Advice From the Trenches

Everyone Has Baggage!: How should this reader navigate the dating mine field?

Dear C and Dr. B;

I am single and I’m okay with it, but I’d be happier if I had someone to share things with — things like the rent and everyday problems, as well as emotional and physical intimacy. The problem is that now that I am almost 40, just about everyone I meet has excess baggage. I end up feeling like I am not only dealing with them, but also everyone they ever dated or were married to who left them feeling hurt and disappointed. I met one guy who had been to therapy after his divorce, and he seemed like a possibility at first. But the more I got to know him, the more he seemed like someone who would need therapy forever … and was probably going to drag me there with him if he didn’t stop analyzing everything that happened between us as if he was going to have to take a final exam on it.

My brother suggested that I would be better off looking for someone who just doesn’t have excess baggage. You know, someone who isn’t divorced or doesn’t have past traumatic relationships cluttering their psyche. But I can’t help but think that if someone my age has never been in a real relationship, that’s a little weird. What do you think? – Judge Judy

Dr. B says: A 40-year-old who has never been in relationship most likely will be avoidant and screwed up in their own way, and someone who has been divorced obviously didn’t have the skills to pick well or the ability to communicate well. And, yes – someone who was married and has four kids will have issues that might not be obvious to an outsider. 

The fact is, all humans are imperfect and many are broken. This is unavoidable since we are raised by humans and live in a world populated by them. As a result, everything is imperfect and many things are a mess. You noted that at 40 most people have baggage, but I would argue that most 16-, 25- and 36-year-olds have baggage, too. It’s just different baggage. Young people carry unrealistic expectations, entitlement and fantasies with them. Sometimes they already carry real trauma from domestic violence at home or sexual abuse. Baggage comes from being lied to about the nature of reality, sexuality and relationships and from our role models who have messed up values. Show me someone who isn’t screwed up and I will show you someone you don’t know very well.   

That guy you described who’s in therapy for life? Well, we should all be. Isn’t a life unexamined a life not worth living? At least he knows he has issues and is working on them. Most people just blame everyone else like you are doing. It seems like you are looking for someone just like you. There is only one you, that doesn’t mean everyone else is a pain in the ass. If you don’t want to be alone, you need to learn to embrace imperfection. Conflicts are a part of life. Having good boundaries and communication skills, learning tolerance and humility, and balancing these with self-assurance, goals and mutual intent makes relationships work. If you don’t know your own flaws, it will make it hard to see how someone else’s might help to challenge you to grow. I am not saying you should tolerate disrespect or abuse. Avoid the assholes, but if you find a saint, you’ll learn they can be assholes, too. All relationships take work and commitment. Given the average relationship expectations and skills most people have, all relationships need therapy.  

C says: Honestly, in my experience, those guys who went to therapy and come out analyzing everything are the pits. They just don’t know when to quit, and who wants to live with an amateur therapist? Even the professionals have family problems that are just as messed up as anyone else’s. God save us from the dilettantes. 

Look, instead of searching for some guy who has all the qualities you want, concentrate on developing those qualities yourself. If you want honesty, be honest. If you want humor, lighten up. If you want perfect, go ahead and try to be perfect. Eventually you will figure out it doesn’t exist. In the meantime, you are far more likely to draw people of quality if you are a person of quality yourself.

If you want to find a good partner, look for someone with whom you can find balance in life, not someone who is just like you. It’s not necessary to want the exact same things, but you should both have the same integrity toward what you do and respect for what the other does. Sometimes people who make the best partners are opposites in many ways. But life is like a jigsaw puzzle – it’s not about the pieces all being the same, it’s about finding the right fit.

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