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Have You Brought Ex Baggage Into Your New Relationship?

Love & Relationships

"Just because you have baggage, that doesn't mean you have to lug it around."---Richie Norton

OK. What I'm about to say is super idealistic, but just bear with me for a second. Imagine if all of us waited until marriage before giving our hearts and parts to anyone, we married the person who was our best complement and we remained with them until death parted us. Whew! Nevermind how much the STD, unwanted pregnancy and brokenheartedness rates would become seemingly non-existent, think about how little baggage we'd bring into our dynamic.

If I were on a relationship panel today and the question was, "What's one of the most underrated causes for relational issues and drama?", I would definitely say "baggage". Not just any kind of baggage either. Baggage that a lot of us have as it directly relates to our ex (or exes).

Personally, I think a lot of us carry emotional impediments around because, whenever someone hurts us, we're so focused on not feeling the pain that we don't take the time that we need to heal. Or, we sit up under the total disillusion that what will eradicate the past is starting a future with someone as quickly as possible.

The problem with that oh-so-very-flawed way of thinking is when we don't heal first, it can cause us to A) pick someone who really isn't the best for us; B) sabotage a potentially great relationship or C) idolize our ex when really they need to be totally dismantled from the pedestal we put them on, based on the selective memory about the relationship that we have.

No matter what letter of the alphabet that may apply to you, just like a plane that's trying to soar that has too much luggage on it, if you're carrying a lot of ex baggage around, at the very least, your relationship is gonna see some very turbulent times; at the most, you're gonna help it to crash and burn.

How can you know for sure if you have more ex-man baggage than you should? Girrrl.

You Got into Your Current Relationship Way Too Fast

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In one episode of a Black web series called PILLOW TALK, a woman who plays the character of a relationships podcaster said this: "Some break-ups can be so debilitating that it can throw off everything in your life. So often we take the emotional devastation caused by our previous lovers into our new relationships, secretly pushing our turmoil and confusion from the last situation onto our new partners. So, my advice would be to wait until you're completely past your last heartache before embarking on a new journey of love. But I know that that's easier said than done, because, I'd be lying if I said a new partner doesn't help you get past an old one."

There's quite a bit of truth to that statement. Although, if I was able to edit it, I would say that a new partner distracts you from doing the work that it takes to get past the old one. Yeah, I am a huge believer that motive reveals a lot—a ton, really—so if you were in a long-term relationship and less than three months later, you're involved with someone new, be honest with yourself. Was it really because true love came out of nowhere or was it because you didn't choose to do the self-work necessary to heal from your past situation?

If it's "B" or even a little bit of Column A and Column B, there is about an 80 percent chance that you're going to bring some sort of baggage into your current relationship. Why? Because, like it or not, there's a part of you that's still emotionally involved with your ex. Just because it's over doesn't mean you're totally over it. Think about it.

You Tend to Put Your Man Through a Constant Series of Tests

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All of us test people. Not just when it comes to our romantic relationships either. My true confession for the day is when I was in my 20s, if I was beginning a new friendship with someone, I would tell them a lie, just to see if I would hear it back. The bad thing about this lil' test is it was a lie itself. The worse thing is about 45 percent of the time, I would hear it back. Lies on top of lies. SMH.

Usually, testing folks comes as the result of not being able to trust very much. This is especially the case when someone we once loved broke our heart (or just totally showed their tail). But just like most of us hated tests when we were in elementary and high school, no one wants to feel like they are constantly having to prove themselves based on someone else's faux pas.

So yeah, if you're sending the one you're seeing now through a series of tests because someone in your past now makes you want to give everyone in your future the side-eye, not only is it a surefire sign that you've got some baggage, but it's also a pretty good way to drive "current guy" away. If not immediately, eventually.

90 Percent of What Triggers You Has to Do with Your Ex

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The guy you're seeing now doesn't immediately text back and it pisses you off. If he takes a call while you're sitting together on the couch, you secretly wonder if he's seeing another woman. He can't make it to an office party, so you feel like he's not invested in the relationship. Be real—is all of this really about them being tied into your actual relationship pet peeves or is it that your ex did these things and it reminds you of this very fact?

All of us have triggers. You know what else? All of us can deactivate them. It starts with figuring out exactly what they are and then spending some time figuring out what they are directly tied to. If it's your ex, try and do some healing so that you can be sure that whatever is bothering you about your current relationship is happening in real time…not the past.

You Are Constantly Comparing Your Past with Your Present

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I'm pretty candid about my past. Some might say to a fault. So, most of my boyfriends got the TMI version of my world before they came along. Anyway, when I asked my last boyfriend how he felt about what I made him privy to (especially since he knew a couple of the guys personally), he simply said, "I have no problem with your past, so long as it doesn't become a part of your present."

Hmph. I thought about that when I watched the season finale of the TV series Boomerang. "Simone, why would you go out on a date with your ex (not just an ex but an engaged-to-someone-else ex) when your own boyfriend Bryson is so devoted to you?" That's what I was thinking although I already knew the answer.

Somebody cue Heather Headley's "In My Mind" here, please. A part of the reason why it's a good idea to be single for a while following a break-up is because, until you get your ex out of your system, not only will you probably leave your heart door cracked to them (to some extent), you'll constantly find yourself comparing them to the one you're currently with.

It's kind of like the difference between a wound and a scar. When a wound is fresh and something (or someone) bumps into it, you feel it. When that wound is a scar…you don't. If your ex is a wound in your life, a new man is actually going to cause you to reminisce and compare because your ex is still in your heart and mind. You'll constantly find yourself comparing your past with your present.

Living in the past not only keeps you stuck but it can sabotage your present and future as well.

Something About Your Ex Is Always Referenced in Hard Times

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Your relationship with your ex wasn't all bad. If it were, you wouldn't have been with him so long and accumulated so many experiences and memories. Because some of those experiences and memories were good, it's perfectly normal to reflect on them from time to time. Thing is, when you're currently involved with someone else, timing is everything.

What I mean by that is, just because you're with someone new and (hopefully) the relationship is better, healthier and more fulfilling, that doesn't mean you aren't going to experience challenges and maybe even trials. If during those moments, you immediately think back to the happy times with your ex, there are two problems with that. One, you may trick yourself into editing out the bad that caused you to break-up with them in the first place. Two, if you bring them up to your current partner, not only is that deeply offensive, it could cause trust issues.

Issues that could've been avoided if you had chosen to work through the hard times with the one you're with rather than harp on the easier moments with the one you're not…with.

You’re Horrible at Trusting, Forgiving and Vulnerability

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A lot of us know that no healthy relationship is able to last without trust. When you trust your partner, it means you give them space, you don't go through their things (including their phone) without their knowledge and permission, you take their word at face value, you aren't threatened by their friendships (including opposite sex friendships)—you get that just because the two of you are a couple, that doesn't mean that either of you should relinquish your individuality. But when an ex betrays your trust on some level, it can take a while for you to trust other people again. You can know if you trust your current partner or not by going down the checklist that I just provided you. Do you?

Trust isn't the only thing that makes for a happy union, though. There's no telling how many relationships could be saved if people learned how to forgive their partner for being just as human as they are or for not making their partner have to knock down wall after wall after wall in order to get to the core of their being.

If you just read that paragraph and jumped defensive because your ex is why you aren't trusting, forgiving or vulnerable in your current relationship, well…you already know what I'm about to say about that…right?

You Are Somehow Unable to Take Things to the Next Level

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Don't get it twisted. Men aren't the only ones who struggle with commitment. I know A LOT of women who do as well. That said, if you are fortunate enough to be with a man who truly cares about you and wants to cultivate a long-term commitment but you're dragging your feet and aren't totally sure why…could your ex have something to do with it? If in your mind, you're thinking things like, "The last time I gave my all, I was devastated" or "The last time a man claimed he wanted to be exclusive, he cheated on me", remember that last time isn't this time.

Not too long ago, Boris Kodjoe said something about his approach to his exes that we all could stand to apply to our own. "First of all, if there's too many of those exes, I think you should have a conversation with yourself…for me [running into an ex] is a party every time. Either we're friends still, then there's hugs and kisses. And if not, I dodged a major bullet, so I'm super happy about that. So, there's still hugs and kisses 'cause I'm so grateful that I got you out of my life." YEP!

By adopting Boris's perspective, it will prevent you from giving your ex (or your past with them) so much power in your life that you can't move forward with your present. Because just think about it—out of all the things he did to you, letting him still affect—and infect—you in such a way that you can't move on and forward with your life is probably the worst.

Do you and your future a favor. Let your ex baggage go. TOTALLY GO.

Featured image by Getty Images

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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