I was working one afternoon in a coffee shop on the Upper East Side writing, when I found myself in a familiar Manhattan situation: I was forced to listen to an intimate conversation between the women next to me and learn things about them I shouldn't know. It seems one of them was having trouble dating. Finding the right guy was hard for her, and yet she defined love not in expansive terms but overwhelmingly in the restrictive terms of things she did not want. She didn't like momma's boys, for one thing. The latest deal breaker was that a guy she was seeing had used the word "sketchy." Really? Is "sketchy" a dealbreaker? If you aren't familiar with it, the word is in what we in Oklahoma call the goddamn dictionary and is defined as "iffy" or "questionable," as in a questionable person. It's first known use, according to Webster's, was 1805.
I took umbrage, maybe because it's a word I like. Its slang variants have given us fun phrases like, "He's a bit of a sketch," which are useful to me as a writer. But then I started to wonder (as he started to sound like Sarah Jessica Parker) have we become too judgmental? Then I realized (continuing to sound like Sarah Jessica Parker) people make quick and poor judgments because they want to judge first. For he who does it first, does it best, parrying all attacks and rejection. Yet as well all know, that's mainly the obsession of people who have all their lives been judged. So I took another look at this woman, her crossed arms. Her mostly camouflaging outfit, her stern face and realized (this blog is turning into "Sex and the City" and lacks only the puns) oh, my God, this woman has been rejected more than a subprime home buyer. No, scratch that. In America even subprime homebuyers get homes. This woman must have been sub-sub-prime. Her FICO score could have been 376. Who else would reject a guy for using a harmless word like "sketchy"?
I, too, was rejected a bit in my youth, and wondered if I judge people, too.
The words of my friend Carol rang in my ears, "Eric, you're too judgmental."
She's right! The other woman in the conversation had been sitting by herself a few moments before. She was a lot more cheerful than her friend, much perkier. And she was very excited to hear "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi come. She started shaking her head to the music at the table and having herself a time, and I remember very clearly what I said to myself in my head: "I reject you."
All of us cover up vulnerability in different ways. Some people are lucky enough not to have emotional vulnerability, and they go on to head up companies like Halliburton and Bank of America and Goldman Sachs and largely avoid jail time. But the rest of us create armor for our lack of confidence. We tell jokes. We hide behind a guitar. We only leave the house on days when the perspiration isn't so bad. We create huge altars to the Virgin Mary or to Cure founder Robert Smith. We construct public personae that are increasingly elaborate and perhaps even estranged from who we are inside.
I once read a description of introverts and extroverts I quite liked. This was the way I'll interpret it: An extrovert will get into a car engine and just start playing around to see what's wrong with it. An introvert must make a map of the engine in his head before he touches anything. The extrovert will fumble around and might lummox up everything--but if not, he might get it done a lot more quickly. The introvert, meanwhile, might needs to constantly make notes and reassess the situation, and figure out what might be wrong in the extrovert's thinking. That slows things down quite a bit. And it means making judgments. Sometimes these kinds of judgments can make you come off like a real asshole. But sometimes it can make you cautious enough to say, I need more information before I make a decision about a complicated matter.
I don't know whether to put this woman in the cautious category or the asshole category. It could be that she doesn't know who she is, and trying on boyfriends and discarding them is a way of getting to know herself. Is is possible to judge people and accept them at the same time? Can I accept the parts of Noam Chomsky's political outlook I like and then vehemently judge the rest? Do I have to reject the philosophy of Ayn Rand or can we just be friends? Maybe the ultimate goal isn't to be judgmental but simply selective. That way we can grow without becoming ingrown. Accept other people's rejection of us as an opportunity to grow up. Maybe the sketch is us.
How's that for a pun, Sarah Jessica Parker? I reject you.