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What I learned about emotional baggage on my most recent first date.

What if our 'perfect' online dating profiles are hurting our chances of finding something real?

What I learned about emotional baggage on my most recent first date.

It seemed like Seth and I would be a match made in cyber heaven.

Of course, I determined this based on our skimpy online dating profiles where we both strategically left out pieces of our life stories. Little did I know that Seth would teach me what it means to admit I’m human and come with a lot of baggage, just like the rest of the world.

Like every safe online dater, I made sure we met for our first date at a coffee shop. Nothing too serious to break the world’s most awkward ice. (Seriously, if you’ve never had the privilege of walking into a crowded public place with all eyes on you to meet a stranger, consider yourself blessed.)


First dates are fun. Photo via iStock.

The coffee date went well, measured by a minimal number of painful pauses.

He bought my peppermint mocha, which is always a good sign.

I made the mistake of choosing a coffee shop located especially close to my neighborhood, so of course someone I knew spotted me. A text from my friend came in shortly after I left: "My dad just saw you getting coffee. He said you looked like you were with a boyfriend."

I guess we looked natural enough to move to the second date — that’s good news!

On our second date, we met for dinner.

It’s a bigger leap from the casual coffee meeting. Somehow when forks and knives get invited, it feels like a big deal. But the conversation went smoothly, and we wanted to keep talking, so we moved to the wine bar down the pre-flooded Ellicott City street.

On the walk back to our cars at the end of the night, I decided he didn’t feel like a serial killer, so maybe we should disclose each other’s full names. It felt like a good next step.

Photo via iStock.

We laughed that it took so long to share our names, and then we decided we should try another date sometime.

He texted me a few days later and asked if I wanted to go for a hike.

Pardon the interruption while I tell you that it was January … in Maryland. If it’s not snowing in Maryland in January, then it’s generally cold enough outside that I really would prefer to be hibernating indoors. I contemplated asking if we could postpone this hike for — oh, I don’t know — four months? But I scrapped the idea, thinking I needed to appear adventurous and easygoing.

"Sure! That sounds great! Can’t wait!" I texted back. I mean, at least I didn’t totally lie and say something like, "I LOVE HIKING IN THE BELOW-FREEZING TEMPERATURES!!! ☺"

So we went on the hike, but it didn’t take long for me to lose all the circulation in my hands and feet.

Turns out it’s tough to hide fingers that resemble the dead.

I have an autoimmune disorder called Sjögren’s that affects a lot of my body, but loss of blood is one of the more noticeable symptoms. I guess it was time to fess up. "Yes, I was diagnosed when I was 16, and it makes my life a little more complicated," I said.

And just as soon as we got "SICK" out of the way, he started asking questions about my family. (I should have trusted my gut on the whole hiking idea. Nature brings out the deep!)

So I told him the truth: "My dad just got out of rehab for alcohol addiction, and we’re currently working on rebuilding our family after the years of destruction."

I suddenly wished I’d come down with the flu the hour before I got in the car to go on the hike. I felt like I’d brought one of those person-sized hiking backpacks and strapped it to my back, then started unloading one piece of my crap at a time. At first, I delicately took out each item and tried to space out the unloading into appropriate intervals. Then, at some point in our hike, I decided to dump the whole thing upside down and just put it all out there.

Hello, meet me and my baggage! Photo via iStock.

I wonder if our coffee date or dinner date or hike would have ever happened if I would have added to my online dating profile "I’m human. I have (a lot of) baggage."

But the problem is that we can’t stamp our baggage onto online profiles. Who would honestly swipe right to a profile that reads, "Sick. Addicted. Broken. Can’t wait to meet you!"

We live in a world of filters where we try to build a perfect image of ourselves online by sharing fake versions of our imperfect selves. And especially with online dating, we expect to find someone who’s as perfect as their profile looks. After stalking their polished profile, we meet them in person and then try to hide our disappointment. Because — guess what? — they’re human!

I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this.

Most of us are just trying to find joy in the midst of our pain. We’re learning to love ourselves and love our lives despite all of life’s disappointments (especially the ones that make us want to hibernate for the winter). We’re all beautiful messes, just trying to make the best first impression we can.

Swiping right is a lot easier when someone looks "perfect." Photo via iStock.

But maybe we should go into online dating with lower – human? – expectations.

Maybe we should be looking for the brand of baggage we want to sign up for rather than trying to avoid people with baggage altogether.

Maybe we should remember that "normal" means wearing the scars of past heartbreaks.

And if you’re wondering what happened to me and Seth after that hike in the woods, he did stick around for the next round of dating; he even met all of my closest friends. But let’s just say it wasn’t exactly that match made in cyber heaven.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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