Face It: We’ve All Got Baggage

I’m delving a bit more into dating advice than I’m really comfortable with today, but there’s an issue I’ve skirted around in a few places that recently smacked me between the eyes. And I’m calling bullshit.

A common trope of polyamory is the desire for “drama-free” relationships. The desire to avoid partners with lots of baggage. The idea that there are some people who dating is more trouble than it is worth.

After five+ years of being told that I should leave my disabled partner because he wasn’t contributing anything to the relationship (in other people’s eyes), I have no fucking patience for the idea that some people aren’t worth being in a relationship with. And I am sick to death of the idea that some people got baggage and other people don’t.

Everybody got baggage. It’s just some people have baggage that society considers “acceptable” and some people have baggage that society disapproves of.

Do you know what is major baggage for me? A poly partner with a 9-5 job. That’s right, a poly partner with a regular, salaried job is, in my eyes, carrying baggage. As someone who sets their own work hours, and has people to take care of, dating around a 9-5 is a pain in the ass. A night job? Great! On your days off we can go out late at night after the kids are asleep? A weekend job? I don’t go out on Saturdays (Shabbat) anyway, how does Wednesday morning sound?

See, there is this mythical idea that some people are drama- and baggage- free. These would be people with good jobs, no medical problems, no legal problems, no mental or emotional problems, who bring rainbows and flowers to all their relationships with no problems or hassles or challenges.

It doesn’t work that way.

I got a shit ton of baggage, and so do you, and so does everyone. What matters is how our baggage fits together. Or as the musical Rent puts it:

You got baggage? I got baggage too… I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.

polyamory drama

This bag might fit in my closet–but it would completely clash with my drapes. 😉 [Image by Lynn Kelley]

For some people, my depression and anxiety are clashing baggage they don’t want to deal with. For me, someone who doesn’t understand mental illness and thinks I can “get over” being depressed has baggage that will never fit in a closet with mine.

You know what is baggage? Being openly poly. You know what else is baggage? Being in the closet.

If I date someone who is openly poly, we don’t even notice the baggage because we are both open. If I date someone who is in the closet, then the conflict between our baggage will constantly be straining our relationship.

Drama is what happens when baggage doesn’t fit.

For Michael and I, Michael’s disability isn’t drama, it’s just part of life. It’s a shitty part of life, but then life is sometimes a shitty thing. That’s why we call it ‘life’ and not ‘heaven.’

For someone else—someone with a 9-5 job who would need to take a day off of work every time Michal had another test scheduled—being in a highly entwined relationship with Michael would be major drama because their baggage wouldn’t fit together.

Interestingly enough, if Michael was in a highly entwined relationship with both of us, the baggage might fit because I could handle all the driving to doctors offices. Lots of things can change the way baggage fits together.

Some baggage is very hard to find a match for. Michael and I both come with some very unusually-shaped baggage. Enough so that I often fear my dream of finding other people we fit with well enough to live together in multiple highly entwined relationships is flat out impossible. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the less entwined relationships that have come both our ways. Because baggage also fits differently depending on the style of relationship.

So lets chill with the search for drama-free partners without baggage. People aren’t drama filled or drama free, relationships are. And everyone in the whole world has baggage. Own yours, don’t shame people for theirs. Be open about what baggage will just never work with yours, but don’t be afraid to try something that looks like it might not fit—sometimes baggage can surprise you.

4 responses to “Face It: We’ve All Got Baggage

  1. This might be a semantic thing, but when I think about “drama” in terms of relationships, it actually doesn’t have to do with baggage at all. I totally agree with the idea that we all have baggage and part of finding people is finding those who have complimentary baggage to your own.

    In terms of drama, to me, drama is what happens not necessarily because of baggage, but because someone is either not communicating honestly or honesting owning up to their baggage, and/or deliberately misunderstanding/exaggerating/overreacting to a problem.

    We could say that all of those things happen because of baggage. I think the place where I make the distinction, is whether or not the behavior appears to be a knee-jerk, involuntary response, or a deliberate action.

    I’m not thinking of any good examples at the moment, but I can say I’ve been in relationships where there’s been a blow up of some sort and it’s clear that there’s a genuine miscommunication and genuine effort afterwords to work on things, then I’ve been in situations where I get a weird, tingly feeling that I’m being played, that I’m being deliberately misunderstood because someone is unhappy with me about something separate, and they’re fostering a miscommunication deliberately in hopes of “getting” something, like possibly wearing me down so that I’ll be more agreeable to other bullshit.

    Does that make sense?

    The thing you mention about Michael needing rides for appointments during the day, and a 9-5 person having a problem with it…to me, it’d be drama if this 9-5 person (who was fully aware that these things would happen when becoming involved with Michael) started making a big deal about it, or acting really put upon, or like they’re doing something really heroic and above and beyond. Whereas a 9-5er who aknkowleged that, yes, it was hard to find time to take Michael to appointments often, but they wanted to make the best of that and doing it when possible and took on that responsibilty with a willing heart, that wouldn’t be drama.

    Does that make sense? Do you think it could be a semantic issue?

    The main reason I ask is because I do overall agree with your post. We do all come with baggage. But I don’t know if I’d classify something that comes from baggage clashing as drama unless there was some degree of deliberate manipulation or active desire to create chaos behind the drama. And since many kinds of baggage doesn’t come with those behaviors, I wouldn’t necessarily always use the word drama.

    • I get what you are saying, I do think it is largely a semantics issue. The example you give as drama is actually something I would call emotional/psychological abuse, with a dose of gaslighting.

      Re: Michael and a 9-5er, regardless of willingness to make it work, unless they have some incredibly high level job, there will be drama of sorts. Because sooner or later they are going to need to choose between possibly losing their job for taking too many days off or not being able to take him to a critical appointment. Which is quite literally a set up for a tv drama episode 😉

  2. When I read the tagline saying you called bullshit, I thought you were going to call out the practice of referring to the needs and feelings of new partners as “drama” if they are seen as inconvenient. That is something I have seen on occasion in the poly community, generally coming from straight men or couples seeking to date women.

    Eg, “She wanted to be able to see us separately and she wanted us to go out in public with her… it was too much drama for us!”

    • That kind of situation can totally be drama. The problem is when the couple blames the woman for the drama rather than admitting that the drama being that the woman had expectations and needs they weren’t prepared to meet.

      Of course, the attitude that most of those types couples is such that I’d be very surprised to see them accepting any part of the responsibility for the problems they run into.

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