Last year I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing Linda Richman. If you don't know her by name, you might recognize her caricature. She's Mike Myers' mother-in-law, the inspiration behind Coffee Talk. She's also a grief counselor -- she runs workshops at Canyon Ranch in Arizona and The Berkshires -- and a bestselling author. If you've never read her book I highly, highly recommend it. Better yet, listen to her read it in the audio version. You'll laugh, you'll cry, it's better than "Cats."
Linda gave me enough pearls of wisdom to string a necklace, but the one that really stuck with me was this: "Don't be too hard on people, you never know what's going on with them."
I know it's kind of obvious advice, not exactly hard to remember...and yet so easy to forget. I struggle with judgment all the time: The other day my brother and I were comparing notes on our shared tendency to assume the worst of people, to always make a snide remark or think an unkind thought. Even -- especially -- about people we don't know. We're not mean people. We're loyal friends and thoughtful neighbors; we give food to the homeless and help old ladies cross the street. Yet our first instinct is to size up someone new. Why, we wondered, do we notice a person's out-of-style shoes before we see his warm smile? It's not like looks mean more to us than kindness. Quite the opposite.
After talking it over we decided it's a family trait, easily traced back to Mom. My brother and I learned by example and now it's up to us to break this nasty habit. I guess when my mother assumed she made an ass out of us all.
Case in point: A few months ago I received an e-mail through an Internet dating site. The guy's profile said he was an avid runner and showed a picture of a lean, athletic 30-year-old in serious workout gear. "I have just finished running across the United States," he wrote. "I am passionate about running and it would be great if I could find a running partner."
Red flag. "This boy wants a skinny woman," I thought. I was having a hard time losing the 20 pounds I'd gained and was feeling more like fuzzy slippers than running shoes. My worst fear was to be one of those girls -- the ones who post pictures of themselves from five years and as many dress sizes ago. So I ignored his e-mail. Then he sent me another one. "Just give me a chance," he wrote. "It's only one cup of coffee. I promise we'll have fun."
After a few e-mails he tried to pin me down for a date. The guy was nice, no doubt about it. But I wasn't having it; Truth be told, I was a little put off by his boyish enthusiam, which bordered on immaturity, and the fact that professionally he seemed a bit unfocused. (He listed his occupation as "rock star.") But the thing that really held me back was my insecurity, reflected in what I thought he wanted me to be. We never met.
Yesterday my best friend at work Rosie arrived in a fetching new sundress and heels. "I have my blind date tonight!" she said with an excited little bounce. Rosie broke up with her boyfriend about a month ago. It was rough on her, she really thought he was the one, but he wasn't giving her what she needed so she did what she had to do. Last week a friend offered to fix her up with someone new. Rosie thought it over and decided she was ready to get back on the horse.
"He sounded really nice on the phone," she said. "His name is Jeff and he's a runner. That's about all I know."
Something clicked, I'm not sure why. "Wait, is he on Match.com?"
I logged on and pulled up his profile. Rosie confirmed he was the guy and asked why I didn't go out with him. I told her pretty much what I said above; He was sweet, really sweet, but his athleticism intimidated me.
"Yeah, seems like he does love to run," Rosie said, "but did you check out his website?"
Huh. I didn't know he had one.
Turns out this guy lost a couple relatives to diabetes, so he gathered some corporate sponsorships and ran 3,150 miles across the U.S. to raise money for diabetes research. Oh -- and he lost 100 pounds in the process. I was stunned.
I can understand why one might not mention the weight-loss part of his fitness obsession on a dating site. Not that it's anything to be ashamed of -- on the contrary, in fact -- but it's a little bit "Hi, I'm Jared from Subway." And ladies, I think we can agree that while Jared is an inspiration to us all, none of us has ever fantastized about tearing off his pleated khakis and polo shirt.
But in my case, it might have made a difference. I looked at this skinny guy who talked about running, running and more running, and I assumed he was anti-fat and possibly anti-curvy too. I judged him to be shallow and unambitious based on a photo, a hobby and a flippant job description. And I was completely wrong.
Post-mortem on the date revealed that Jeff was as kind and funny as Rosie and I both thought, but indeed a man of leisure and thus not a good match for either of us. I mean, everyone's entitled to his downtime, but once you hit 30 it's time to start looking for a job.
There I go, judging again. Maybe Jeff's corporate sponsors were good to him and he earned all the money he needs pounding 3,000-plus miles of pavement. It may not be traditional, but I can't say it isn't hard work.