Published on February 28th, 2013 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles0
Bring Your Baggage – Your Past Travels With You
by Jim Duke
A recent online posting asked if it was possible to “find a gay man who isn’t damaged goods.” Now, I have no idea what was going on for this particular person – there were no other details to flesh out the situation – but I gathered he’d been having a rough time of it lately. My guess is that he was running into guys who came across as wounded in a way that didn’t meet his criteria of what he wanted in a man. I felt compelled to post a comment stating, “Any person who has lived a life, has sustained – to one degree or another – some amount of damage. “Depending on our experiences as gay men and human beings, aren’t we all damaged goods?
It reminded me of an interaction I had some years ago when I ran an online profile. I had just come out of long-term relationship and started back into the dating scene. In my attempt to be open and honest I detailed not only my interests and what I was looking for but also described some of my history about ending a relationship and making positive changes in my life. I wrote it in a very affirming way – sort of a gay Phoenix rising from the ashes story – but I did describe some of the turmoils I had gone through.
Most of the responses that I received to that profile were very reassuring and supportive. I got comments from guys saying how much they appreciated my openness and honesty about who I was and what I had been through. However, there was one response that stung. It was a one sentence reply, and all it said was, “Could you possibly have any more baggage?” Ouch.
Being fairly new to the online world at the time, I was taken aback that someone would choose to send such a negative message to a complete stranger with no other purpose than to dispatch a zinger. It didn’t take long for me to realize that in the online world, some guys build themselves up by attempting to tear other guys down. When I checked the person’s profile it came as no surprise that in his very brief description he claimed to have “no baggage.” Clearly, baggage – or his perception of it – was an issue for him. It seems we apply terms like damaged goods and baggage to the human psyche, but what does it really mean to be undamaged and baggage free?
In the broadest sense, baggage refers to the social, economic and emotional albatrosses gay men carry with them into any sort of relationship. We all have our baggage – from little clutches of obligations to steamer trunks of pain. Examples of extreme baggage would be a man with a long list of arrests and legal entanglements; one who carries an extraordinary amount of debt; a man with three ex-wives and fourteen children. Those are issues that would draw away from the energy a man could give to a new relationship, and would therefore make him an unlikely and undesirable partner to another gay man.
Those are obviously extremes; a more common situation is a person trapped in the past from a prior relationship. A man who has lost a partner may be fixated on keeping the memory of that person alive to the detriment of any new relationships. It’s difficult to compete with a ghost, especially if the deceased has been vaulted to unattainable heights of perfection in hindsight and every corner of space is an altar erected to what only exists in the past. Similarly, a person who has suffered a bad relationship may develop beliefs about how relationships work that obstructs developing real intimacy with other men. For example, if his previous partner cheated he may be sensitive to anything that smacks of betrayal in a gay relationship and become clinging, smothering or wallow in a constant state of suspicion.
While having baggage such as these examples has a negative effect on a relationship, the truth is that not all baggage is negative and damage may actually be a sign of health. Whether or not a man’s past inhibits his chances for future relationships has a lot to do with how his past is viewed by the other person. For example, if you are a gay man who loves kids – or you have them as well – dating a man with children from a previous marriage may not be the showstopper it might be to other gay men. If you value family you’re not going to begrudge someone who values his own. If you have had struggles with substances, gambling or other addictions, you may be more accepting of those who travel those 12 steps as well. And if you have had the misfortune to watch a loved one slip away and disappear, there may be comfort in being with someone who can understand what it means to grieve.
The reality is that if you are human you have a history; if you have a history a fair amount of it is going to be affected by the hurts in your life. Being hurt is part of the human condition. For someone to say he has no baggage implies he has never experienced being close to another human being; never loved and lost; never taken a risk or gambled and come up short; never put himself out there to risk real intimacy. There are really only two ways to go though life unaffected; either live a vapid life of such protected privilege as to skim past any hurts or pains or go through life encased in emotional bubble-wrap. Barring those as options means accepting a truth well known to the hotel industry – people who arrive with no luggage generally don’t stick around very long.
So if you accept the reality that any guy you connect with is going to have baggage and damage of one degree or another, it may also make it easier to acknowledge and accept your own. We enter into relationships with a system of beliefs and ways of thinking about how things should be and how they should operate. We have all those beliefs we have garnered through our lives from our parents, teachers, friends and lovers – those people who have influenced how we view our place in the world and how we expect the world to treat us. Some men work very hard to overcome their pasts and change their beliefs. Another man might view the beliefs you hold and the experiences you have had as your baggage, even though – from your perspective – you may not view it that way at all.
Bottom line, it’s only baggage if you perceive it that way. For myself, I choose to view the accumulated stuff of life that travels with me with a different mindset. I don’t have just baggage – I have treasure chests. I am made up of the collection of experiences I’ve had in my life, some of them fulfilling and wonderful, some of them painful and excruciating to have experienced. Good or bad, in every situation I’ve gained something; in fact it was during some of the most difficult periods of my life that I learned the most about myself.
The truth about baggage is it’s only damaging if you let it hold you back. If you use it, draw from it and learn from it as you move forward through life, then it becomes something immeasurably valuable in creating a life for yourself. So yes, I have baggage, treasure chests and a toolbox – built from experiences in the past – that are available to me whenever I need to figure out how I’m going to deal with life today and tomorrow.
The good news is… you do, too.
Jim Duke is the Founder and President of “Guide For Gay Men,” a service which provides personal life coaching and consultation primarily to older gay and bisexual men. Navigating the issues involved in coming out, dealing with relationships, love and sex and the transitions of careers, life decisions and aging can be daunting… unless you have someone experienced to help guide you. Contact Jim and read what he has to say on these and other topics at G4GM.com.