Nothing has been more clear to me in the last few years of dating than this: Everyone has dating baggage by the time they’re thirty. Everyone, whether that means you are inexperienced to the point of it crippling your confidence or have been divorced. Maybe you share custody of a child, went through rehab for an addiction or have a controlling family. You might be addicted to a pattern of dating that isn’t healthy for you, or are so overly sensitive to habits from your exes that every new person is under enormous scrutiny to be altogether new. Not only that, most people, by the time they’re thirty, feel they’re supposed to be at a certain checkpoint in life and this baggage tends to weigh heavier than we know. Our measures of “adulting” can be judged pretty harshly by this point and it permeates our dating life in destructive ways, most notably… on the first date.
Many times when I’m on a first date, I get the feeling someone is holding onto insecurities from feeling they aren’t the “normal” dating package. They start dropping off baggage on the first date like an airport conveyor belt from a 747 flight. Let’s not waste any time here acting normal with countless unknown secrets lurking under hesitant smiles; what a sham that would be.
Instead of just doing the simple thing of trying to get to know each other and enjoy the moment, the air is clouded with a sense of… when do I drop all these information bombs? Now! Go go go, drop them now! As if the release of this information will clear the air and then people can truly understand what they’re working with and make an honest decision, right then and there, on day one. Throw it all up in the air like baggage confetti and maybe they’ll be so dazzled by the honesty, we can just move on, no damage done!
I suspect we all think our baggage information might be too much. And when you release it all at once — yeah, it sure as shit is. I don’t need to know about all your allergies, childhood traumas, pet peeves, work enemies and to be afraid of your sister on night one. Slow down. Focus on the other person and if a few pieces of baggage get dropped and unpacked, fine, but don’t let it be the focus of the date. Find the fun first. Get some charm out of each other. Talk about things that bring out your best qualities so when it comes time to reveal your medication list and they notice the cat ravaged furniture, there is some trust and empathy there. Not everyone is going to be able to handle your beautifully complicated life, sure, that’s just the way it goes. But you sure as hell aren’t helping by thinking unloading en masse is the best way to present it.
Certainly, there are some bigger picture things we can all appreciate knowing about in a timely manner — kids, STD’s, being on parole… that kind of thing. I’m definitely not saying to keep secrets or wait a month in to reveal you have an evil twin, but the small stuff can wait. Build some closeness before you expect a stranger to accept you for who you are, in all your unpacked baggage glory. Some life has been lived and it’s not all pretty, but the more you date, the more you start to understand that we all have our break ups, surgery scars, therapy for overly religious childhoods, chronic dandruff, neurotic pets, unpaid student loan debt and politically extreme family members waiting behind door #2 as soon as we’re done talking about the weather. Our compulsion to fully reveal all our idiosyncrasies at once probably comes from a good place, but it doesn’t set the stage for charm and fun most of the time.
The same goes for chatting on an app. Leave the heavy stuff out. Chatting should be short and sweet to get a quick sense of each other, and if the back and forth feels good and you have some interest, then your main priority is to meet up in-person, and go from there.
Early on, I remember stressing far too much over the things my new dating prospect didn’t know and would feel a twinge of guilt that I was misleading them. God, what would they think if they knew I barely made rent last month while I’m waiting for my next job to start. I might need surgery on my back, I use prescription medication on my zitty adult face that will probably never look better, I have a dimply ass and huge feet… I have a cat, what if they’re allergic to cats, a broken car, a weird diet right now… I have a family member that full-on believes the Lord is divinely talking to them… and yes, I fall very squarely in the stereotypical LA chick with daddy problems category… THIS WILL NEVER WORK. I’m too much, they should know what they’re getting into, I should just lay it all out there now because they’ll find out eventually…
But here’s what happened. The notion that my baggage was more than anyone else’s was actually complete nonsense. Sometimes we see those profiles of the people we’re meeting and assume far too much about how normal they are, because their pictures are so sweet and normal looking, and their answers are so nice and normal seeming. It’s bullshit. We’re all weirdos with baggage and it’s fine.
Hopefully I can save you from some of that baggage stress. Remember that the magic of first getting to know each other is not in laying out all your baggage at once to see if someone can “handle” it. It’s in enjoying each other’s company and trying to find the charm and zing in how your personalities collide. The baggage will reveal itself in due time, that’s sort of the nature of it, but it can’t steal the show. So put your bags in the trunk for a sec, get your charm on, go forth and date.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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