You, single woman out there in the dating world, be prepared. For you are going to get bombs dropped on you. The person you are dating has baggage and not all of it is adorable. Every person has unflattering moments in their dating past. Everyone has suffered hardships in their lives. You may find yourself in a situation where you are hit with a revelation you weren’t ready for. Whether it comes up naturally in conversation, you ask the wrong question, or it slips out of his mouth after the second glass of wine, at some point, your date is going to tell you something about himself that may catch you off guard. Ideally, you won’t find out that he broke off an engagement a few months before the wedding until your fourth or fifth date, but you made a joke about getting married on date two, and WHOOMP, there it is. How you react to the baggage bomb is EVERYTHING. Don’t run for cover. Don’t write him off. This is an opportunity to build trust with this person and get to know him better. After the jump, some tips for surviving baggage bombs.
1. Do not react emotionally. No weird faces. No gasping. No exasperation, condemnation or judgeyness. And NO CRYING. That will only make the other person feel extraordinarily uncomfie. When he tells you that the reason he doesn’t want a drink is because he’s in recovery, put on your game face. Keep your composure. Remember that he is probably feeling anxiety having to say that to you in the first place. So be the rock he needs you to be. No spazing out and talking about how much you love wine, or how you once dated an alcoholic and he was awful. Let him finish talking first. And then you can try something like, “OK. No problem. Does it bother you if I have a glass of wine?”
2. Don’t change the subject. After you have been on the receiving end of a baggage bomb, do not change the subject and start talking about the latest episode of “Breaking Bad.” Sure, it was really epic, but the important thing your date is telling you about how his last girlfriend left him for another guy is more important. Let the bomber decide when he is done talking. Changing the subject may give the impression that you can’t handle what he’s talking about, that you would like to un-hear that piece of information, that you are not the kind of person he can share his true self with. Don’t do that.
3. Don’t act uncomfortable. Don’t look away, excuse yourself from the table, fidget, start rambling, send a text message, make a joke. Don’t minimize the information you’ve just received. If you do feel uncomfortable that he’s revealed he’s polyamorous, that’s human. Take a deep breath and walk into the war zone. You can do it. If you’re not OK with dating a polyamorous guy, it’s better that you know sooner rather than later, right?
4. Try to be comforting as possible. You may not know what to say when your date tells you that his mother just died of cancer. That’s OK. What’s important is that you provide a safe environment for him to talk about it and that you display empathy. You can show empathy by simply giving cues with your body language that you are listening — nodding, eye contact, a kind expression on your face. A good, neutral response is always, “I’m sorry you went through that.” No need to do anything or try to fix anything. No need to ask a ton of questions. Just listen, show him he can be vulnerable with you and that you care.
5. Don’t feel obligated to follow up with a baggage bomb of your own. We all have different comfort levels about what we share and how soon. So if your date tells you about his last, really screwed up relationship, you are not obligated to return the favor by telling him about yours. Share what you want, when you want. But remember, this is how trust develops between two people. So if all goes well, and you survive his baggage bomb, you might find yourself baggage bombing back in the near future.