You Need Help: How Do I Stop Bringing Baggage From My Last Relationship Into My New One?

feature image photo by Manuel Arias Duran via Getty Images

Q:

I’ve recently started dating someone and it has been lovely. They are super chill and really caring at the same time, great at communication (at least way better than me), and the physical intimacy has been pretty awesome (which is rare because I’m gray asexual and it’s alway tricky for me). We have had great conversations without rushing into things. It’s fun. Basically, it’s the loveliest start I’ve ever had to a relationship and yet I feel like I’m going crazy.

My previous relationship was completely messy. He kept blowing hot and cold, could be super intense and a week later seem completely indifferent. He cheated on me in front of my eyes with a cis person when I had just talked about struggling with my transition and heaving feelings of inadequacy (we are both trans). He was not honest about what was happening, and it started a heavy circle of anxiety and depression for me. In summary, it was very toxic and traumatic.

We have repaired some stuff over the years after breaking up, and I felt like I had overcome the biggest part of it and was ready to start something new. But the last few weeks, I have been feeling so insecure and needy, so distrustful of this genuinely great new partner, that I’m wondering if this is worth it, if I can handle it. I overthink every text, feel abandoned when they don’t reach out for a couple days. I’m also worried that if i tell them what’s going through my mind they will run for the hills because it is not for them to deal with the consequences of my ex’s behavior. I don’t feel like I have much to offer except my insecurities (I’m also really struggling with dysphoria at the moment).

Am I really ready? Should I be honest with myself and take more time to heal, even though I want to experience this relationship?

A:

At the end of every episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul famously asks, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen?” “Amen!” the rest of the cast shouts.

Sorry to disagree with drag icon RuPaul Charles, but I think that’s bullshit.

I’m not someone who jumps from relationship to relationship. I like having time between partners to be alone and work on myself. But over the years I’ve learned a hard truth: Sometimes there’s a limit to what we can do on our own.

It makes sense, right? If you get into a car accident and develop a fear of driving, the options are never drive again or get back in a car. Sure, you can work your way up to conquering the fear. Maybe you start by driving on side streets or in a parking lot. But if getting on the highway is something you want out of life, your only option is to get back on the highway.

When I first started flirting with my now partner, it had been about a year and a half since my last relationship. I still didn’t feel ready for something serious and circumstances made it so serious wasn’t an option. We lived in different countries and it was peak pandemic. This lowered the stakes and lowered some of my emotional walls. Before I knew it a year had passed and I was driving nine hours across the border to meet her. I still had anxieties from my last relationship, but I’d let myself fall hard enough that I pushed through them.

She and I had spent the previous years growing a lot on our own. Now we were ready to grow together. This is where it gets really scary: Growing together requires communication.

I understand the impulse to not want to scare away your new partner with your anxieties. That is the exact kind of vulnerability I struggle with too. I’d rather keep a feeling to myself especially when I think it’s irrational. What I’ve had to learn is there’s a big difference between pushing your anxieties onto another person and letting them know you’re feeling anxious.

An example. Let’s say, you text the person you’re dating and they don’t text you back right away. I’m not suggesting you let the wounds of your ex bleed into a frantic message like, “I haven’t heard from you and it feels like you don’t like me anymore.” That’s not productive. But, next time you’re with them, you can say that sometimes you feel insecure when they don’t text back right away because of your ex. You can tell them you know it’s not rational but it’s just a feeling you have and you might need a bit more reassurance. Maybe they’ll say they just aren’t great at texting while at work or with friends and then you can figure out new communication expectations that work for both of you.

Conversations like this don’t even have to be A Thing. Trust me. You will not be the first queer person to talk about your ex with a person you’re dating. That’s like queer culture. You can let your new person in on your history and what parts of that history still weigh on you without passing on that weight.

I’m really sorry your ex cheated on you and made you feel inadequate. I know that hurt is even greater since your ex is also trans. We want to feel safe when dating within our own communities and sometimes that’s not the case. It’s hard to get over a hurt like that. But it’s possible. By yourself or with a new, loving partner, it’s possible.

If, ultimately, you decide you just need more time for solo growth before being in a new relationship, that’s okay. I just want to offer the possibility that you could keep growing alongside this new person who you seem to really like and who seems to really like you. I promise, they have more growth to do too.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 538 articles for us.

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