Don't forget to ask for references

Here’s the most recent Sunday Times Column, also on an entirely unrelated note, a big congrats to all the Loerie winners this last weekend. Some amazing, inspiring work.

Hope you enjoy the column.

The beginning of a relationship is almost always good. The sun always shines, the birds always sing, even if it’s the middle of winter and the sun isn’t really shining, and the birds left months ago for somewhere warmer.
Point is, a relationship is always good, right up until it’s not anymore.
But you never know that in the beginning. That’s because nobody shows their flaws on the first date, or even on the second one. We’re all on our best behaviour, wearing our best clothes, and making sure we chew with our mouths closed. You have to wait a while before the truth outs itself. Hey, nobody can hold their stomach in forever, and at some point we all have to bleach our moustaches, or put on our comfy pants.
So I was thinking, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier and save us all an awful lot of time, trouble and heartache if each new partner you were considering getting into a relationship with, came with references?
It makes sense if you think about it. You would never consider hiring someone without checking their references first, would you? So surely the same should hold true for someone you’re newly dating.
It’s slightly less necessary if you’re considering getting into a relationship with someone you met through a mutual friend, at least then you have a point of reference. You both know some of the same people, or at the very least you travel in similar circles. But in this day and age, when we date online quite a bit and often go out with people we don’t know from Adam, the most you can do is a quick Facebook or Google stalk, and that doesn’t always tell the whole story.
So what I’m proposing is that if, when you start dating someone, things seem like they might be going somewhere, say around six to ten dates in, then you both get to make five calls to get references from your prospective partner’s more recent exes.
At first glance this plan may seem like it has a lot of flaws. For starters, it’s fair to assume that the average ex may have an axe to grind, and since hell hath no fury like a human scorned, there’s nothing stopping a bitter and twisted jilted ex from sprouting untruthful venom about your new one and only.
But think about it this way, you have the benefit of love on your side. Chances are you’ll be hearing these allegations through love-tinted glasses or at the very least, shag-tinted glasses, which might lead you to take the poison with a pinch of salt, or at least give your potential future soul mate the benefit of doubt.
But I’m afraid the benefit of the doubt can only get a person so far. If all five exes say your potential stud muffin has a penchant for leaving his wet towel on the bed, or wearing women’s underwear, or breaking up with people via text message, well then you should probably learn from their mistakes. And wouldn’t you rather find that out about him now via an experienced third party, rather than in six month’s time via text message?
And hey maybe what you learn doesn’t bother you, and dating someone who clips their toenails in bed, or clears their throat constantly isn’t a deal breaker for you, and is something you’re more than happy to live with, you’ll get no judgement here. After all it wouldn’t do if we were all the same, and bra and knicker-wearing remote-control hoggers don’t bother everyone.
And on the swing side of it all, while you’re off gathering your evidence from their exes, remember that your future potential partner will be off gathering theirs from yours. Hearing about how you never order desert for yourself and then eat theirs, or how you still suck your thumb, and take interpretative dance classes. So you’d better hope like hell that while his passion for anything Star Wars isn’t a deal breaker for you, that your kitten poster addiction isn’t a deal breaker for him.
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