Many years ago I heard a joke about marriage that was a bit shocking in its cynicism. It went something like this:
At the beginning of a marriage, sex happens anytime/anywhere: Halls, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom. After things cool down, it gets regularly scheduled in the bedroom, with an occasional foray into the kitchen and bathroom. Toward the end of the marriage, the sex becomes the "F**K YOU" you utter to each other as you pass them in the hall, bathroom, kitchen or bedroom.
Interesting concept, I was thinking about while getting my nursing paperwork in order last night. When I began to get ready to do travel assignments, I filled out a bazillion applications and reference sheets, then proceeded to notify the people I was to use for references that they MIGHT have a reference request coming their way. Oh, did they ever!! My undying gratitude to Fe, Kathy and Silvia, who probably needed a personal assistant to handle the influx of correspondence.
My point is, MY REFERENCES WERE CHECKED. And probably rechecked, cross-matched and fed into the FBI database to make sure I wasn't some nutcase, serial killing, drug-diverting loose cannon with a nursing license. These companies went the extra mile to make sure that I was the RIGHT person for the TEMPORARY job they wanted to fill. Such thoroughness stuck in my mind. Now, do we check this much when we make a permanent commitment in marriage?
We meet, we fall in love, we get to know each other, we make plans. But how much do we check? Other than observing behavior and relying on our friends and family to give an opinion, HOW MUCH DO YOU REALLY KNOW ABOUT YOUR FUTURE SPOUSE? Did you get a background check? Too cold and clinical for some. Do you trust your friends' opinions? Your parents' opinion. Their parents' opinion. Did you have lunch with his ex?
Probably none of the above. And you are about to make the ultimate commitment. The person you wish to (and expect to) spend the rest of your life with, share the raising of your children with, buy real estate with, hope to share good and bad experiences in sickness and in health. How do you know that this person, who probably looks good if you were to print their attributes on a resume, maybe looks too good to be real?
Marriage is hard work in itself. People grow and change, and sometimes in different directions. Many times it is difficult to reconcile personal growth and keep a union together. Change is a necessary, but unsettling agent. How an individual accepts and reacts to change is really important as a predictor of future behavior. How they deal with stress, money, family problems, responsibility, obnoxious noises and small animals. All tell-tale signs of the future to come.
So, back to the references issues, how much DO WE REALLY KNOW? Or is it a case of HOW MUCH DO WE REALLY WANT TO KNOW?
You can ask your friends' opinions. Maybe they are the type of people who don't have a lick of sense, or don't have your best interests in mind. Same for his friends. Parents are iffy, too. What if you have a sane parent who gives you a bad reference or a crazy parent that gives you a good reference? My vote is on the EX. If anyone can give you an unvarnished opinion, this is the person to do it. Good, bad or indifferent, this is a person who was in the trenches, and can give you the real insight into the big picture (or the small one). Remember what is at stake here. Plus, wouldn't you jump at the chance to sit before the ex in a public place and be forced to be civil to one another?
Do you want to marry Mr. or Ms. Perfect (no references checked) and then see them turn into boiling pots of crap when you differ on child care philosophy? Or worse, have to share custody with them? Do you want to hitch your wagon to Mr. I'm-nice-to-little-old-ladies-and-small-animals, when in private he treats you like you are subhuman chattel? Do you question other's motives when they tell you to RUN like hell in another direction from Ms. Perfect? Do you even bother to ask?
And let's not even touch the I CAN FIX IT situation. Fuggettaboutit! You can't fix it. What you don't mind now, will be the 800 pound gorilla later on. Again, how much do you check out? Do you really want to deal with someone with anger issues? A jealous spouse who tracks your every phone call, business or otherwise? Would you hire someone that has a problem keeping his pants on at work? Or has issues with authority and alienates, rather than unifies your work environment? Is it a judgement call? Yes. Now it's a matter of using good or bad judgement.
Hypothetically, we should find a life partner, plan a future and go from there. Nothing is that simple. But how many times have you heard, "yeah I saw it coming. The signs were there." When bad things happen, things become oh-so-clear. Maybe if we treat it like a job search, you might see things in black and white you might have missed otherwise.
Partnering is an ever-present tightrope walk on high heels. You work and compromise, and sometimes you overlook bad things, because in the end the sum is more than the total of the parts. But when the stuff you were indifferent to starts hitting you in the face again and again, when things are more mediocre than good, or when your answer to bad behavior is just ignoring it altogether, you're slipping into trouble. You can apply these principles both in the workplace and at home. And when you're leaning more toward "leave it" on the TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT scale, you know things are about to crash. Loud or silent, it's just a matter of time.
In any case, give my regards to your spouse as you pass them in the hall.
PS I LOVE YOU BUMBY!