As a professional sex and dating writer, I get flooded with hundreds of questions a week from readers who are anxious about entertaining a new relationship.
Sometimes you’re telling me that you’re hyper-convinced you’ve fallen into the sacred of arms of love with a woman you met on the internet, who lives thousands of miles away—a woman you’ve never actually met in person. (Spoiler alert: It’s not possible to love someone you have yet to meet IRL.) Sometimes you’re telling me that you’re positively teeming with acute fear that the girl you’re casually dating is secretly plotting all the ways she can stick a knife into the crux of your heart (even though she’s never been anything but kind to you). Sometimes you’re telling me that you’re wracked with guilt because someone who is beautiful and amazing and smart has entered your life, but every time you’re on a date with her, you can’t stop thinking about your toxic ex—the one who ruined your life but gave you killer orgasms.
All these problems, these anxieties that keep you tossing and turning in bed, night after night, are metastasizing into a very ugly thing: baggage. Emotional baggage.
Look, we’ve all been dragged down by emotional baggage before. There’s likely some baggage that will be attached to us forever. (Hopefully, we can downsize it into a nice, small carry-on size, rather than luggage that needs to be checked.) But there are some bags that should not ~ever~ be rolled into a new relationship. It’s akin to dousing a healthy salad with toxic poison and expecting it to still be good for you.
The tricky thing about baggage is you can’t just shove it under your bed and pretend it’s not there. Even if it’s been stowed away deep in that forgotten storage unit you keep in Paramus, New Jersey, you’re still connected to it. (After all, that storage space doesn’t pay for itself, does it?) Until you’ve set those bags on fire, they’ll always be a part of your energy, and that toxic part of your energy can contaminate a new relationship if you’re not careful.
Think of a relationship like a cozy but chic studio apartment. The chic studio won’t look so chic if it’s full of massive, ugly suitcases, will it?
So before you initiate a relationship you need to make sure this specific set of baggage is caput from your life. There isn’t space for you, her, and all of your old, crumbly luggage in the tiny sacred space that is your personal life, right?
Since there are about 10 to 15 pieces of emotional baggage you need to clear yourself of when starting a relationship, we’re going to break this article into two essays.
Here are the first three pieces of emotional baggage you need to drop at the gate before opening the door to a new relationship.
1. You must be over your ex.
You cannot start a relationship when you’re still hung up on your ex. I repeat: You cannot start a relationship when you’re still hung up on your ex.
I dated someone who was still, in the deepest pit of her heart, in love with her ex—despite what she told me. Women are, by nature, tapped into the truth. We can feel when your heart is elsewhere, and it feels extremely shitty.
How can we tell? Well, for starters, you won’t be fully present in your new relationship if you’re still pining after your ex, and that’s unfair. Unfair to your new partner. But namely, it’s unfair to yourself. Love and lust do not exist without being present. You can’t relish in the beautiful spontaneity of ~romance~ when you have one foot in the past.
Zara’s Lesbian Big Sister Tip: Get a shrink. Journal. Sweat the demon out at the gym. Do whatever *you* need to do to get over this person. But work through it alone. It’s not up to your new girlfriend to help you get over someone else. That’s using her, and using people is a selfish and negative act, one that will prevent you from receiving all the magical things you’re working so hard to manifest in your life. Trust me. I’ve been on both sides of this equation. Karma’s a bitch.
2. You must be over how much your ex screwed you over.
“I’m just terrified that my new girlfriend is going to CHEAT on me because my last girlfriend CHEATED on me.”
“I fully supported my last girlfriend when she had NOTHING, and the moment she got a job, she left me. How do I know my new girlfriend won’t do the same thing?”
“My last girlfriend was secretly flirting with her ex the entire time we dated. I have a hunch my new girlfriend is doing the same thing because NO ONE is trustworthy.”
Oh, honey. These are all super-painful situations to go through. I know how badly it hurts to put your heart out on the line, only for it to be recklessly stomped on by her steel-toed dyke boots. I get it. Trust me. This is me validating your trauma. See how serious I am?
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The new girl you’re dating is not your cheating ex. And it’s wildly inappropriate to carry the baggage of your last relationship into your new relationship.
Once upon a time, I fell madly in love with a girl we’ll call Lydia. Lydia fell madly in love with me back. It was one of those magical instantaneous love connections where you feel like you’ve known this person for your entire life. (Spoiler alert: The rapid-fire romance usually leaves you burning in a mass of flames.)
Lydia had been hurt—badly—by her last girlfriend.
The girl had cheated on her with a dude, which crushed her heart into a million tiny shards of glass. Even though Lydia authentically loved me, she was terrified that I was going to cheat on her, and her heart (and ego) would be crushed once again. I endlessly assured her that I would NEVER do such a thing. It’s simply not who I am; plus, I loved Lydia so passionately that the thought of being with anyone else actually made me dry heave. No matter how hard I tried to ensure that she felt loved and secure in our relationship, it was never ever enough. If I didn’t pick up my phone because I was working, she would have full-blast meltdowns that I was with my ex-girlfriend. If I liked another lesbian’s Instagram picture, she was convinced I was scheming to cheat on her. She didn’t like it when I dressed sexy because she thought I was trying to score the attention of a guy (as if).
It all became too much for me to bear. My love for her wasn’t enough. Her neurosis eventually broke me.
I didn’t deserve to be doubted constantly by a person whom I had never betrayed. So I ended it. And it sucked. My feelings for her didn’t magically dissipate into the thin air, but I knew there was nothing I could ever do to convince this woman that I was a faithful partner. She had to heal her wounds first. A therapist even told her that she wasn’t ready to be with anyone until she had worked through the trauma from her past.
It’s entirely normal to be scarred from the past, by the way. And no one is damaged goods. Like beloved queer poet Andrea Gibson says in the poem, “Emergency Contact”: “Nothing can be fixed/Everything can be healed.” We all have scars. It’s OK. But people don’t deserve to be punished for the bruises another person bestowed unto you.
If this is you: Be single for now. Take some time to cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself, so no one can ever break you like that again. When you’ve done the work and rebuilt your core foundation to be strong AF, you’ll no longer be afraid of falling through the floorboards. For you’ll be indestructible. No one can tear down what you’ve built. No one.
3. You must be over your addiction to incessant validation.
I was addicted to validation. Validation was my drug of choice, long before I discovered Adderall and champagne and Xanax. I needed my girlfriend to tell me that I was pretty and thin and talented, that I was going places, that I was good, and that I was a hard worker. That I was special. Unique. All the things.
All of the neediness I projected on to her exhausted the shit out of her. It served as a bloodsucker and drained her spiritually, mentally, and physically. She was running on a treadmill, sweating through her clothes for me, but never getting anywhere.
And because I am an addict, one compliment was too many, and a thousand were never enough. No matter how grandiose the compliment, I never felt satiated. Yet I faithfully came to her, like she was my validation drug dealer, and demanded that she provide me with my daily fix. And if, god forbid, she had her own shit going on that day and didn’t have time to feed my ego, I would crumble like a donut.
“She doesn’t love me. She isn’t attracted to me anymore,” I would wail to myself in an obsessive-compulsive loop in my brain.
And guess what? I quickly became unattractive to her.
Because I don’t care if you look like goddamn Angelina Jolie, if you’re constantly vying for compliments and then very obviously fall apart when you don’t receive them, you become unattractive. You’re stripped of your sex appeal. You reek of desperation. You now represent neediness. And neediness is the antithesis of sexiness.
The older I get, the more experts I interview, the more therapists I question, and the more life experience I garner, has only confirmed my theory that we are magnetically attracted to confidence. And confidence is, in essence, independence. Confidence doesn’t need validation from anyone. That’s why she’s so damn sexy.
Validation is a bump of shitty coke. It leaves you feeling like an invincible queen for about ten minutes and then makes you crash you into the ugliest depths of hell until you find yourself suddenly crawling on the ground searching for something you’ll never find.
This is horrendous to put someone through. Yes, the occasional “You look pretty!” or “I’m proud of you!” from your partner is nice. But think of a compliment as adding a savory sprinkle of fine parmesan on an already amazing bowl of penne alla vodka. Penne alla vodka (when done right) is fabulous without parmesan. The parmesan merely elevates the already kickass culinary experience.
As a recovering validation addict, I happen to believe that the need for incessant validation comes from having a lot of vast empty spaces inside yourself. You’re looking to fill those spaces with approval from others, in particular, from your romantic partner. And guess what? Their words, their constant fawning over you, their attention, will never fill the void. Validation is too flimsy a fabric to patch up such a gaping, large hole. You need to start filling those holes with self-f*cking love.
Start by complimenting yourself. Write down 10 things you like about yourself every morning for a month. Start celebrating all the good you do in the world! Be kind to others, as kindness will fill the black holes in ways you can’t even imagine. See a therapist. Indulge in your hobbies. Do all of this and maybe you’ll feel whole again. And only when you’re whole, will you draw in another whole person. Missing parts attract other missing parts. Fully realized people attract other fully realized people.
Feel free to message me if you have any questions. (And get ready for part two next week!)
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