Ah yes, baggage. You know, that emotional trauma that you carry around. The shit that happened to you as a kid, from your parents, friends, or past relationships. Those ill-fated experiences that forever unconsciously haunt your psyche and rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time to ruin relationships, only to quickly hide away leaving you wondering, “what the fuck just happened?” and “why did I act like that?”
Baggage can stem from just about any negative experience that had emotions running high. This is what makes them stick to us: the emotion. Feelings are tricky bastards. Often times, we associate a feeling with a person, thing, situation, etc. and we may not even remember what happened or why that feeling is attached to the experience. But the feeling is always there and typically results in destructive behavior we aren’t even aware we possess.
Some of the most common types of emotional baggage:
- Emotional unavailability
- Negative outlook
Now think back… chances are, you’ve come across individuals in your life that have some or a number of these issues. Or perhaps you deal with some of them yourself. The truth is:
We all have baggage
When it comes to dating though, there are two main challenges that we have to sort through:
- What baggage are we carrying? And what are we doing about it?
- What baggage are we willing to deal with in our partners?
The first challenge can only be addressed through experience and self reflection. Once you know what you’re dealing with, it’s on you to do the work that’s necessary to rectify that. This is an extremely important point. All too often when we have our own baggage, we tend to project the issues on to someone else. Let me paint an example here.
You and someone you’re interested in have been texting and talking back in forth for a few days. The two of you have gotten into a nice little rhythm of communication. Then one day, you reach out and no response. Couple hours go by, still no response. You’re still waiting, wondering what the hell just happened. After a while, you start to get anxious and angry. Eventually, you reach your limit and send a text or leave a message along the lines of, “you know what? don’t even bother replying back. I need someone who’s going to be consistent and it’s clear that you’re not the type of person I need. Delete my number”. Still no response and you’re still upset. Another couple hours go by and finally, they reach out to you. Come to find out, they were unable to respond for a legitimate reason (the exact reason doesn’t matter and if you think it does, you should do some self examination). If you’ve done anything like this, then you might have abandonment/insecurity issues and should take some time to self-reflect.
The baggage we deal with from our partners though? This can be just as difficult to handle. Have you ever met someone that seemed to just tolerate any and everything from whomever they’re dating? Like, no matter what their partner does, they’ll excuse it (I’ve been somewhat guilty of this). And on the other end of the spectrum, there are those who shut shit down at the slightest sign of baggage. Partner get a little frustrated and walked away? “Welp, they can’t communicate well, so I’m ending this relationship”
This is where knowing yourself really becomes key. You should definitely not tolerate everything from anyone. But on the same token, you should have enough compassion to see that people have their own baggage. I feel that a good determination of whether or not another person’s baggage is worth dealing with, is:
- Do I find it utterly disrespectful?
- Is it something they’re aware of and actively working on? (or willing to work on once I’ve brought it to their attention)
An extreme example of “utterly disrespectful” is someone getting physically violent with their partner. This is not okay under any circumstance and if your partner exhibits such behavior, extricate yourself from them immediately. Another example would be verbal insults. For me, unacceptable. One that I think is a gray area is yelling. This is touchy subject. I’ll be honest here, I come from a family of arguers and yellers (some of my baggage). I don’t mind when my partner yells at me (within reason of course) because I’ve been around it all throughout my childhood. I do my best not to raise my voice (and compared to my family, I’m pretty damned good) but I’m human and I have my limits. There is a point where I will get frustrated and raise my voice. I do my best to try to defuse the situation before I get to that point, but sometimes my frustration boils over. In most of my relationships, this was never a problem (because they yelled too) but other women I’ve dated, it is a hard red flag for them. I’ve also had an ex tell me that she doesn’t tolerate yelling but it wasn’t something she’d end a relationship over, especially since she knew it was a rare occurrence and I tried to avoid it.
Which brings me to my final point. Be clear on what baggage is “acceptable”. When I say acceptable, I don’t mean to just tolerate it forever but rather, it’s something that can be resolved and won’t lead you to immediately break the relationship. Things like (not at the extreme of course) yelling, inconsistent communication, passive-aggressive behavior, etc. Those are all things that really shouldn’t be tolerated but are “workable”. As long as the person knows and is willing to work on these things, it’s ok to cut them some slack.
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