Thursday, April 5, 2007

Carry-On or Check, Please?

Dagny posted about baggage the other day, and it really got my wheels turning.

See, I think it's pretty unreasonable to expect a new partner to come baggage-free. We've all dated before, and we've all had experiences in the past, both good and bad, that contribute to who we are today. That said, I think I tend to come into new interations looking a lot like this:

My Baggage

As I (and the people I know) get older, though, more and more people I meet, both in romantic and platonic contexts, seem to be daters a lot closer to this persuasion:

Their Baggage

What is "baggage," though? I mean, we throw the word around a lot these days, and we all know it when we see it, but what exactly does the term really mean? I think it's a little bit different for everybody, but when I say it, here's what I'm usually talking about.

Baggage is the effects of past experience that have negatively impacted the bearer, causing him or her to act out of fear in certain scenarios, especially in a romantic context.

I think that's a pretty good definition, and it encompasses a lot of things. It could be an overly/extremely guarded or cautious approach to dating (fairly common), a fear of the vulnerability that comes with commitment disguised as a genuine disinterest in having a boyfriend or girlfriend (BBTY, I'm talking to you), or negative feelings towards certain phrases or scenarios ("what are you wearing?" from Dagny's post), due to the way past partners handled them. If you've ever had a jealous or controlling partner who's tried to discourage you from your dreams, make you think you're not good enough, or kill any outside social life that doesn't include them, you're a lot less likely to expose yourself fully to the next one, because who's to say they won't try to do the same thing? Even if they don't seem to be that type of person, the last one didn't seem so at first either, right? That's baggage, too.

But a good relationship with the right person will never make your life smaller. Quite the opposite, acually. A good partner will appreciate and encourage all the things that made your life happy before they came along, while adding whatever positives they can to the mix as well. They'll push you towards your goals, celebrate your successes with you, and make your life bigger, fuller, and happier than it was without them. Ironically enough, when we act on our baggage, the best potential partners for us are the ones we're the most likely to drive away. They understand better than most two simple facts: In order to have a deep, intimate emotional connection, the kind that lasts and outshines all others, you have to expose yourself -- to make yourself vulnerable to the other person and give them the power to hurt you. And if you give that power to someone who's too afraid to give it back, you will get hurt. It's an absolute certainty. The people who are smart and experienced enough to actually have those positive relationships will pass on that losing bet every time. They'll be patient. They'll give us time to fight the fear, but if it beats us, they'll move on.

So how do we avoid such missed opportunities, keep our baggage packed away, and pursue those relationships that will truly make our lives better? I think the answer is extremely simple, but as difficult to acheive as it is easy to say.

Keep the past in the past. Expect the best from people until they give us reasons to suspect otherwise. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Be concious of where our fears come from. As scary as it is, expose our vulnerabilities to those who we think can bring us joy. Give them the power to hurt us, and have faith in them to guard that power instead of abusing it. And above all, live by what's possibly the most well known quote in American history:

"Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt."

Mark Twain was a smart man.


Anonymous said...

Very good post. Hard to do, but rewarding if you can.

Dagny Taggart said...

"Feel the fear and do it anyway." I haven't found a better creed yet, so I think I'll try to adopt it, if that's all right by you.

The hardest way to learn this lesson is to watch someone lose something wonderful, because they couldn't let themselves enjoy it.

Thank you.

Lisa said...

This is a lovely post. Honestly, though, I don't know if I can.

DCBrownie said...

A very thoughtful and insightful post! I think you hit the nail on the head re: keep the past in the past. Easier said than done, yes, but the payoff is worth the effort.

HKW said...

I always thought of baggage as scars on your heart. Always focusing on the past is dangerous, but so is ignoring it completely.

vvk said...

I know someone who is bipolar. Though she's known the diagnosis for a long time, she refuses to get treatment and take medication because "she doesn't want to be broken." The circular reasoning there would amuse me if it weren't so tragic. This has lead to major problems in every relationship (platonic and romantic) she's ever had.

Reading your post, I thought of her. When I read your definition of baggage, the later part struck me as the most important. We all have "experiences that have negatively impacted" us. Its how we react to those experiences... how we allow them to mold our future that makes them Baggage.

I'm not generally a fan of literally keeping the past in the past. Our real friends (and any romantic partner should first and foremost be a true friend) need to know our past so they can know what made us who we are today. That's not to say that we should spill everything on the first date... but anything important enough in our past that we can still recall it years later is something that has made us into the person that we are. It is something that a true friend deserves to know at some point.

Anonymous said...

In the same vein, Twain also said: "let us live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry." It would be to great to follow this every day, but sometimes (as with your quote) it is difficult to actually carry out.

foxysavant said...

I'm so sad that I missed your excellent pun of a title!

I agree with vvk. and hkw. and anyone who said that keeping the past in the past is, in some ways, a bad idea. we're a product of our pasts (I mean, unless you don't have one, which is a whole other issue unto itself).

maybe what you shouldn't do (and possibly what you kinda meant) is project your past onto your present or future. Do we assume that all people are mass-murders just 'cause a handful of people are? nope. In the same way, not all guys (or girls) are cheaters or assclowns or whatever. And you've got to put yourself out there to find out.

but personally? I actually think my baggage is beneficial. it's removed those rose-colored glasses I used to wear and gives me a healthy dose of reality. and I think that's definitely a good thing.

Red said...

I've always said, "Everyone has baggage and it's all how you handle it."
I always thought I had handled my baggage well until reading your post. Very insightful and inspiring.

Belle said...

Your advice is well-timed for me. I've been thinking of the way I handle relationships lately, and I'm glad I found this. Excellent post. Thanks!

nicole d. said...

I think that LMNT is also a smart man. This post was very good. I have been notoriously bad about carrying my baggage, and l was looking like the second pic. I am not quite down to the first pic but I have been working on myself alot this past year and I am in a much better place. If only it was easy, I could have been here a long time ago.