When I think about “baggage,” I think about that “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ricky are moving out of their apartment in New York and, due to a delay, they are putting all of their furniture in Ethel and Fred’s apartment. Most of the episode is set in Ethel and Fred’s apartment with just about everyone navigating through and around the piles of boxes, yelling over them, trying to find each other, find a place in the middle of the chaos just to sit down.
Relationships… or breakups, rather… are a lot like this. You get settled into something for a month, six, or sometimes years, you build up a lot of memories, and when (or if) those relationships end, you pack up those memories, along with your physical shit, and you take it with you – back to your own house (using the term “house” to mean your living space, as well as your own mind) to recover, to sort, to unpack and to find a place for that baggage. In terms of physical shit, you might keep photos, or small mementos, but the big shit often ends up in a dumpster or maybe at Goodwill. The figurative, or mental, baggage, though, is more difficult to get rid of. You store it away, in the recesses of your mind, where it sits there over the next few weeks, months, or years, gathering cobwebs. You don’t revisit it, because revisiting it is just too painful, but it’s still there.
Inevitably, you end up in another relationship. The more serious it gets, the more “moving in” and “settling” you do… you start sharing more than the occasional dinner and after-dinner bang. Your stuff ends up at their house. Emotionally you become more connected. And whether you physically “move in” or not, some of that baggage from before, cobwebs and all, figuratively moves in, too.
Now, if you’re lucky, there isn’t much. Maybe there’s only been one “bad” relationship, or just a couple of “bad” experiences that translate into one or two figurative boxes in the floor. You trip over them now and again until you realize that maybe those boxes, if they have to stay around at all, would do better over by the wall or something so that they aren’t in the way. If you’ve been more unlucky in love, or maybe there’s just been a lifetime of bad experiences, those box piles become much bigger. You quickly run out of wall space, more boxes find their way into the middle of the floor, until suddenly you’re yelling over the towers the way that the Ricardos do in that Lucy episode… and if those towers become tall enough, finding middle ground becomes almost impossible.
And that’s where a lot of people fuck up. Because when the place becomes so full that you can’t see each other anymore, you’re presented with two options: get rid of shit, or move out.
I think that moving out is the easy option. I mean, it’s easy to say, “Hey, this is mine, I’ve carried it around this long, I earned it, I moved it, I KNOW it, and I don’t want to get rid of it, so I’m just going to leave and take it with me.” It’s easy to declare that, pack it all up, and leave. Sure it hurts… but that hurt, along with those memories, get packed into another box and get moved around with all the others. It’s like the equivalent of emotional hoarding. No one, least of all a hoarder, LIKES the clutter. But you KNOW the clutter, and going with something you KNOW is much, much easier than going through the boxes and doing without (because what if you find that there was something in that clutter you needed?) so you keep it.
The other option, the one where you realize you have to get rid of shit, and you start clearing out the shit, is harder. For several reasons. First, because doing a shit cleanout is difficult. I mean all of those boxes, all of that stuff, is daunting. Packing them up and not looking at the contents is easy… going through it all is time consuming. It involves effort, it involves time that you’d rather spend doing other things – like going to dinner and fucking. Second, because it involves remembering things that are really hard to remember, and looking at them, at least as best you can, from an unbiased perspective. That unbiased perspective is the worst – because you have to be able to accept your own portion of the blame (where there was one), and decide whether the shit is worth holding on to or would be best added to a trash heap. And if you’re an emotional hoarder (or a hoarder of any kind) that trash heap is hard to build. Because it’s COMFORTABLE holding on to the shit you know, and much scarier to replace it with the shit you don’t.
Now, admittedly, that emotional purging process can take years. Like, you start on it one day, and you do a couple of boxes, then you realize you just can’t do it anymore, and you back off, only to go back to it months and months later when you can stand it again. There is no TLC show called “Hoarders” that can come clear out your mental, emotional shit. That project? That’s all you… and maybe the significant other that is brave enough to put up with you, maybe even help you while you’re doing it, maybe even clean out a little (or all) of their own shit at the same time so that you both end up in a new house, with little to nothing in the middle of the floor, ready to make new memories and establish a new furniture layout. But it’s hard. And it takes a lot of time. And a butt-load of dedication. And not many people are up to the task.
I’ve had a long history of relationships, some harder than others, that have created a fair degree of emotional luggage that, like it or not, I’ve carried with me. And I won’t lie… I’m well aware of the possibility (and in some cases, the reality) that that emotional baggage has caused some of these to fail. But they generally failed DUE to that baggage, in a situation where the person I was in a relationship with, had little to no, or at least, less baggage than I did. It made finding common ground hard. It made that person less patient with my need to sort through, and ultimately purge, the things that weren’t working. And those relationships ended either due to their impatience or due to the fact that I was unable to purge quickly enough. And, of course, that added to the baggage that I carried with me into the next one.
I often wonder, then, if it is easier, for those couples who met early, who stayed together through everything, had few to no relationships prior to the one they are currently in, and who had little to no baggage to sort through, except the stuff they’ve built up together over time. I don’t have the answer to that. I was not fortunate enough to be one of them.
I’ve found that my relationships are better when I find someone with baggage. Or, at least, someone with baggage that is willing to purge or ultimately work toward purging that baggage. Not because it’s a pleasant “moving in” experience – there are boxes all over the damned floor some days, and wading through the junk can be difficult. But because even though the heavy baggage ones haven’t lasted in the past, at least there is the knowledge that there was some common ground… and when they end, I can chalk that ending up to the fact that there was just too much clutter in the floor that both of us were stubbornly hanging onto. It wasn’t, at least in most cases, because of new shit that popped up.
Of course the ultimate goal is to get rid of the baggage altogether – or at least make it so minimal that the old shit can be put in a closet somewhere and that the living room of the mind can be re-filled with more pleasant memories. And part of reaching that goal is finding someone patient enough, and dedicated enough, to let me weed through that baggage – and brave enough to stay with me when I’m having bad days, and when purging becomes next to impossible. The hardest part of that process is knowing that I won’t even know when I find that person until that process is complete – but I’m optimistic enough to believe (despite those boxes) that they exist.
Where am I now?
The box towers in my brain are getting a little shorter while I unpack things and find a place for the contents or throw them out the window. The process is hard, and it leaves me raw sometimes, and while I’d like to say that I keep it under the surface and it doesn’t affect my current relationship, that isn’t always the case. There’s still a lot to go. But I can see some floor space. And that’s a start.