I talk to men and women about dating all the time, and the more “seasoned” daters bring up one subject repeatedly: the problem of baggage. Now, we all know we have our own baggage (issues) that we deal with because….life. But when other people introduce their baggage into a relationship, we immediately go into panic mode. How do you deal with someone else’s baggage?
Here’s another question: why the double standard?
This isn’t an easy question. Even the word “baggage” conjures up fear and dread, and is something to be avoided. We deal with life’s challenges in different ways, and that’s okay. But here’s the deal: we all have baggage. All of us. What creates problems in forming new relationships and getting over old ones is refusing to acknowledge our own hang-ups and issues, and refusing to see ourselves as fallible, imperfect, and beautifully flawed.
Often, we are reluctant to see things a different way. We hold fast to what we believe, despite evidence to the contrary.
Let me give you an example. I met a woman in her mid-thirties who was incredibly disillusioned with dating, and had been doing it for a while. She was tired, and the men she met all had baggage. One had children from a previous marriage. One had issues with his father and didn’t have a good relationship with him. Another decided to transition to a new career and start a business, which would bring a lot of financial instability. Another had been married twice before. All were in their forties or fifties, and all were otherwise nice guys.
“I can’t handle all that baggage,” she said to me.
I asked her what baggage she brought to the table, and she looked at me sideways. “I’m single with no kids, have a good job and I don’t have debt. I think I’m doing okay.”
I told her that all of these things did indeed make her a great catch, but there was more to her story.
There’s always more to your story than the highlights.
Likely, they were finding flaws with her, too. This seemed to catch her off guard.
“I know I have things to work on, like feeling more confident and dealing with my jealousy. I don’t trust men. But that’s different.”
Just because you have a different kind of baggage doesn’t mean that you don’t bring potential challenges into your next relationship. Maybe you are close with your family but you are quick to judge, and therefore lashing out is your go-to response instead of talking things out in a calm manner. Maybe you have a great job and financial stability, but you have been in multiple relationships with emotionally unavailable men and therefore don’t trust anyone. I’m not saying this to judge you – quite the opposite.
We need to shift our perspectives in order to open ourselves up to opportunity. We need to understand and accept each other by understanding and accepting ourselves and our own flaws first.
Changing your perspective means taking an honest look at who you are, and accepting that we are all “works in progress.” It’s okay to be flawed. And it’s okay for your dates to be flawed, too.
When we are continually analyzing someone’s baggage, we aren’t coming close to connection. We are looking for excuses for why someone wouldn’t be a good candidate for a partner. We look only at the flaws and what won’t work, instead of what each date has to offer. I’m not saying you should date and ignore red flags, but I am saying give your dates a chance beyond their labels of, for example, “divorced” or “underemployed.”
Wouldn’t you want your dates to understand who you really are, not just your history or baggage?
We are more than our past. We are shaped by our circumstances, yes, but we are also growing and changing and learning, or at least we are trying. In each of us, there is great love, hope, fear, and curiosity. We all have our talents, and our quirks, and we each bring something unique to the table – but only when we are allowed to be ourselves.
I saw a similar theme in the movie Moonlight, a beautiful story about a sensitive man who couldn’t be himself, didn’t even want to ask the question of who he truly was, and was living tortured inside his own body. He was bogged down by his own baggage. We can’t exist if we don’t begin to accept all parts of ourselves, even the parts we most want to reject.
Dating can open our minds, change our perspective, help us let go of our own judgment and unhelpful comparisons. It can help us heal.