Saturday, August 29, 2009

Judginess and defensiveness

I used to be incredibly judgmental. Anyone who has met me in the last few years might be surprised to hear that (at least I hope they would be!) but there was definitely a time when I had very strong opinions about the way people "should be", and I wasn't very subtle about letting people know those opinions. I was also incredibly defensive - if I detected the slightest hint that someone thought I might be wrong, I'd get all bent out of shape. It wasn't until I had been in therapy for a while that I began to realize how my judginess and defensiveness were related to each other, and to my low self-esteem. The way I'd describe it is that since I was judging everyone else, I assumed everyone else was judging me, and since I had somewhat shaky self-esteem, I took others' judgment personally (hence the defensiveness), and that often led me to be even more judgy - you know, thinking along the lines of "You think I'm being too sensitive? Well, that's just because YOU'RE insensitive, and stupid". A fun little immature vicious circle.

As I became more comfortable with myself, I found that I was less defensive, and less judgmental - my thinking evolved more into "You think I'm being too sensitive? Why do you think that? Hmmm, no, I don't really agree with that. Well, OK, whatever". There's a bit of a chicken-egg thing here, in that I don't know if my increased self-confidence made me less defensive and therefore less judgmental of others, or if I mellowed out and stopped being so judgmental so I stopped perceiving that others were judging me. But the end result is that today, I'm WAY less judgmental. That doesn't mean I don't still have strong opinions about some things, but I have a much stronger 'live and let live' attitude (and I like to think I've also learned how to express myself more kindly). I've also become, for lack of a better way to put it, much more of an economist, and what I mean by that is that economists study choices but we try to do it in an objective way, identifying the costs and benefits of all the options. As I tell my students, if someone makes a different choice than the choice you would make, it just means that they value the costs and benefits of that choice differently than you do. Rather than thinking about their choice as 'wrong', it's far more productive to try to understand how and why they value those costs and benefits differently.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. I think because of my own history, I am acutely aware of it when I hear other people being judgmental. And whether I agree with their opinion or not (though admittedly, more so when I don't), I don't like it and it sort of makes me want to avoid those people. And to be perfectly honest, that is one of the reasons I haven't posted anything on this blog in the last couple of months. Because although I still consider myself very much a quirkyalone, I am now also in a capital-R Relationship. And I am happy - incredibly, sappily, didn't-know-relationships-could-be-like-this happy. And in the context of this blog, where I have talked a lot about being happily single, and that I know is read by at least a few in the 'happily single' community, I feel a little guilty about being so happy in my Relationship.

The problem is that over the last few months, I feel like I keep encountering a bizarrely judgmental attitude from those in the single community where anything that suggests coupledom might have some benefits, or singledom might have some costs, is taken as heresy and the writer is suspected of buying into matrimania. It's a very black and white attitude. The clearest example is a recent guest post that Simone Grant wrote for Single Women Rule about how she sometimes thinks that life would be easier with a significant other around. She wasn't saying life would instantly be perfect if she were coupled, or that she wanted just anyone in her life, but Keysha of SWR felt the need to add her own response to Simone's post, basically suggesting Simone is buying into some relationship myths. Anyone who has read Simone's own blog (which rocks, btw) should know how stupid that is.

This bizarre judginess has made me really hesitant to write anything here about my relationship. And I don't think I'm the only one feeling this way - in June, Sasha Cagan, the original Quirkyalone, wrote a really thoughtful post about how she actually wants a relationship, a post that she felt hesitant to even write; over at The Unmarried Estate, Therese writes about her decision to get married and says, "I can’t help feeling guilty – like I am betraying the Unmarried Rights community or the feminist community or something."

Because I feel this guilt too, I've avoided this blog. But the more I've thought about it, the more annoyed I've gotten that I feel this way. So I'm back. I know I'll be returning to this topic - and I know that I will be choosing my words super-carefully whenever I talk about my relationship - but the bottom line is that even though I'm now a quirkytogether, I don't think what I have to say has really changed, since I've always thought about this blog as being about people having the right to be happy being whatever they want to be. I'm not going to promise to post super-often or all that regularly (because I always get myself in trouble with promises like that), but I'm not going to avoid posting either. Go ahead and judge me, if it makes you happy...


Simone Grant said...

First, thank you.

Second, I started to read your post and my thoughts were purely, "Oh, that's wonderful. I know she must be happy because she's not the type of person to settle for just any relationship".

Sadly, there are people in the "single" community who can't seem to get it through their head that what most of us want are choices and respect. Instead they see an us vs. them phenomena. My guess is that if we keep bringing it up and bringing it up that eventually they'll learn.

onely said...

QE, it's great that you're happy in your relationship. I'm so glad you've decided not to let that keep you from posting. As I think we (Onely) told Unmarried Estate, having someone "on the inside" (in a happy committed romantic relationship) advocate for singles' rights is actually a great boon for the movement.

I think that in any advocacy effort, there are going to be voices getting overly angry and judgmental, because after all the movement is both FOR a new vision (this is the constructively critical voice) and AGAINST the status quo (this is the angry voice). You might even say (arguably) that you can't have one without the other. The problem arises when the judgment and anger are so vehement that they inhibit articulate, fair-minded, or diplomatic people from speaking out.

I admire how you laid out your story of your history of judgmentalism. I can be very opinionated myself and am trying to be mindful of when that happens. My theory is that people deploy strong judgments (one of mine is, "that person is tailgating me, therefore he is a bad person") as a way of adding a sense of control, stability, and certainty to their lives. I have a relatively unstable life in some regards (don't we all, though?), and I think I use these overarching generalizations ("all jet skiers are irresponsible nature haters") to give myself some kind of emotional scaffolding to cling to when everything else seems so nebulous.

Anyway, GREAT post and keep blogging PLEASE.


Jenn said...

@Simone: thanks, it's nice to know that I at least appear to be someone who wouldn't settle - I'm not sure I would have come across the same way a few years back but I've worked hard to get here. The us vs. them thing is definitely weird but you're right - we'll just have to keep bringing it up!
@onely: I never thought about being 'on the inside' but I like that idea! And your comments made me think of something I heard once about how every reform movement needs radicals, that it's by pushing to the extremes that we get any movement at all. I'll try to keep that in mind in the future, even as I plead for moderation... :-)

Clever Elsie said...

Welcome back! I'm glad that you're posting again.

You're right that there's a movement of what I call "militant singles" that are anti-marriage and sometimes anti-relationship, too. One kind of odd thing I've noticed about myself is that when I was single but wanted a relationship, the militant singles bothered me. But ever since I decided to be single by choice, I've found that I have to monitor myself so that I don't become one of them! It's amazing how easily our own personal beliefs, experiences, and choices can color how we view the world!

As someone who's glad to be single but very much supports healthy relationships for people who want them, I'm happy for formerly single bloggers who find partners they're crazy about. The only thing that bothers me is when they suggest that it's better to be coupled than single. That was actually why I was disturbed by the Quirkyalone post you mentioned, which said something to the effect that you can't fully mature if you stay single. However, I definitely don't think all couples are automatically singlist or matrimaniacal.

Anyway, it's great to hear that you're happy in your relationship, and I hope you'll keep posting, whether single or coupled.

Jenn said...

@CleverElsie: thanks for the encouragement! I understand that there's a fine line between pointing out the benefits of relationships and suggesting they are better than being single. I'm not sure that the Quirkyalone post was suggesting relationships are better - I'm working on a longer post about that so I'll look forward to your comments!

The Singlutionary said...

The singles and the coupled individuals need to get married!

Being single, like being coupled is a state which can and does change. And the single that I was last year is different from the single I am today. So even without my "status" changing, I am still learning and growing. It is sad that people finding themselves in relationships is sometimes seen as traitor-like behavior.

I think that the thing we ought to be trying to correct is the THINKING that says that being coupled is better and makes a person more complete, happier, etc.

Sometimes we forget that and we start seeing things in black and white, as me vs them. Which is never productive. Thank you for pointing this out. I've lately been writing about my Sexless Suitor which I suppose might go against the Singlutionary grain since I am writing about a potential relationship instead of being single. But I am still writing from the Singlutionary standpoint which I think is valid no matter if single, married, divorced or widdowed.