In the wake of a broken relationship, it is often said that if we knew then what we know now, we’d have done things differently. For example, after finding out the boyfriend I lived with was giving toothy blowjobs to NYU undergrads in David Barton steam rooms, it made me wish I’d demanded a security deposit before agreeing to monogamy.
While there’s no way of knowing exactly what will be thrown at us — both literally and figuratively — down the road, there is a way to obtain an impressionist portrait of what the person you’re casually dating will look like once relationship parameters set in.
It’s called vetting, and it’s usually only done when applying for a job or purchasing real estate. Here’s how it works when applied to dating — before things become exclusive between you and someone else, ask them for the names and phone numbers of the following five people: a parent, a sibling, a best friend, a co-worker and an ex. Should they object to the idea of you attaining transparency by interviewing their nearest and dearest about what they’re really like, remind them that even Presidential candidates must undergo the vetting process — so if they want to be chief of your proverbial staff, they best be giving you access to their contacts.
Some might say that in the information age we live in, applying an emotional condom like this is unnecessary — why not just Google or Facebook the current loves in our life? The reason that’s ineffective is because social networking sites only contain information others want us to see. We all have the power to control who we are on the internet. It’s why so many people who are enjoyable online are awful in real life.
My point is this: because we often speak of ourselves aspirationally, especially when romance is involved, we aren’t who we say we are so much as we are who others say we are. It’s words versus actions in the Olympic Games of love. While you and your mate might view each other through the excessive diffusion of a Barbra Walters special, the five people you meet through vetting have seen you both in the harsh light of a Morgan Spurlock documentary. Here are the five people you need to talk to before engaging in unprotected emotions and exclusive intercourse.
1. The Parent
Though quite possibly the most biased of all sources, it’s still important to touch base with at least one person who raised your significant other. Finding out what love model they grew up with is crucial because, even if they don’t want to admit it — somewhere deep down — they were affected by it, and most likely believe that’s how all relationships should be. For example, are both of his parents on their third marriage? Good luck getting him to commit to anything beyond dinner plans. Did her parents meet in high school and have been together ever since? Prepare to fall short trying to live up to the imaginary boyfriend she’s been fanaticizing about since freshman year. In short, knowing the state of their parent’s affairs directly affects yours.
2. The Best Friend
The best friend should know everything about the yin to your yang, so block out a few hours to speak to them — preferably at a bottomless mimosa brunch to lubricate the lock on their vault of secrets. When mining for pertinent information, pay close attention to the content your BF or GF’s BFF serves up. Do they only have disparaging things to say? If so, why is this person their alleged “best friend?” This could mean you’re dating a masochist who mistakes angry confrontations for a passionate connection. On the flip side, do they only have nice things to say? Do they light up when talking about the potential love of your life? If so, there’s a chance the best friend is subconsciously — or even consciously — in love with the guy or girl you’re seeing. This may seem harmless initially, but think about who your boyfriend or girlfriend is going to turn to whenever you two inevitably quarrel. Finally, do they not have a best friend? Ironically, this is the worst possible scenario, as it indicates you are with someone who is antisocial and co-dependent who will cling to you like saran wrap once you enter into a relationship due to the lack of friendships in their life.
3. The Sibling
The sibling — or sibling-like figure, should your love interest be an only child — is important for you to touch base with because they fall somewhere on the spectrum between parent and best friend. What makes the testimony of the sibling so valuable is its objectivity. They’ll tell you about the annoying things their brethren does, how they’ve changed — for better and for worse — over the years, and how significant others are really treated by their parents. Speaking of which, another important piece of information the sibling can tell you is just how many have come before you. Has your newly christened boyfriend or girlfriend never brought anyone home? Good luck being the first to sail those uncharted waters. Has Thanksgiving dinner at their parents’ house had more “special guest stars” than a sweeps episode of Glee? This should take the pressure off your eventual meeting, as it clearly means nothing. Finding this information out is important because it tells you how many people your ex actually took seriously versus how many he told you he took seriously.
4. The Co-Worker
The co-worker is important to interview because relationships, at their core, are a team sport. You’re basically dating one half of an Amazing Race team. You have to know if this person is motivated, if they set goals, if they ever achieve them, if they work well with others, and if they have a promising future. It’s also good to know if they have a job, or have ever had a job, for that matter. If you are going to be the one bearing the financial brunt of this relationship, you should at least get carte blanche when it comes to where you go out to eat on dates. It’s also good to find out if they were ever fired for something egregious, like looking at pornography at work.
5. The Ex
The ex is, quite possibly, the most telling person you will interview in this process. Sometimes the ex is their best friend. Sometimes, the ex is a sworn enemy. Sometimes, there isn’t even an ex to contend with. Sounds good, right? Wrong! This means the person you are about to enter into a monogamous relationship with is boldly going where he’s never gone before — and you’re the test subject. The best thing to discuss when talking to the person they used to date is why things ended. As much as I’d like to believe that people evolve and mature and sometimes change, I’m highly skeptical. In film school, they teach you that, on some level, every director makes the same movie. Well, I have a theory that every person — unless they’ve made an aggressive effort not to — gets into the same relationship. Domineering personalities remain domineering personalities. Optimists remain optimists. Cheaters remain cheaters. It’s best to figure out what your prospective mate’s “pattern” is before you make any commitments. It’s also important to talk to the ex to find out if they think they broke up for the same reason your ex is telling you they did. Ironically, least important is finding out if the ex still has feelings for your current man or woman. The fact that he or she wants to be with you in an official capacity during these casual, NSA/ FWB/ DTF times means something. And if they’re crazy enough about you to let you vet their ex in the first place, that may be all you need to know.