Originally published November 23, 2013.
Before I get called out for my blog post title here, let me make an acknowledgement: I’m a hot mess. Not a hot mess on the scale of Rihanna, for example. That’s blazing hot mess. I’m more like a just above luke warm hot mess…on an average day anyway.
Thus, you won’t find me judging men who are hot messes, but I will comment, particularly since men are so darn fond of denial. The first time I ever told a man he was a hot mess, he gave me that famous deer in the headlights look, chuckled a bit, and became thoughtful for a very long time. Uh-huh. Wheels turning. Maybe I AM a hot mess, he was thinking.
Of course, he is! As my friend Sarah points out, “Let’s face it: at our age, there’s gonna be baggage. No way to avoid it.”
So dating and falling in love in one’s 30s and 40s is not about avoiding baggage. It’s more about deciding how much baggage you’re willing to take on…in addition to your own, of course.
“My preference is a carry-on bag,” Sarah says. “I’ll let a man have that one for free. But if he’s got extra baggage, I think there should be a handling fee, just like the airlines.”
I couldn’t agree more, particularly since I’ve had the foolhardy experience of falling in love with men dragging steamer trunks.
The worst part is if you’ve got someone traveling with a steamer trunk, you often don’t know it. That’s because, in this day and age, they disguise the trunk as a cocktail table or other piece of interior decor—an antique conversation piece that they claim is empty. It’s just there to enhance the eclectic design of the room.
Um, no shit.
Maybe steamer trunk is the wrong word. More like Pandora’s box…because women being women, we rarely give up hope entirely. And because we’re naturally more curious than men about the contents of personal baggage, we open the steamer trunks, find them bursting with paraphernalia, but by the time we shut them in a desperate act of regret, it’s too late. The guy’s shit has flown the coop and, more often than not, squarely landed in our laps. (You might want to refer to my post “Emotional Diarrhea” for more on how that feels.)
For better or worse, the two longest term romantic relationships of my life have been with men dragging steamer trunks. The first one at least acknowledged on occasion that there was something in the trunk: twice divorced parents, childhood emotional neglect, parental brutality, etc.
The second one, however, was always sitting on the trunk, legs crossed, looking smug. He was so good at hiding his baggage that he actually convinced me for a time that I was the one with excess checked luggage plus a rather weighty carry-on. (And I will admit, I always overstuff my carry-on. I hate baggage fees.)
One day, however, I gave him a hard nudge, knocked him off his “decorative” steamer trunk, unlocked it, and lifted the lid wide open. I got hit hard with more dirty laundry than I’d ever seen in my life. Fortunately, by that point in my life, I’d learned what to do with clothes where you just cannot get the stains out no matter how hard you try: throw them out and update your wardrobe.
The interesting thing about this last experience of loving a man with excess luggage, however, was that he seemed even more shocked by the contents of his steamer trunk than I was. (I gather he had probably not unpacked it in a long time.)
And right now, I cannot help but wonder if he’s actually trying to launder and repair all those old musty shirts and slacks and torn up underwear or if he’s just locked them all back up in the trunk again and thrown away the key…hopeful that the next woman won’t be smart enough to find it or will at least believe him when he says he’s cleaned up his act…ahem, I mean baggage.
In the meantime, I’m quietly lugging my own overstuffed carry-on. It’s on roller wheels. (It became too heavy to carry via shoulder strap years ago.) I always worry I might have to unzip it and share some small tidbit of the past with another passenger on this trip called life, and that scares me a little because, once opened, my overstuffed bag, is hard to get shut again. Sometimes I have to sit on it. And, even then, the seams threaten to burst.
Which is probably why another friend of mine and fellow contributor, Susannah, is quick to point out the other reason one should never settle for a man with more than a carry-on bag. “After all, you want him to have a free hand to help you with your luggage, too….”