The urge to judge
Updated: May 4, 2022
When I was a young adult, I had a friend—Jane, not her real name. Jane was an editor at a big publishing house. Though my friend was only 26 (and I was 24), she had an incredible career. Meetings with famous authors each week, travel, an office in a skyscraper. She brought me to her apartment one time—it had a doorman! A lobby! She had a view and her own bedroom. She was making bank and had family money; I was going into credit card debt. She was incredibly beautiful. Seriously. She was—yes—Beyoncé-level beautiful.
At the time, I was living in New Haven, Connecticut, over a pizza parlor. Don’t get me wrong. There were many benefits to this, most notably the three brawny guys who ran it would give me pizza for free. “Yo, Kris!” they’d bellow up at my window. “You wanna pie? Some cavone didn’t pick his up!” Hell yes, I wanted a pie. But aside from pizza, it was hard not to want what Jane had. The job and apartment aside, there were the clothes. The shoes. The knowledge of the New York subway system, which seemed so urbane and hip. After all, I had wanted to be an editor, too. Sent in those “to whom it may concern” letters when I was a senior in college. Got no response, shockingly. I had no idea how to break in to publishing and satisfied myself by working in PR at a salary that put be below the poverty line. I didn’t go hungry; my parents saw to that, and I know how lucky I am. But you know what I’m saying. Jane lived the life I dreamed of. It was hard for me to imagine a day in the life of such fabulosity.
I didn’t resent Jane for having all that she did. I was happy for her. She wasn’t so happy herself, but I did my best to remind her that she was living the life. She was succeeding. She was awesome. But yes, I wanted some of that for myself. I hoped she’d help me get a job in publishing. She said she couldn’t, and I understood. A while later, she stopped being my pal. I was hurt and sad and missed her. I wrote to her. She didn’t answer.
Years later, I saw her wedding announcement in a national newspaper. My heart leaped with joy—she was okay! She looked so happy, so beautiful. She was still a big deal in publishing—even bigger. One day, much to my shock, I saw her on TV, where she openly talked about those New York years, when she was overwhelmed, depressed, and isolated. How she was so sad and numb she could barely leave her apartment. She quit her job and found—made—happiness for herself.
I guess my point is that a lot of times, we make judgments about how great another person might have it. We might envy them, thinking, “You don’t know what it’s like, being down here, suffering the way I suffer.” We can even resent people who don’t seem to have the same struggles we do. But until we really know what their inner lives are like, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.