person is an internet friend whom I recently met in person for the first time.  We have several mutual friends and had corresponded from time to time on Facebook and through other channels.  When we first met face-to-face, within minutes he was sharing a very high level of personal detail about his sex life.  Suffice it to say, he enjoys collecting a wide range of sexual partners and he documents those experiences in detail.

Now, I’m a man of the world.  I’ve heard it all and seen quite a bit, too.  So there was nothing he shared that shocked or offended me.  Certainly, I can think of things I would rather discuss than how much fun he had in a threesome with a pair of Nordic men the night before, but it is his life and body and I am not going to judge his actions “right” or “wrong”.

Along the course of the conversation he shared two things.  The first was that, if I understand him correctly, he is really curious why he hasn’t found a long-term relationship.  The second is that he is frustrated with some of our mutual friends because he feels they judge him.

He didn’t say what they’ve done or said that counts as judgment.  But based on my own observation, I can only imagine that they’ve seen his behavior and listened to him profess a desire for a stable relationship and perhaps they’ve mentioned to him that one is not very helpful in begetting the other.  Does that count as judgment?  I don’t think it does.  It is a matter of people pointing out what behavior is helpful and what behavior is not helpful in terms of reaching the goals and desires we set for ourselves.

Another case: Another friend, one whom I’ve known for a bit longer, is very desirous of a long-term relationship as well.  The people to whom he is attracted are, on a number of levels, not very conducive to the things he wants.  He wants a stable relationship with someone who doesn’t just love him for his comparative wealth, someone who loves him for who he is as a person, and someone with whom he can talk about his varied interests.

The challenge is, the people he chooses to date are usually about half his age, come from a significantly lower socioeconomic status, don’t speak English very well, and are neither familiar with nor particularly interested in discussing global economics, politics and other things that are of interest to him.  Recently, he has expressed that he is feeling judged by his friends here in Bangkok – me included – about his choice of people to date. 

If we hold up a mirror and suggest that he might find the stable relationship he’s looking for if he fishes in a pool that has the right kind of fish, is that being judgmental?  I personally haven’t told him that what he is doing is right or wrong, good or bad.  I don’t care who he dates.  I don’t care how old or young they are, where they are from, what their financial position in the world is, etc.  But as a friend, if he says (and shows) that he wants to be in a relationship and is depressed when yet another guy turns out to be not the right one, isn’t it reasonable that I’ll try to help him see how he could improve his chances?

Sometimes I think that people let themselves feel like they are being judged as an excuse to avoid really looking critically at their own decisions and behaviors and the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of both.