A Dater’s Dilemma: How Much Baggage Is Too Much?


Shortly after my 36th birthday, I experienced a break-up that took years to recover from. A wise older friend said to me, “You need to know that you’ve gotten to the age where you won’t find someone without a little baggage. It’s up to you to figure out how much baggage you can handle.”

She was all too familiar with this situation: Newly-separated after a 21-year marriage, an estranged son and her not-yet-ex-husband already in a new relationship. She was speaking from experience, that much was clear.

It took me a few years to figure out  just what baggage actually means to me. Most people might define it as responsibilities or commitments to others, such as ex spouses, in-laws or to children after a divorce. But these things don’t count in my definition.

We all come to our present situations with our past experiences accumulated. These experiences inform our thinking and our behavior. But there should be a limit to just how much our past informs us. To me, baggage indicates an attachment to the past. 

At some point or another, I’ll ask people I’m getting to know what they learned  from their previous relationships. Their answer reveals a lot about how much baggage they’re carrying. For instance, I once asked a very polite, well-mannered gentleman this question. His answer: “I learned that women can’t be trusted.” It wasn’t long before I ended that conversation!

Certainly, many of us have had unfortunate experiences. But if we allow those experiences to keep our hearts closed and our minds stuck in the same patterns of thinking, it’s time to let go.

I often wonder if people use the terms baggage and responsibilities as synonyms. In my mind, they are two completely different terms. Being responsible is an admirable trait, but having baggage is a red flag.

Consider this: A single parent is raising kids alone. Or perhaps someone cares for elderly parents. He or she is showing a tremendous commitment to family and community by taking responsibility for others. It is a positive sign that this person takes active participation in the world beyond the self. It is, in fact, a clear indication that this person is living out the tenets of our faith.

In terms of dating or as a potential mate, their time constraints and hectic lifestyle don’t have to be hindrances. It obviously requires a lot of patience on both parties’ sides, but it may be worth it in the end!

Now consider this: A single person lives alone and has no responsibilities to anyone, other than the ordinary things we all should take care of: ourselves, perhaps a pet, and being a good friend and family member. However, this person is constantly harping on an ex, or how a parent was hurtful in childhood, or complaining about a former friend. This is the kind of baggage that will hinder development in a relationship.

That’s not to say that every last person with an attachment to the past is loaded down with baggage and should be avoided completely. Rather, it’s a consideration to keep in mind while discerning a relationship. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I declared 2012 the Year of Forgiveness. While none of us can force anyone else to forgive someone or something from their past, it might be worth mentioning. Someone with excess baggage might need to hear that message, and hadn’t thought about it before. 

There’s a popular idiom circulating around: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” This is a perfect encapsulation of what it means to let go of baggage.

If you are considering a relationship with someone, but are worried about his or her attachment to the past, don’t give up completely; just let that person know forgiveness is the first step in the process of letting go.  



  1. Liz M. October 15, 2013 Reply

    Oh, Sandra, remember that part of the wedding vows state: “..until death do we part”. As a widow, I still remember and love my departed husband, but I am not married to him any longer. Certainly free to marry again, should God will it to happen.

  2. Ryan-851537 June 3, 2012 Reply

    Bravo! Very well written.

  3. Louie-774847 June 2, 2012 Reply

    Good explaiantion what kind of baggage can each of us handle?

  4. Jim-397948 June 2, 2012 Reply

    Bags fly free on Southwest!!!!!

  5. Adel-818653 June 1, 2012 Reply

    I love it!

  6. Sandra-471894 May 28, 2012 Reply

    I hear what you are saying.

    All have a past, as Christ and his Mother had much baggage, they continued to live as Father wanted them to.

    It is to me; a balancing of past and present.

    Yes, we can let go of the past, but to a degree, for the past is who we are.

    My brother is still my brother, even with much hurt from dysfunctional issues of the past.
    Forgiveness, but still managing what is now, today still affecting the family.

    A sister who is borderline mentally disabled, still needs, and we still hurt from her behavior but have an obligation to love, attend to her needs etc.

    Our adult children who are at a different level in the process of forgiveness, and needs to let out the past, or embrace the past.

    New us may still mean we must engage with the past to help all heal or manage.

    It is a challenge to “let go”, without ignoring what Christ wants us to still embrace.

    I remember as a child growing up in a traditional Catholic home; being taught that a personn is married to their spouse even after one of them dies. Being a widow or widower meant living out the promise to God in our Sacrament of Marriage.

    I find that many of us forget that.
    How do we live out the Sacrament of Marriage through divorce, or being widowed or a widower?

  7. Helen-407474 May 28, 2012 Reply

    Another great article, Cate….

  8. Stacey-101742 May 25, 2012 Reply

    Good article , well said , thank you ..

  9. Lois-765906 May 25, 2012 Reply

    This article was wonderful. In the past, I was asked “if I was a responsible person” by a gentlemen who was interested in me. My response was that, as a parent, of course I was a responsible person – but at the time, didn’t quite understand what was being asked. Now, I would understand better what was being asked of me. 2012 – year of Forgiveness – oh yes –
    and also, a year for new beginnings and allowing the past to remain in the past! :)))

  10. Alejandra-845211 May 23, 2012 Reply

    I totally agree with your article! It is also a good reminder for a criteria when browsing profiles. It is pretty easy to figure out the baggage and the responsibilities.

  11. Elizabeth-753085 May 23, 2012 Reply

    Excellent and well said!

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