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Episode Transcript: Baggage Claim

LAURA STASSI:  00:07
This is Dating While Gray: The Grown-up’s Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships. I'm Laura Stassi. So far this season, we've explored some ways to find love, like using dating sites and apps, hiring matchmakers and coaches, unofficially tapping social media. But no matter which path we take, the journey to find love can be more difficult if we're lugging a bunch of unnecessary stuff with us, so to speak. Yep, we're talking about baggage.

CALLER 1: 00:43
Hi, Laura, my name is Joel, and I have a question about baggage. People use the term like it's something that makes someone undesirable as a relationship partner. Well, I tend to think that it's something about a person that will interfere with your ability to have a healthy relationship with them. So the question is, what is baggage, and what do you do about it?

LAURA:  01:02
Hmm, I think that's a hard one. Older people, of course, have a lot of years of living already behind us. So all that living -- is that baggage? Or does it depend on the particular details of our lives and how we've dealt with them? And maybe it's what we're willing to share and also to receive, to see if our baggage plus a potential partner’s baggage equals a manageable load.

SHERRY TINNIN 01:26
Hi, I'm Sherry Tinnin. I am a life coach.

LAURA:  01:31
I'm turning to Sherry for some help on this topic. Along with being a life coach, she's a professional counselor. She's based in St. Louis. And we're going to be hearing from her throughout this episode, along with gray daters juggling a carry-on or two.

I began my conversation with Sherry by asking her why some of us fear our personal histories might be holding us back from finding a romantic partner.

SHERRY: 01:56
Some of my clients struggle, really, because of fear. And so it's really removing some of the barriers within ourselves and reframing our story. I think that can make all of the difference.

LAURA:  02:16
When you say fear, can you talk about that a little bit more? Fear of revealing ourselves, fear of knowing ourselves, fear of meeting other people?

SHERRY: 02:27
All of that, and also even fear of rejection. You know, as we talk about having experiences that we carry with us, sometimes people are afraid of sharing those things, you know, and thinking, will I be rejected? Will this person not understand? And sometimes us not having done the work of healing, to be in a place of acceptance ourselves. So I think that that, in itself, is paramount first, before sharing your life with someone else -- getting to a place where you know that those experiences, or baggage, is not who you are. It's what you carry, but it doesn't define who you are.

LAURA:  03:16
I like that, because I think a lot of us do feel like because certain things are part of our history, that means that's who we are. So how do we first, start to address and then accept some of our -- I don't know, what -- I don't like the word “baggage,” but we're going to call it baggage because I think that's kind of a -- I don't know, is it an accepted term? Is there another word we could use, do you think?

SHERRY: 03:41
You know, it's funny that you say that because I was having a discussion with some of my friends and one of my friends did say that. She said -- we talked about that. I said, you know, baggage. And it felt weighted. You know, in thinking about myself and this population of my peers in the dating space. I thought, wow. And you know, when you're having a conversation with someone and you're thinking about, well, here's my baggage, I started thinking, Well, why not experience? This is an experience that I carry with me, because through that experience, it's taught me a lot. It's a chapter in my story. While it may still be there, it doesn't define me. So we all kind of agreed like yeah, experience.

LAURA:  04:38
Okay, experience. That does sound a lot better than baggage, doesn't it? And while some of these experiences might be hidden at first, others are obvious.

KOREN: 04:49
Hi, Laura. I really enjoy the podcast. I've been divorced over 11 years and have been alone most of that time. Early in my divorce had lost a lot of weight, and I dated a lot. However, I have gained a lot of that weight back. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and my mobility has decreased.

LAURA:  05:07
That's Koren. She wrote to tell me that with online dating, where people make snap decisions based on photos, she believes her physical appearance is, well, baggage.

KOREN: 05:18
Men do not seem to want to date heavier women. I had one date two years ago, and that was the last time I went out with someone. I haven't had a relationship since my divorce. And I really would like that for myself. It seems men can be heavier, and women are more accepting of them. But the opposite is not true. I'm now 53, and my kids are leaving the nest. It is time for me. I can't help my RA, but I'm trying to work on my weight. Am I not deserving of love?

LAURA:  05:52
Oh, that comment about deserving love. I followed up with Koren to hear more.

KOREN: 05:58
A little back history: I had had gastric lap band surgery, and I had lost a good 80 pounds with that. And then I had a lot of things happen with my children and my ex-husband at the time. I was living in Florida, and I needed to move back to my home state. And so that changed a lot.

LAURA:  06:17
So once you moved back, did you try dating at all?

KOREN: 06:21
Yes, again went on the apps. But it was just very slow going. Yeah, I just noticed that a lot of like, the friends that were single men that I knew that were just friends, they all had this type of woman that was slender. And you know, and I'm like, we're in the Midwest. You know?

LAURA: Well, we’re in reality.

KOREN: Right? Exactly, exactly. And I felt like, you know, moving back into this cold, colder climate, I -- with my rheumatoid arthritis, I just started to gain weight because the mobility was a lot less than when I lived in Florida. So yeah, I found that there were times where I wasn't dating, because I honestly had too much on my plate to figure that out. And then when I really wanted to, just nothing ever really transpired. So it’s disappointing.

LAURA:  07:21
Was there any kind of experience you had that made you think: Okay, this is happening because I'm heavy, and this wouldn't happen if I weren't heavy.

KOREN: 07:31
You know, I would like a person, or send a message and, you know, you never get a reply. And I'm not a pushy person when it comes to that. Like, hey, if you're not interested, you're not interested. It's kind of hard because I look at a man who's overweight and for some reason, it just, it doesn't bother me, you know? So, but it is it is something -- you know, I think people see you and say, well, that's, you know, that's a shame or, I don't know. Your friends worry about you. And I guess sometimes I just really didn't see how bad it had become. And it has.

LAURA:  08:12
How bad your weight has become, you mean?.

KOREN: 08:15
Yes, and along with everything else. The more stress escalated things, the more -- and the pandemic really did not help. Everybody, you know -- if you get to this age, you don't come out of it unscarred. But you would like people to see you for who you really, really are, you know?

LAURA:  08:45
I know that there are some people who've written to me who have health issues that have led to obvious physical changes, like weight gain, because of not being able to exercise. And so they feel like they can't even get to the first step with someone else because their past experiences are, you know, it's very obvious. How do we help people like that?

SHERRY: 09:12
Oh, again, I think it goes back to loving self, first. You know, I think part of being in this season, we fear that rejection. And you know, a friend of mine, we were just having a conversation and he shared that you know, through my divorce, I learned that I fear rejection. And while we all have a sense of that, you know, fearing like, will we be rejected, but when you look at it overall, that person that rejects you, is that person worthy of your heart? Is that person really worthy of the awesome person that you've grown to be in this season?

I think we focus so much on the other person at person not rejecting me, or will they accept me. You know, confidence is one of the biggest character traits, I think, that attracts us to other people. And I think how you present yourself to the world, how you market yourself, whether that be, you may be a little overweight or whether that be you have a disability. When people see how you accept yourself and how you manage and you move through the world with those challenges, most oftentimes, they don't even see them. They see your spirit; they see the energy that you bring into the space when you're meeting them.

LAURA:  10:48
Accepting ourselves: Sounds simple, but as we know, it's not always easy. We'll talk more about experiences-slash-baggage, after the break.

BREAK

CALLER 2 11:06
Hey, Laura, I'm just thinking about dating sites that are so dependent on visuals that off-putting physical features can be a real barrier to finding a mate. But I think the below-the-surface issues are even more problematic. Let's say I look terrific on the surface but have some kind of a hidden problem, like an STI, or financial insolvency, or I'm in recovery. Then I have to wrestle with how I present this hidden problem to potential partners. How many dates before I make the reveal?

MIKE: 11:39
It's an interesting question, because it's a tricky thing that to figure out when and how to bring this up.

LAURA:  11:47
The second voice, it belongs to a man we're calling Mike. He's 60 years old, has never been married. No kids. When Mike was in his 20s and working as a communications professional, he was drinking heavily. And then he started using crack cocaine. And even though Mike finally got clean when he was in his early 30s, the reality of his experience lingers.

MIKE: 12:11
There was one example, one young lady who I met and I liked a lot. We went out a couple times, I think it was on our third outing, she ordered a beer. And I declined. And she asked me why. And my, my stance at the time was, if anyone asks, I will respond, honestly. So I told her. I didn't go into great detail. But I told her that I had been a drinker and that I'd also used crack cocaine. I never saw her again, like the date ended pretty quickly. And she got away pretty fast. And the expression on her face changed. When I told her I had used, she was alarmed. I didn't feel like I needed -- there was anything I could say or do.

LAURA:  12:58
Okay, so I think you told me earlier, you have not dated much these past few years.

MIKE: 13:06
That's correct. I think -- I dated a woman, a terrific woman for a few months about five years ago. And I had, I don't know if it was a date, I met one woman for a couple of times for coffee; once we went to a museum last summer. But other than that, no, I haven't. Part of it is probably because of the pandemic. I also firmly believe that part of it is simply this is the phase of life where those opportunities drop off dramatically. I mean, I felt like I had lots of opportunities to date in my 30s, fewer in my 40s, but fewer in my 50s. And now, I think – this is my sense that this is how it is.

LAURA:  13:52
Hmm, I hope not! Speaking for all of us who are older. So it sounds to me that you don't feel like your background is -- forgive the term baggage, but you don't feel like it's baggage. It's just a matter of opportunities that may be not as abundant because we're older.

MIKE: 14:16
Well, I don't know. I mean, it's hard to say because I haven't really been involved with anyone long enough for them to find out about my so-called baggage. I think everybody, if you get to live a certain age, everybody has things in their life that you could call baggage, or you could say are -- I guess you could say are negatives. I mean, we've all done things that we, in retrospect, probably would have been differently. Everybody's I think had disappointments, and heartbreaks. And there's plenty of people out there in recovery. I'm by no means unique. I think that all of our experiences from childhood forward, they're all like pieces of a puzzle, or bricks in a foundation, that build up to what and who we are.

LAURA:  15:17
I want to talk a little bit about how to reveal, I guess, if there's something like that, that's not obvious. What kind of advice could you give?

SHERRY: 15:27
Sure. Unpack your baggage slowly.

LAURA: Hmm.

SHERRY: Unpack your baggage slowly. You know, again, we all have it. It's how we carry it, you know. Unpack it slowly. Get to know the person first, you know. This is your life. This is your life story. This isn't an Audible book where someone can just go and purchase it and everybody know your story. This is your life. Hold it sacred, you know? Someone that is worthy of going behind the veil to really get to know you, that takes time.

So take time to get to know that person and get to know their values. Do they align with who you are? Do they align with the person that you are and you want to be in the world? And then really focus on the positives, you know, focus on the positive aspects of the person that you are. And then, you know, focus on today. Don't focus so much on your baggage. Don't focus so much on that experience. Who are the person that you are now? Talk about that, focus on that, let them see that.

LAURA:  16:41
Yeah. And I'm just thinking, if you have something like substance abuse problem, or you had a substance abuse problem which has caused you -- that you don't want to even consume legal substances or alcohol, maybe you don't want to look to meet somebody at a restaurant or a meal where that issue might come up? Or is that okay to talk about that before you even get going down the road?

SHERRY: 17:10
I think that it would be fine to share that, I don't drink – without, again, going into your life story. You don't know this person just yet.

LAURA: Yeah.

SHERRY: You want them to see you, you want them -- you want to show up in your best light, you want them to see all of the great things about you. And not that not drinking isn't great. There are several people in the world that just simply choose not to.

LAURA:  17:37
Yeah, it's interesting talking about drinking, because I remember when I first -- you know, started dating, after a long marriage, and, you know, some of the dating sites you can see casual drinker, or never drinker. And I was really, it kind of scared me a little bit thinking if I could see myself with somebody if they checked, never drink. Because it's like, oh, could I see myself with anybody for whom any experience is a hard no. Do you know what I mean? So that sounds like it was maybe my problem, not their problem.

SHERRY: 18:14
Yeah, yeah, I get it. I understand that. And I hear you because when times that I have done online dating, also, because I love wine, you know, not even just the art of drinking it, but the experience of how grapes are grown and things of that sort.

LAURA: Yeah.

SHERRY: When I would see that someone says no, never, I thought, well, how would they feel if I did? Because I like this. I like this experience. So is that person really for me? I think it's a matter of, you know, being in this season of life, accepting who you are, and where you are. The right people will come. The right people will come.

LAURA:  19:04
So you talked a little bit about how to unpack our baggage or experience slowly and get to know somebody. What are some tips that you could give somebody at the receiving end of this?

SHERRY: 19:17
Sure. Well, I think, first off grace, and be empathetic. And knowing that, you know, we all carry something, but to ask those open-ended questions to where you can gain a lot of information. Because remember, dating is collecting data.

LAURA: Oh!

SHERRY: You want to ask those open-ended questions where you can get as much data as possible to make the best choice for you.

LAURA:  19:49
Before I take one more step forward, I guess, in wanting to share my life with someone else, what are some things that I can do to sort of put myself in the best situation emotionally?

SHERRY: 20:03
Sure, I would suggest -- you know, as we have talked about earlier is therapy and healing. That's definitely, I think the first step in that road of gaining that self-acceptance, which once you have that, and those affirming thoughts that you create along the way through that healing process, you gain that confidence in yourself. And that's, that's what draws people to you, is that confidence and that energy that you exude.

So I think the very first step is therapy. And once you're in that, in that healing process, I think you gain more understanding of yourself, the world around you. And know that the universe has your back. You know, if the love that you seek, the universe will conspire for you to have that. Of course, we have to do the work ourselves to get us there, you know. It's not going to do all of the work and we sit on the sideline. But the universe is going to have your back in the right person who that work that you do for yourself will show up.

LAURA:  21:17
So therapy, which I think a lot of us would love to be able to do. But that can be a cost concern. Is there a difference between therapy, which is you know, hiring a professional and having sessions, and self-care?

SHERRY: 21:33
Yes, absolutely. Typically, in the therapeutic space, we're dealing with previous traumas, or history that may even stem as far back as childhood, but self-care, things like you -- that you can do through meditation, exercise, even sometimes just connecting with other like-minded people that can hold space for you in that place of grace and understanding, can make all the difference in the world. Also, understanding and reading and really having clarity about those challenges that you have.

Some time ago, I dated a gentleman who suffered from PTSD. Of course, he didn't disclose that upon our first date. You know, he didn't, I spent time with him, got to know him. And I believe it was after the fourth or fifth date, he disclosed that to me -- he was an officer in the armed forces. And he shared that with me. But it wasn't what I saw. First was the person that I had learned him to be. He was a compassionate individual. He was very kind and respectful. And those were the things that I saw first, as he shared his story with me. And upon sharing his story with me, he also shared with me how he manages his PTSD. And although we're not dating, and that was about seven years ago, we're still really good friends. Yeah, we're still really good friends.

LAURA:  23:19
So it sounds like self-awareness is almost the first step, you're aware that you have experiences that you need to address. And the second is to do something about it.

SHERRY: 23:35
Absolutely, absolutely. And even in addition to that, there are Meetup groups in your local areas. And some areas do have Meetup groups for self-help, you know, because sometimes therapy can, like you mentioned, can be very costly. And so there are Meetup groups, there are Facebook page platforms where people share and support each other. So there's, there's several different ways of making that connection of people that can support you and your journey towards healing.

I just can't stress enough: Be kind to yourself. Because when you can be kind to yourself, you can be kind to others. And just allow for that space of grace for yourself and others. And love is there for you. And it will come. Give yourself time and grace, it will come

LAURA:  24:42
Thanks to coach Sherry Tinnin for her advice. I really like what she had to say about finding support, whatever that may look like for you. But when Sherry talked about being confident the right person will come into your life -- I admit, that made me a little uncomfortable at first. It seemed too, I don't know, simplistic. But remember Koren, the woman at the beginning of this episode who felt her weight was baggage? Since Koren first wrote to me, there's been an update

KOREN: 25:11
I was on -- well, this particular one I've been on, it's nice because it's free. It's Plenty of Fish. I'm sure you've heard of it. And there's a gentleman there, I was like, oh, he's, he's kind of cute. I mean, he has some weight on him, which really, you know, didn't bother me. I mean, he doesn't have a lot of weight on him. But he just seemed like a kind and fun person, like you saw he had pictures of him at a concert, and things like that. The only thing that I was, like, almost didn't respond is because he wasn't smiling. I was like, why isn't he smiling? And he's older than me by about six years.

And I get a lot of oh, I love your eyes, you know, type of thing. And so we just started back and forth. I'm always like, tell me about yourself, you know. And he said, he was leery to even reach out to me because I have a master's degree, and he hasn't gone to college. And so I was like, oh, no, there's lots of people who in life learn a lot more from their experiences.

And so -- and it turns out, we like a lot of the same things. We have the same sense of humor, the same things we like to watch. And he is -- so what's great about him is, he is excited to do everything. He's like, I can't wait. I'm gonna take you here. We're gonna go there. And I'm like, great. Get me out of his house. So it's been nice.

LAURA: Yeah.

KOREN: And he's a gentleman, and he opens the door to the car. And yeah, and this is just really new.

LAURA:  26:42
So knowing that this man is interesting to you, and he's interested in you -- has that changed your, the way you feel about your weight?

KOREN: 26:52
Yes and no. And I appreciate the fact that he, you know, that he likes me for who I am. But there are certain things that are my weight is holding me back from. I really want to go overseas, but I don't want to go heavy and having to use the extender belt on the plane. So there are things that I realize it's prohibiting me from doing, and like even stuff that he may want to do together. I need to work on that.

LAURA:  27:28
So Koren met someone! As she is, though she still wants to work on becoming what she feels is a healthier weight. And did you catch what Koren said about her love interest telling her that he initially had been concerned about the mismatch in their educational levels? Sounds to me like a lack of college degree may have been some baggage that he's been carrying around. Luckily, it didn't stop him from reaching out to Koren. And maybe there's a lesson in here for all of us.

If we're lucky, we get to grow older and older. We accumulate experiences good and maybe not so good. But there's potential value no matter what goes down. Learning to accept what's happened, while ensuring it doesn't negatively impact us going forward -- sounds a little bit like a 12 step program creed, right? Then again, maybe it's the best way to claim a carry our baggage for the journey to love.

Dating While Gray is produced in partnership with WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio. Our producers are Katy Barron and Anisa Khalifa. Charlie Shelton-Ormond it is our editor. Lindsey Foster Thomas is WUNC’s director of content, and Jenni Lawson is our audio engineer. I'm Laura Stassi. If you have a question or a comment, email datingwhilegray@wunc.org. And now, you can also leave a voicemail. Go to datingwhilegray.com and at the top right, click on Talk to Us. I'd love to hear from you. And thanks for listening