It happens too often. Your friend gets engaged to someone that everyone knows is wrong for her. You instinctively think, “Well, that will never last.” The bride-to-be is caught up in searching for wedding gowns, figuring out the guest list and finding a venue. She’s thrilled to have finally joined what seemed like an exclusive club of detail-oriented event planners who wear beautiful engagement rings and chat about things like “wedding colors” and “dream honeymoons” while gathering photos of romanticized place settings on Pinterest. Your friend has overlooked the single most important part of the engagement period: making sure her fiancé is marriage material.
So how do you avoid getting engaged to someone who will make your life miserable down the road? Those wedding websites and magazines will never advertise how to find out if your fiancé’s a jerk. The entire wedding industry is just dying for you to get married. Don’t get caught up in it.
Here are some telltale warning signs. If the following scenarios sound remotely familiar, it’s probably time to second guess the relationship before “happily ever after” becomes your worst nightmare:
1. Follow the 1 AM rule.
He tells you that he’s going out with “buddies” for happy hour but is unreachable and unresponsive to any forms of communication for the entire evening. He arrives home in the early morning hours, drunk and defensive. In case you haven’t realized it from the horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, this is a problem. After 1 AM, if you haven’t heard from your significant other and he’s still out, there is absolutely nothing going on at that hour that could be beneficial to your relationship. At that time of night, a happily spoken for man should want to go home and snuggle with his wonderful fiancé. Especially after a few too many drinks. If you still haven’t heard from him and can likely rule out that he’s lying dead in an alley somewhere — he’s either really drunk and lost track of time (if this happens once, fine, if it’s a repeated event, not so fine) OR he’s cheating on you. Either way, it’s a crappy situation to be in and you certainly don’t want to marry into a crappy situation.
2. The “Others.”
He regularly receives phone calls and text messages from ex-girlfriends and mysterious other phone numbers belonging to unknown females. He claims that they are all “just friends” and gets annoyed when you question why he feels the need for additional female companionship other than yours. When push comes to shove, he argues that these “friendships” are extremely important to him and that he values staying in touch with former girlfriends. He asks that you trust him, which you try to do at first despite it not feeling right. Then at least one ex-girlfriend of his starts calling regularly and at odd hours. You soon learn that this person has broken up with her fiancé and the only person not surprised is you. She leans on your fiancé to get her through this unhappy time. Meanwhile your fiancé continues to get text messages and phone calls from new women that he met at his lunch hour during the workday. Or on the bus to work. Or at a jewelry store (where he was shopping for you, of course). He has explained to these women that he’s engaged, so he thinks you’re crazy for being jealous. You have the overwhelming urge to check his email and read his text messages, but he’s constantly changing the password and never leaves his electronic devices open for reading.
3. He wants to change you.
Whether that’s encouraging you to wear more make up, higher heels, shorter skirts, tighter jeans, going to the gym more or directing your career — you already see controlling behavior which will only get worse with time. If he can’t be satisfied with how you are now, when you’re young, healthy and gorgeous — don’t bet that it will get easier to satisfy him when you’re older, have real stresses together such as a mortgage, kids and job issues to deal with.
4. Family feuds.
His family drives you insane but he doesn’t understand why. His mother is constantly criticizing your choices as a couple. She has an opinion about everything and likes to share it constantly. His father has a temper and this often arises at ordinary family events, making it extremely uncomfortable for all involved. It’s one thing if you and your fiancé are on the same page about his intense mother, his lunatic father. It’s another if it’s you vs. THEM. Family always wins. You’re screwed. If they live around the corner, you’re screwed even more. You marry the family when you marry the guy. Make sure the family is marriage material as well.
5. The basics.
You haven’t had the important discussions about whether you and your fiancé want kids, what your religious beliefs are, your financial situation and your short / long term goals. Is your fiancé dreaming of moving to the other side of the country one day? Is he insistent on living abroad at some point? Perhaps you have had these discussions but don’t agree on a view? Hash these points out now — they only become trickier later on. Also, the way that you resolve differences is just as important as what you’re debating. Do you scream and cry until you get your way? Does he? Do all fights leave you feeling bitter, hurt and hopeless? If you’re crying on a regular basis, I’d say that’s a strong sign of a future, torturous marriage. Especially since the engagement is supposed to be the happy, hopeful time.
6. Red flag behaviors.
Your significant other has a pretty bad “hobby” which has not been addressed. Maybe he gambles like crazy. Perhaps it’s blacking out regularly after a night of drinking. He or she might be into drugs. Or they have no concept of money and don’t have any intention of trying to save for the long term. How does your significant other treat people — like the staff at a restaurant? Or his secretary at work? Or the cashier at the grocery store? Is he rude and condescending? Red flag behavior could include something as seemingly harmless as an obsession with watching sports. Which might be great if you are enthusiastic about spending 20 hours a week in front of a television screaming for a team you never even knew existed. Just remember, a small issue becomes a massive hurricane of pain once you marry it.
7. When love is not blind or deaf.
If you are irritated now about his bad breath, snoring, knuckle cracking, the way he answers the phone, the way he chews his food, the hair that comes out of his nose, his loud chuckle, the way he holds a fork or is always on his iPhone, time will only make these things worse. They say that love is blind, but if you find yourself pulling your hair out during your “honeymoon phase,” it’s time to reevaluate the relationship. What you find charming at age 25 may change drastically by the time you’re 35, 55, or 75. Nobody’s perfect, but make sure your significant other’s flaws are ones you can ultimately embrace.
8. Immature or uninterested?
He’d rather play XBOX, Candy Crush or watch college football than have an actual conversation with you about anything. He is annoyed when you try to talk to him about any plans that take him away from these activities. Your last dinner date out consisted of him texting friends, completing 5 different Words with Friends challenges and looking up his fantasy college football scores on his ESPN application. If he’s not interested in speaking to you now, it’s not going to improve with age.
9. Radio silence.
Your family and friends have little to say about your significant other. And they are opinionated people. They don’t seem overly enthusiastic about spending time with both of you together. Or maybe they are more vocal about their opinions and you already know they are not fans. If you seem to be getting repeatedly consistent, negative feedback on your fiancé, consider the reviews. Unless you plan on ditching your family and friends after getting married.
10. Once a cheater…
He’s cheated on you once and you’ve forgiven him. He said it was because he “got scared,” or he was “really drunk and it didn’t mean anything” or he “wasn’t serious” about the relationship at that point. Don’t buy it. People in love don’t cheat on their significant others. If he’s done it once, it’s very likely there will be a repeat performance only the next time you may be legally bound to this person.
11. Watch his treatment of others.
My ex-fiancé argued with his mother constantly despite the fact that she lives in a different time zone on the other side of the country. The two of them could bicker over nonsensical things like politics, religion and the smell of oxygen for hours. He barely spoke to his sister and when he did, she wanted little to do with him. A few months after getting a dog, he decided it was too much responsibility and gave it away to his parents. He couldn’t have been more charming, however, to the tall, skinny, large breasted waitress that served us dinner one night or the supermodel on the subway he offered to help carry a suitcase up the stairs for. While I was neither relative, supermodel, or dog, I suspected that in the long term, I’d be the one arguing with him and ultimately cast aside once he lost interest.
12. The non-committal type.
Things couldn’t be better now, but at some point, he needed a break (or two) from the relationship. He said it was because his “feelings were too intense” and he needed time to sort them out. Or he was busy at work. Or his family member was sick. Or he had a lot of stuff going on and it wasn’t fair to ask you not to date others. You find out that while he was on this break, he had no problem seeing (aka sleeping) with other women. Don’t trust this person. What will prevent him from needing another break when you’re married? Or have kids? Or what if he agrees to being back in the relationship, even engaged to you, but will not actually talk about getting married? You could end up engaged or living together for years. Years that could be spent with someone who wants the same things that you do. Cut the cord. You’re better than that.
If any of the above scenarios sound remotely familiar, think twice, or 20 times. Listen to that little voice in your head that already feels that something isn’t right. Far worse than calling up your family and friends and telling them that the wedding is off is hiring a divorce attorney and figuring out alimony payments and custody arrangements for your future children. Do your research. The best divorce is the one that’s avoided.