At an event the other night, a couple of friends and I were talking about baggage. There are so many different kinds of baggage that you could have, but most everyone has some. Maybe you have a rolling carry-on bag worth of baggage, or maybe a knapsack. Perhaps you just have a little fanny pack that ties around your waist, or maybe you have a matching five-piece set of luggage that you have to check before you get on the plane (and pay an overage fee). If you are particularly well-adjusted, you may just have a little bag at the end of a stick you carry around, like what you’d pack if you were a kid running away from home (thanks to Lindsay and Trevor for the references).
Upon Googling baggage, I came across this article on the Marie Claire website. The author identifies the types of baggage women have as the following: ex-boyfriend baggage (can’t get over the ex), appetite baggage (control issues with food), family baggage (unstable family situation), mystery baggage (anything that will cause someone to act irrationally) and waiting to be hurt baggage, defined in the article as:
“This kind of baggage causes people to interpret harmless events in the relationship, and/or things that are said as a sign that things are going to start going poorly. If someone is living in paranoia throughout the relationship, assuming things will go badly, it will eventually wear on the other person and drive them away. Also, a person who assumes they will be hurt cannot trust anyone – and trust is the core of any relationship.”
Bingo. Epiphany. Light bulbs going off left and right. Oh, and an angel just got its wings. I’m not here to pretend that this is the only kind of baggage I have (not by a long shot), but I definitely have “waiting to be hurt” baggage. And I can’t blame this baggage on only my ex fiancé. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. It started as early as when I was 17 and the Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater cheated on me. Then, I entered the relationship with my ex fiancé already suspecting the worst.
My ex and I spoke on the phone a few weeks ago. It was one of the best conversations that we have had since we cancelled the wedding. Every other conversation was so emotionally driven – they generally consisted of me alternating between crying, blaming, yelling, threatening, purposefully saying hurtful things and the opposite end of the spectrum: telling him how much I loved him and pretending things were fine. None of these feelings and behaviors were conducive to a genuine conversation.
Now that I’ve had the time to come to terms with everything that has happened, I wanted to talk with him about our relationship. I wanted to put it under the microscope, in a way, and see where we went wrong. Particularly, where I went wrong. Because, you see, I want to let go of my baggage. It’s heavy and cumbersome. I want to learn whatever there is to learn from my seven years with this man. None of this is to say that I am denying his faults in the relationship or that I’ve forgotten where he failed me and genuinely did me wrong. But, I wanted to learn what I could have done better. No one is perfect, after all.
On our two-hour phone call, I asked him, where had I gone wrong? What should I learn from my relationship with him, and my actions in our relationship, going into my future relationships? Trust me, this wasn’t an easy question to ask. I wasn’t positive I wanted to hear the answer.
What resulted was a conversation that made me take some ownership for how my baggage impacted our relationship. He told me that the main thing he thought I should work on going into any future relationships was my lack of trust. When we first starting dating, I was the young age of 18. From the very beginning, I didn’t completely trust him. I checked his cell phone from the word go. I wasn’t sure for what I was looking, but I knew it when I found it.
Just a few months into our relationship, I found text messages between him and this girl he knew from high school. They were mostly innocuous, but there were points in the conversation where she said things like, “Hey sexy” and “Sweet dreams.” Of course, this put me into a fit of jealousy, and I called her to ask what was going on. She said that she was happily married, and that their conversations were completely innocent. That’s just the way she talks and texts. I remember asking her what her husband would think about her calling my boyfriend sexy. She agreed that it was probably inappropriate.
I look back at that time, and I am embarrassed at my behavior. There were a few problems with this picture:
A: If I wanted to be with my ex and trusted him, I should never have been looking at his phone.
B: If I didn’t trust him enough that I felt the need to look at his phone, especially so soon in the relationship, then I shouldn’t have been with him in the first place.
C: If I looked at his phone anyway, and found something I didn’t like, it wasn’t for me to take it up with the girl. It was my boyfriend with whom I needed to talk.
My ex fiancé now says that after that moment, he never felt like I trusted him. He was embarrassed that I called the girl, and it bothered him that I basically ended his friendship with her. And, that moment showed him that even if something was innocent, I would never understand, and it would be easier to just hide things from me than explain them and have me not believe him.
To this day, I don’t know the true nature of their relationship. Frankly, I don’t care. But, that situation began years of me randomly looking this phone. I’d casually check about once every six months or so, or more if we were going through a rough patch. Most often, he knew I was doing it, because I’d do it right in front of him. Sometimes I found legitimately suspicious things that made me question him, and when I questioned him, he often lied and got defensive. I was never the crazy stalker girlfriend, but there were times when I had this sneaking suspicion something was going on behind my back. Maybe it was intuition, or maybe I was being irrational and untrusting. I found out at the end that he lied to me about a lot, so maybe I was just being smart. And now, I’m wondering, maybe my distrust encouraged him to be untrustworthy. If I didn’t trust him no matter what he did, what was the point in telling the truth? Or doing the right thing in the first place?
I can’t answer all these questions, but it has me thinking very seriously about how I want to be in my next relationship. I do not want to be the girlfriend that checks his cell phone. I don’t want to be the wife who doesn’t believe my husband is working late and immediately assumes he’s having an affair. I don’t want to read his e-mails over his shoulder, or worse, hack into his e-mail account when he’s not around.
Frankly, this is all hard to come to terms with, because being that kind of suspicious woman is what helped me realize all that was going on behind my back with my ex. If I had been completely trusting of him, I wouldn’t have found everything out and I’d be married right now. But part of me also wonders what the situation would have been if I had trusted him from the beginning of our relationship and given him the benefit of the doubt. I’m not sure. Maybe everything would have been the same, only I would have been oblivious to the truth. Or maybe my trust for him would have helped him be a trustworthy person. Maybe it’s like the studies about expectations and results for school children – the more you expect of children, and communicate you expect them to do great things, the more they achieve.
I want to believe that I have learned these lessons. I hope that in my next relationship, I will take the attitude of, “I trust you until you give me a reason not to,” instead of the attitude I had with my ex fiancé of, “Men have let me down, so to get my trust, you must earn it.” But to be honest, I’m not sure how to get there. My “waiting to be hurt” and my “men will always let you down” baggage just feels so strong, so overwhelming. And everything that happened with my ex fiancé has only added to my baggage. Now, I feel like it’s piling on top of me, crushing me and I can’t quite get out from beneath it.
What kind of baggage do you have? What do you think about trust – is to be earned, or does everyone deserve to be trusted until they prove you otherwise? Any suggestions on getting over baggage?