Carfax is one of the greatest things that ever could have happened to used car lots. Prior to this service, used car salesmen had one of the worst reputations of all professionals, because they could talk a customer into buying damaged goods, and the customer wouldn’t know it until after they’d driven off the lot. By the time they found out they had a lemon, it was too late to do much about it, without a tremendous amount of hassle and extra money.
Unscrupulous salesmen could shine up the paint of the car nicely, vacuum the inside, give it the new car smell air freshener, and pour some soda on the engine to get rid of all the crud. Their motivations were more about making a sale than it was about manipulating anybody, but they figured that the ends justified the means. If we’re honest, this is the same strategy many people adopt when they’re on the search for a new mate: present the best of what you have to offer, and cover up the rest; they’ll find out about all that soon enough.
People don’t verbalize it that way, though. In fact, they may not even realize that’s what they’re doing. When the dopamine hits the system, and that special someone rolls our name off their tongue just right, we truly feel as though we can be a better person because of them, like we can instantly switch out all our flaws and become their ideal mate, or that we can develop interests that are nowhere near our radar, because it’s what the other person likes, so it must be worth exploring. So, what, you just ate a double cheeseburger—you could become a vegan by dinnertime! Who cares if you don’t know the difference between a pitcher and a quarterback—you’ll get those season tickets, wear the jersey, paint your face, and sign up for the fantasy league! As long as the feelings sustain, our motivation to be “the one” will sustain. But the moment we realize that our love interest, like everyone else on the face of the planet, is human, the motivation for all that extra stuff begins to dwindle, and we become exactly who we are. This is when the trouble begins.
Who we are, and the portions of ourselves we present to others, is a woven collection of positive and negative experiences. It is through our experiences that we begin to find out what we like and dislike about others. We can also begin to collect a wide array of baggage that we take from one relationship to the next.
New relationships greet us with the gift of rose-colored glasses, convincing us that overnight, we can become another’s perfect mate. Likewise, we believe that they can become their highest selves, too. Since we put so much stock in these feelings, when enough of these relationships fall apart, we become jaded about love.
Or maybe things go a different direction. In other relationships, if we’ve been deeply in love and in love often, we may examine our new lover through the lens of criticism. Red flags begin to appear, which cause us to create stories in our head about their actions and motives, and we unintentionally become a sour burden to the other person. What we think is protection for ourselves is in fact toxic for the other person.
This could make it impossible for you to see the other person for who they are. In the end, it won’t matter that they actually are different from all the other people who hurt you in the past. You’ll treat them like an extension of your past, which will create a sewage trap for your relationship. The tricky part is that you might genuinely like this person, so you’re confused as to why you’re behaving this way. They might be exactly what you want, nothing at all like what you’ve had before, but you just can’t seem to turn off the suspicion. Part of you wants to embrace the newness and move forward, but another part of you just can’t let it go. You end up having one foot in the moment and the other foot in the past (which no longer even exists), which will inevitably stretch you further than you can go. This is all due to a little thing we call baggage.