Register Thursday | June 20 | 2019

Checking Your Emotional Baggage

When Things Just Get Too Heavy to Handle

I was on a first date with this guy. He was cute and artsy and working on a book. The get-to-know-you was taking place over tapas and a litre of the house red. The wine was decent and the grilled shrimp delicious, but the Q & A got to be a little much. Two bites into my paella, I was hearing about his disillusionment with love. This was what his book was about; his theory was that there are two reasons people want to be in a relationship: either boredom or loneliness. He asked me what I thought, and, very unusually, I found myself at a loss for words. I didn’t want to think that he was right. In fact, I didn’t really want to be thinking about loneliness and attachment issues at all. This was the first date, for the love of God. I was looking for good conversation and maybe a kiss good night. I think I came up with some floozy answer about looking for a good time. But clearly that wasn’t in the cards for either of us that evening.

I shied away from the conversation, which was just too heavy. But by the date’s end, I knew about his two defunct long-term relationships and why they left him feeling hopeless. I am not a flake or a superficial flirt (well, most of the time I’m not), but I like to keep my first dates easy and breezy. I wanted head-thrown-back-in-abandon laughs. I did not want to be reaching over in a consoling fashion to pat his hand. I don’t know if it was the brutal honesty or the hints of clinical depression—whatever it was, it was a turnoff. The sexy sheen with which I had left the house had been rubbed off like lipstick in a public bathroom.

 

ILLUSTRATION BY TARA HARDY


Everyone has demons and dark shadows. Even—and in many cases, especially—the ones who come across as uncomplicated. You have them too, of course. A lot of what makes a relationship worthwhile and emotionally intense is sifting through those layers together. Whether you want it or not, heavy stuff is part and parcel of a relationship. A first date, though, is not a relationship; the beginning is about trying something on and seeing if there is a fit. My advice is to leave the angst at the door—there will be plenty of time for it later.

I think everyone knows about the painful reality of the First Big Fight (FBF). You meet, there is magic, you look at that person lovingly and believe that you could never hate him. You say things to your friends like “I don’t see how things will ever change” and “No, actually, we never, ever fight.” But then it creeps up on you. The FBF can take many forms (withdrawal of affection, lack of communication or maybe a painfully truthful conversation), but the end result is the same: a feeling that you’ve been sucker-punched, that reality has gotten in the way of your bliss. This kind of baggage is inevitable, and in order to take things to the next level you often have to get it all out on the table, assess the weight and decide that you both want to pick up your share and carry on, together.

I’ve always felt that people should enjoy the summer of a relationship—don’t rush winter, revel in the heyday while you have it. Starting a relationship is starting something new. It’s about promise and the future. Of course the past will weave its way in there, but shouldn’t your new love affair be given time to be what it is without meddling from those ghosts of relationships past? Perhaps I’m wrong. Does floating through the beginning of a relationship mean you are kind of faking it? Or that you don’t know what you are getting into? Is it somehow less honest to present yourself as problem-free?

I don’t know if it was the brutal honesty or the hints of clinical depression—whatever it was, it was a turnoff. The sexy sheen with which I had left the house had been rubbed off like lipstick in a public bathroom.


I recently spoke to Georgie, a dear friend and up-and-coming businesswoman who lives in Vancouver. Georgie went to a wedding a few weekends ago and met the best man. There was that rare and instant chemistry between them, along with the added bonus that he’d been vouched for (a best man, after all). There were a couple of emails, a magical date. Happiness. Then came a disturbing phone call. After Georgie had explained her day—which involved lunching out and running around in tan pantyhose—the guy explained he’d had a really shitty day. So shitty, in fact, that he’d punched a hole in the wall. Georgie’s eyebrows creased in confusion. Who punches walls? That’s something a hormone-enraged teenager would do. In the 1990s. Things only got worse: in a moment of extreme honesty, the guy told her he actually had a history of violence that included shoving a girlfriend who “pushed his buttons.” Georgie was totally shaken. Last weekend, this guy had given her butterflies; now he was giving her the creeps. She ended it. Violence is a definite deal-breaker. Georgie was learning about the devil you don’t know, and it was a shitload to deal with in the first week of a potential relationship. She would need a porter for baggage like that. I guess he was just giving her all the ugly details. But the real question is, Is such honesty commendable?

I felt really sad for Georgie. Sometimes it’s even harder to let something go when you’ve barely had it. You can so easily fall in love with the idea of something—and you don’t have the gradual disappointments or letdowns to show you that it isn’t going to work out. Georgie hit a brick wall and there wasn’t any way around it. Even though she knew what she had to do, she felt conflicted. One minute there was promise in the air, and the next she had to decide if a person she hardly knew could change.

Georgie’s experience is extreme, but the point is that she was whammed with the bad stuff right off the bat and decided to get the hell out of there. And it’s probably best that such major demons rear their ugly heads early on, so you can make a proper decision about who (and what) you want to get involved with. I think we all have our personal limits on baggage. And when the shoulder strap is digging into your flesh and the overhead luggage falls in your face, sometimes it’s best to just let go.

Emma Appleby (Poppy Wilkinson) is a fabulous force on the Montreal scene. Read more recent columns by Emma Appleby.