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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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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