Baggage vs. Experience: What Do You Take With You and What Do You Leave Behind?

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On a recent The Root After Dark Twitter chat, I asked people to tell me how quickly they fall for people and how soon after that they reveal their feelings. The responses were wide and varied, but there was a recurring theme: A lot of people said that even if they felt something right away, they were slow to speak on it because of past experiences.

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Many of them began their statements with “Experience has taught me … ” or “I’ve learned from experience … ,” and it made me wonder if people were mistakenly holding their new person accountable for something an old person did.

During the chat on sexuality, sex and gender labels and definitions, someone asked the question, “What is the difference between baggage and experience?”

That really got me to thinking, and it made me want to explore that topic in this column.

The great prophet Erykah Badu told us in a song:

Bag lady, you gon’ hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold on to is you, is you, is you
One day all them bags gon’ get in your way
One day all them bags gon’ get in your way
I said one day all them bags gon’ get in your way
One day all them bags gon’ get in your way, so pack light

There was a message in that musical magic.

When we establish new romantic-relationship norms based on things that have happened to us in the past, how much of that is experience and how much of it is just baggage we keep carrying with us from person to person?

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Being able to tell the difference between the two is the key to being able to build new and healthy relationships with other people.

When a partner cheats on you, the pain and betrayal can sometimes feel unbearable and never-ending. There is the wrestling with the question of “Why?” and there is the self-analysis that comes with trying to figure out whether or not you were the problem.

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When you are finally ready to move on, you may still be a little gun-shy because of the last experience. This is understandable. Being cautious is OK, but where do you draw the line?

If you enter your next experience with a suspicious mindset that tells you “If x cheated, then this person will probably cheat, too,” then you have now entered the realm of baggage.

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That baggage could very well prevent you from creating and discovering something beautiful for yourself. You are unable to see what is in front of you because you are too busy looking back at the shit you are dragging along with you.

As Sister Badu said, pack light.

There is an old saying that goes, “Take the meat and leave the bones.” Translated for this lesson, it simply means that it’s OK to remember what happened. It’s OK to catalog it so that you can draw from it if you need to later, but be sure you are only cataloging the things that are important for your lesson, and not all the things that made you bitter about said lesson.

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Were there signs? Did you know before you officially knew that your partner was cheating?

Part of it might be you kicking your own ass for not listening to your intuition. Leave that part there. Take away the part that helps you remember those signs in case you ever see them again.

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Now, that doesn’t mean go out into the world looking for the signs before they even present themselves.

Sister Erykah has a verse about that, too:

Bag lady, you gon’ miss your bus
You can’t hurry up, ’cause you got too much stuff
When they see you coming, niggas take off running
From you it’s true, oh yes they do
One day he gon’ say “you crowding my space”
One day he gon’ say “you crowding my space”
I said one day he gon’ say “you crowding my space”
One day he gon’ say “you crowding my space,” so pack light

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There are some experiences that may repeat themselves in your life with different people. It happens. This doesn’t mean that you carry each of those with you forever and ever, always on the lookout for it to happen again. It means you make yourself mindful, and you move on with more wisdom than you had before.

There are lessons for you to learn in every experience, and that is what you carry with you. The details become inconsequential. The memories may still sting, but even that pain dulls the more you learn to let it go.

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You don’t want to go out into the world pre-emptively pushing people away or, worse yet, having them push you away because the baggage of your past is weighing you down.

Experience leads to growth. Baggage leads to being stuck in a place, often not moving forward because of the weight of it all.

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That is the difference.

Take the lessons with you. Leave the bullshit attached to the lessons behind.

Pack light.

It makes for easier traveling.

We will be discussing baggage vs. experience on our next The Root After Dark Twitter chat, Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. I will take over The Root’s official Twitter account as always, and we will chop it up. Be sure to follow The Root on Twitter and be a part of the discussion using the hashtag #TheRootAfterDark.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.

DISCUSSION

Sweet Potato Sam AKA Hemmed Up: Britches Get Stitches

Ms. Judge,

I will preface this post by saying you are correct. I have read over this entry three different times and I cannot formulate an argument against any of your points. This is logically sound and good advice.

I can’t agree with it. At least not completely. Truthfully, I’ve gotten (and ignored) a lot of good advice in general, though. So I understand that it’s definitely me.

My first serious relationship (I’ll be omitting bullshit high school stuff) was hallmarked by what I have learned is a common thing, I went VERY hard in the paint. I wanted to be supporting, understanding, trusting, giving, and, in hindsight, probably smothering. I asked questions. I read books. I was observant and gave the benefit of the doubt when things looked off. I tried to be everything. You know how this story ends, though.

I was devastated. I also followed the playbook on this part. I did a lot of introspection and was closed off for nearly 18 months. My Grandma stirred me out of it with much of the advice you have given here. She also added that with each person you are with, you learn about yourself. You learn how much you can safely give, and when you are taking too much. After a bit of get-right form Grandma, I lowered my head, squared my shoulders, and charged in again.

And I was alone for another 2 years (If normal game was a Playstation, mine is a graphing calculator, so yeah) Even then, when things began to pick up with a new love interest, I was scared. I recognized it and corrected accordingly. Yes, I went hard again. Yes, it ended the same way.

The third (6 months after the breakup , I felt like a lady-killer) was another new start. I decided that maybe I was pushing too much. I dialed everything back a bit to regular human levels... And this relationship ended the same way.

Now comes the dark times in my mid-twenties. I learned that cheating is actually very pervasive and I was angry. What do you call a fuckboi that is angry at women, but isn’t charismatic enough to attract them? Right, a misogynist. I didn’t say anything to women, cause I was a coward, but inside, I was seething. It took me about 3 years to get all that stuff straight. But we aren’t here for that.

Anyway, I’ve probably been in 6 real, grown-up, relationships, and they have ended the same way despite varied approaches. Back on the matter of cheating, I guess it didn’t hurt as much because I recently (Relationship #5) built up a callous on my heart which helped me not be as stupidly extra as before, but keeps me from putting myself into a relationship. I know that’s not right, but getting my heart blown up every few years isn’t really the thing either.

So, here we are, mid(ish) thirties and feeling like maybe I’m not cut out for this. I can see the solution looks good on paper, but I don’t think I can go into another relationship fresh anymore. On the upside, it’s not extremely hard to avoid relationships.

I guess I am weighed down a bit, now that I think about it. In the end, I guess this story is just anecdotal evidence.

TL;DR: The article is correct, and I’m just a little messed up is why I’m having trouble. Also, sorry about the book. It just sorta spilled out.