Collecting References for Dating

Crystal Jackson

If you’ve ever left a relationship and then watched your ex waltz off into the sunset with someone else, you’ve probably stood there, shaking your head and feeling pretty sorry for the fool waltzing off with him. I know I can’t be the only one! In fact, it’s tempting to call out a warning, except we realize that no one will ever believe what we have to say in that situation.

That’s the problem with our society. We’ve made ourselves into competitors instead of collaborators, looking at the other person as the enemy rather than a resource.

I wish I could rewind the clock and ask for references from my exes. I would have loved to have been tipped off that one of them was a constant complainer, another a total spendthrift with no problem dipping into a partner’s funds to do it, and yet another was likely sleeping with his roommate and didn’t have a good handle on fidelity. It would have saved me a lot of trouble if any of their exes had reached out with a few helpful hints.

I think the problem is that we view everyone as spiteful. We think they’re just getting back at their ex or trying to break up the relationship to get back together with them rather than seeing them as someone who is genuinely trying to use their prior knowledge and experience to save us some heartache. We’re so damn suspicious that we miss the opportunity to ask some real questions.

Why can’t we just ask for references?

I’ve suggested obtaining a resume for intimacy as well. I maintain that it’s not the worst idea. A dating deposit, in case our time is wasted, would be even better- albeit incredibly unrealistic.

But why can’t we collect references from a few exes to see just what we might be getting into? If you’re thinking that’s a little crazy, maybe you’re right, though in our oversharing social media culture it’s not much of a stretch.

Since I’m told it’s rude to ask for references from our dates, we may have to be a little sneakier. By sneaky, of course, I mean really direct. That’s sneaky in this modern age of game-playing.

We need to ask some hard questions about why the other relationships didn’t work out, and we need to listen to the answers with our ears open to what’s being said and not to what we want to hear.

It’s not just former romantic relationships that need our attention.

We need to be figuring out how the people we date interact with others. How do they talk about friends, colleagues, and family members? I can tell you that there are a lot of red flags hidden there. This is not to say that some people don’t have messed-up, dysfunctional families or toxic workplaces, but sometimes the way people relate to others tells us a lot about their worldview.

It’s not just people relationships either.

How do they treat their pets? What is their relationship with money? What’s their work ethic like? Sometimes we’re asking all the basic, boring questions and not digging deeper to see what this person is really all about.

Now, I’m not saying be rude, intrusive, and overly personal. No one is required, or expected, to show us a bank statement (though one clear of overdraft fees and bounced checks would be nice), but we do need to pay attention to what is being said to determine basic attitudes that could make this person a good or not-so-good match for us.

I don’t expect our dating partners to be perfect.

God knows I’m far from perfect myself! But I do think it would be easier if we could just get references and have a dating shortcut. It would be nice to know that someone has been a chronic cheater or lives so far outside their means that they are deep in debt and unlikely to climb out of it.

It would be nice to know that some people are jealous or controlling or have an unresolved issue with addiction. It’d be nice to have a heads up about some flaws so that, even if we continue on with the relationship, we’re not doing it completely in the dark.

If we know about it, we can deal with it.

Either with our own feelings or by addressing it head-on with the other person. We can prepare ourselves for some of the pitfalls. Or even get out of it altogether. We would at least know and be able to make an informed decision.

But since we can’t get dating references and conducting an interrogation is frowned upon, there is one other alternative. Of course, it’s so crazy I can’t even believe I’m suggesting it. It’s truly an outside-of-the-box method to approach dating hazards. Just bear with me.

I’m going to just put it out there and then walk away from it quickly like it’s a ticking time bomb.

We can be honest with each other.

There. I said it!

We can be the ones being honest.

We can be the ones who give the person we’re dating the heads up about our little quirks and flaws without actively hiding them. We can be honest about the mistakes we’ve made and the areas of life that we’re not great at managing. We can be very direct about who we are and what we’re looking for without trying to tell the other person what we think they want to hear.

I know, I know. It’s crazy, right?

But just think of the time it would save if we treated other people the way we wish they would treat us!

Well, if that’s out of the question, I guess we better collect those references after all.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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