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.

Realizations about Relationships

Saturday night and we’re stuck at home with an empty refrigerator.  Since returning on Monday, I’ve cooked a few times, buying only the ingredients I needed for those meals and leaving us minimally stocked.  Another rainy season downpour has been falling for the past ninety minutes and based on the slowness with which the thunder and lightning are passing by, I reckon we’ll be stuck here for a while longer.

This has given me the opportunity to complete all my wedding thank-you cards, which now only need to be stamped and mailed.  In doing so, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on how lucky Tawn and I are to have so many friends and family members who really support us as a couple and, beyond simply “accepting” us as a couple, really celebrate our relationship.  It is nice to have all that support.

Whenever I attend a wedding, I’m always mindful of the fact that the witnesses, the friends and family who attend the service, have a very important role to play.  I recall at one wedding that the officiant spoke to the congregation about our role.  That message really resonated with me; I think we do have a responsibility to support and encourage the relationships that our friends and family members are in.  Relationships are tender things that need nurturing.

Today we met four visiting Singaporean friends, two couples, for lunch at the Hyatt Erawan Tea Room.  These are both long-term couples, still we were surprised when one of them remarked how they considered us an inspiration to them.  Despite having been together for so long, they haven’t the family support (nor the political support there) to get married, let alone have a formal commitment ceremony.

Tawn mentioned on the way home that many friends we saw on this recent trip, as well as friends who contacted us online after our wedding, remarked that we’re the first gay couple they know who has married.  It is kind of odd, as we don’t consider ourselves pioneers by any stretch of the imagination.

Thinking of our friends who are gay and lesbian, we know many couples, some who are married and many who have been together for ages.  Perhaps because that’s what I see a lot of, I’ve forgotten what a rarity that is?

While settling down as a couple isn’t the only way to be happy – you don’t need to be with someone to be complete, as I mentioned to one friend over dinner last Friday – it is certainly nice to have a companion as you travel along the road of life.

Leaving you with this, a composite picture that Tawn took while at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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What’s the message he’s sending me?  Ha ha…  hope you all have a good weekend.

 

Chris and Tawn: The Early Years

In the process of sorting through things (I’m always trying to get rid of things I don’t need to keep anymore, sort of a reverse pack rat) I came across some CDs of photos from 2000, when Tawn and I first met.

Dating all the way back to the 4th or 5th of January 2000, here’s the first picture I ever took of Tawn.

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Cute, huh?  What a baby face!  Here’s the photo of one of our first dinners together, taken at the now-defunct Anna’s Cafe on Soi Saladaeng.

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Yes, I had glasses back in those days.  But no hair.  It wasn’t until the middle of 2000 that I had lasik surgery.

Tawn moved to the United States a few days before Christmas 2000 and we flew back to Kansas City to join my family for the holidays.  Even back then, Tawn was warmly welcomed to the family.  Here we are at my brother-in-law and sister’s old house, opening Christmas presents.

2001

Looking back at these pictures, I don’t think we’ve changed all that much.  If you look at us up close, we have a few more wrinkles and a few more grey hairs, and I’ve gained a few kilograms since then, but not all that different.

Speaking of changing looks, Tawn just had his hair cut quite short on the sides.  I’m always urging him to get the sides shaved because I like the way it looks on him.  He’s always very hesitant, feeling that it makes his face look too narrow.  I think it accentuates his face.  Here’s the picture of the new haircut.  You’re welcome to share your thoughts about it.

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One final one, from March 2001, shows Tawn and my good friend and former roommate Anita at a birthday party held and Brad and Donna’s former house in Sunnyvale.  Nice back-lighting!

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Looking more recently, almost exactly two years ago, here we are at Bua and Pom’s engagement party.  Bua very thoughtfully made CDs for all her guests, containing copies of the professional photos featuring the guests and, of course, the photos of the bride and groom and wedding party.  It is nice because the photos you always take yourself never turn out so nicely.  I hadn’t seen these before – they were hidden away on a CD that Tawn tossed into the box of computer things.

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Tawn and me with his school friend Pim and her adorable daughter Tara.  Tara, who is now going on four years old, always asks after me whenever Tawn goes over for a visit.  She keeps asking why I don’t have any hair.

Finally, here’s a picture of the two of us at the engagement party.

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Some of the best pictures of us have been taken at weddings.  It helps to have a festive atmosphere and a professional photographer.  And a glass or two of wine.

 

What do you think is the biggest mistake that people tend to make in relationships?

During the course of all relationships, people make one of two mistakes:

Mistake #1: Being too focused on yourself and not focused enough on the other person.  The tough thing about relationships is that you are no longer the center of the universe.  You have to find a way to share that spotlight with another person.  For many people, it is difficult to remember that and so you subconsciously (or not so subconsciously) keep the spotlight trained on yourself, to the neglect of your partner.  No matter how understanding the other person is, or how much they are too focused on you instead of themselves (see Mistake #2, below), it will eventually sow the seeds of conflict that, if not weeded out, will choke the relationship’s growth.

Mistake #2: Being too focused on the other person and not focused enough on yourself.  This is the situation where people end up in abusive or co-dependent relationships.  For any number of reasons (“I don’t deserve love”, “He’s so good to me”, “He’s so great in bed”, “That’s my role in my culture”) some people put up with an unbelievable amount of crap in a relationship, being subservient to the wishes and desires of their partner, tolerating unacceptable behavior and feeling meek and miserable about it.  No matter how great that other person is or how fearful you are that if you leave, you’ll be alone, people need to stand up for their rights in a relationship, for their dignity and equality.

There may be some people who manage to make both mistakes in a single relationship, but I think generally they are more likely to be inclined to one or the other mistake.  They good news: we can correct the mistakes we make and even if we have to do so several times before learning our lesson, we can learn the lesson and go on to a much healthier and happier relationship.

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How Tawn and I Met

2008-01-03

Above: Chilly and breezy morning here in Khrungthep, as Tawn huddles under a blanket on the sofa.

Some of you have heard this story, but many of you haven’t.

In December 1999, in a friend’s loft in Tribeca, I made the decision to quit my job.  Having accepted the position of Senior Manager at the still under construction AMC Empire 25 theatres near Times Square, I had traveled to New York from San Francisco to meet my team and to look for an apartment in advance of my move in January.

After an afternoon of meeting with the people who would be working under me on the adventure of opening the largest, most complex theatre AMC had ever opened, I realized that I was being set up for failure.  The team was rife with inexperience, several people having never working in the theatre exhibition industry at all.

That evening, in Michael’s Tribeca loft, I considered my options.  A few weeks prior I had interviewed with another company, IKON Office Solutions, just to be aware of what was out there.  The interview had unexpectedly resulted in a job offer, tendered by a former AMC colleague who was now a recruiter for IKON.

I called this recruiter friend and confirmed that the offer was still on the table.  Within minutes, he faxed over an offer letter which I signed and returned.  I then drafted my resignation letter and called my boss in California.  Not surprisingly, he spent most of the call talking about himself.  No attempt was made to empathize with me or to understand my concerns.  After almost thirteen years with the company, on the brink of opening the most prestigious theatre in the chain, he didn’t seem concerned that I was leaving.

Having worked nearly every holiday since 1987, as one does in the exhibition business, I chose December 30th as my final day.  I was not going to work New Year’s Eve again.

My roommates Colleen and Nina had spent several months the previous year backpacking through Southeast Asia and they had enjoyed it very much.  Intrigued, I decided the best way to spend my two weeks between jobs was to go explore the north of Thailand.  On December 31st, using family passes from my employee father, I boarded United Airlines’ San Francisco to Hong Kong flight, on my way to Thailand.

This being the last day of 1999 – remember the Y2K scare that computer systems worldwide would shut down because they hadn’t been programmed to recognize the new century – the flight was nearly empty.  The 747, with more than 300 seats, had only 35 passengers in the entire plane.  The number of crew members almost matched the number of passengers as we sat in the gate area.  Boarding took all of five minutes and we pushed back a half-hour early.

The flight was an interesting one.  Each flight attendant stopped by my seat to chat with me for a while, apparently lacking anything better to do.  When we crossed the International Date Line, the flight attendants went running down the aisles wishing everyone a Happy New Year and pouring champagne.  But of course at that point, it was already seven in the morning local time.  Because of the cruel nature of westbound transpacific travel, I never did get my “end of the century” New Year’s Eve.  The crew asked me to take a picture of them, posed in the cabin, a picture that the purser mailed me several weeks later.

After spending a few days in Hong Kong visiting friends from when I lived there in 1998-1999, I set out to continue my journey to Bangkok on the evening of January 3rd.  Standing in the employee check-in queue at Chek Lap Kok airport, there was this cute, skinny guy with a long face and beautiful eyes standing in front of me.  He turned around and we made eye contact.  He smiled.  I smiled back.  He was checking in with a group of other guys, who I assumed were his friends.  Later, I found out they were the boyfriends of his colleagues.

Looking at the round orange tag on his luggage, I could tell from the code (BKKFS) that he was a Bangkok-based flight attendant.

After checking in, he and his friends disappeared.  As I went to the gate and stopped for some dinner, I ran into my roommate Nina’s friend Perry and her mother, who were on their way to India!  We spent an hour or so visiting before I continued to the gate.

At the gate I saw the cute guy and his friends again.  The load for the flight was very light and when I boarded and took my seat in the downstairs part of business class, I observed that one of his friends asked the flight attendant if he could move to the upper deck.  Figuring that they would all end up sitting upstairs, I asked if I, too, could change seats.  The flight attendant said yes, so I went upstairs and selected a seat at the back of the cabin, calculating that it would be easier to see him because he’d be sitting in front of me.

Sure enough, the cute guy came upstairs and sat in the emergency exit row, three rows ahead of me and on the other side of the aisle.  Every so often he would turn around and look back at me.  The on-duty flight attendants stopped by to say hi to him and he went back to the galley once or twice during the flight.

Throughout the two-hour flight I noticed that there were a lot of flight attendants who came upstairs.  Of the fourteen flight attendants scheduled on the flight, it seems like all of them came up to offer me refills on my orange juice and nearly all of them tried to use my name.  “More orange juice, Mister… um… Schultz?”  Something was up.

Finally, shortly before descent, I worked up enough courage to say something.  I was at a major turning point in my life, leaving a long-held job for a new one, leaving one century for the next, traveling across the world before returning home.  Why let this opportunity pass me by?

I walked to the lavatory at the front of the cabin.  When returning to my seat, the cute guy was watching me over the top of the Thai newspaper he was “reading”.  The sports section, featuring Thai kickboxing, was on the front page.  Struggling for something to say, I stopped, said hello, and asked…

“So, are you a fan of kickboxing?”

I know, not the most suave and sophisticated of lines, but it was enough to jump start the conversation.  As it continued, I confirmed that he did indeed work for United, his name was Tawn, and he wasn’t that interested in kickboxing.

“Let me ask you,” I continued, pushing my luck, “this is only my second time here in Bangkok and I’m not sure of the best way to get to my hotel.”

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

“The Crowne Plaza on Thanon Silom,” I replied.

“Oh, that’s near my house.  I’d be happy to give you a ride there.”  I figured out many months later that it was about 15 km away from his house, nowhere “near” by any stretch of the imagination.

So upon landing we went through our separate immigration lines, I collected my backpack, and we met again outside customs where Tawn was waiting with almost all of his colleagues from the flight.  He drove me to the hotel, made sure I was checked in properly, and then offered to collect me the next morning and show me around town.

. . .

The next morning, I waited in the lobby as the appointed time came and went.  Not surprised, I figured he had come to his senses and in the light of day had decided against the folly of hanging out with some strange passenger he had met.  But about fifteen minutes after the prescribed time, Tawn pulled up in his grey Nissan, the same one we drive today.

Over the next three days we visited many sights and had a good time hanging out.  But on the fourth day he had to fly back to Hong Kong, overnight there, fly to Tokyo, overnight there, then come back through Hong Kong to Bangkok.  Since I had more family passes to use, I agreed to fly with him to Hong Kong with the plan of waiting for him then flying back to Bangkok.

On the flight from Bangkok, Tawn switched safety demo positions with a colleague so he wouldn’t have to look at me while doing the demo.  Because of a broken seat, I was reassigned to a seat in his section of business class.  He held the safety card in front of his face the whole time to avoid making eye contact.

During the flight, the passenger seated next to me seemed confused about the highly attentive service I was receiving, the recommendations on what breakfast dish was best, the endless refills of my coffee, etc.

In Hong Kong, we stayed on United’s bill at the Renaissance Harbour View in Wan Chai, and then when Tawn left for Tokyo I stayed with Stephanie.  The following evening I went to the airport and waited for Tawn outside customs.  He came walking out with the same group of colleagues as had been on the flight on which we met.  Amidst the twittering and whispers between the other flight attendants, Tawn told me the sad news that he had been rescheduled and would have to fly back to Tokyo the following morning.

No problem, I assured him, I would just use my passes to fly to Tokyo and then we’d head back to Bangkok together.  Tawn asked the captain if I could ride the crew bus back to the hotel and the captain, with a look that said there’s nothing he hasn’t seen before, said okay.

The following day Tawn went to the airport with his crew and I met him at the ticket counter later on with his purser, Jack – the one person who has known us since the day we met.  Because of the heavy loads on the flight, the agent couldn’t give me a boarding pass yet, but I assured Tawn I’d see him onboard.

He and Jack went to the flight and I stayed at the check-in counter, patiently waiting for my name to clear the list.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get on the flight.  The Y2K fears had subsided and the flight was full.  I even checked with Japan Airlines, All Nippon, and Cathay Pacific, but last minute flights to Tokyo were just too expensive.

As Tawn relates the story, he kept scanning the manifest after the aircraft doors closed and walked up and down the aisles, searching for me.  Surely I was somewhere on that plane.  Sadly, I had not made it.

Deciding that the fates had sent me a message, I checked in for the next flight back to the United States, the nonstop to Los Angeles.  Before heading home, stuck in a middle seat in coach, I called the hotel in Japan where Tawn would be staying and left a message for him: “Sorry I couldn’t make the flight.  Will talk with you soon.”

While that could have been the end of the story, it wasn’t.  I started my new job on January 17th, and am still employed with IKON as I work remotely from Thailand.  Thankfully, with Tawn as a United employee, he was able to fly over and visit every four to six weeks.  That gave our relationship an opportunity to take root and survive until the end of 2000, when Tawn moved to the United States to study for his Master’s degree.

But it all started on that Hong Kong to Bangkok flight, January 3rd, 2000 – exactly eight years ago today.

Happy Anniversary, Tawn!

As a prologue, while I said that December 30th was my final day with AMC, I actually continued to work for them for two more years.  The person who followed me as General Manager of the Kabuki 8 and Van Ness 14 in San Francisco recognized my value and convinced me to work part-time on weekends helping their cash handling and accounting operations.  It wasn’t until February 2002 that I finally left AMC.