Ask Dr. Tracy

"Qualifying" Someone

It's all too easy to fall for a cute face or a sexy body and wind up with a time-waster, or in crazy love, or even in a bad marriage. And if "The Pitfalls of Cyberlove" have clouded your judgement before you even meet the other person, you're in even more danger.

While I've given you a whole Rogue's Gallery of types to stay away from in "Men To Avoid" and "Women To Avoid", and I've provided you with some important guidelines in "Spotting The Crazies", you need a final line of defense to protect you from a disastrous relationship.

Here it is. A step-by-step process which works even if your hormones are raging and your brain is addled by those tight pants or deep cleavage. If you REALLY want a fulfilling, happy relationship, use the following steps to qualify each new person you meet, with no exceptions, and don't stop until you have all the answers.

First, Is Someone Commitment-minded?

Even if a person seems to meet all your criteria and they appear to be someone you could take home to meet your family, you're still wasting your time if they're not ready for a commitment, whatever the reason is. Some people go around with a bumper sticker saying, "Happiness Is Being Single" -- and they really mean it. You need to know ASAP if someone is commitment-minded or determinedly single.

Apart from the bumper sticker crowd, commitment-mindedness is a tricky subject to broach. The amazing thing is that people are more likely to give a candid answer to a casual acquaintance than to someone they're starting to date. You just have to ask while you're still a casual acquaintance.

Here's how it works. You run into Studly Tom or Sexy Suzanne at the coffee machine and say, "Oh, hi. How was your commute this morning? Did you get around that jam-up on the Lakeside Interchange?" Then sip your coffee, smile, and say "You should see how all the girls/(guys) look at you. I bet you're really enjoying the single life..."

Their immediate response will be telling. A player will simply enjoy this idle flattery. Someone who'd like to be through with playing, on the other hand, may be flattered but will also look vaguely uncomfortable, as if the shoe doesn't quite fit, and may even tell you, "Actually, it gets a little old." Either way, you've got your answer. Of course, if they just glare at you and walk off, that's an answer, too -- they're not interested in you, and it doesn't matter how they feel about relationships.

Your first casual conversation is the best timing. If you delay, the opportunity for surprise and candor is irretrievably lost. Anytime after the other person has shown overt interest in you or vice versa -- even before your first date -- the subject of relationships suddenly becomes heavy. From then on, there's no way to make your question sound casual, and their responses will be at best guarded, and at worst calculated to be the "right" answer. Trust me. Try this my way.

But if you miss your chance in the first casual conversation, don't fail to ask about the person's goals and plans on your very first date. It may feel a little pushy, but do it. It's an appropriate, normal question. Their answer will hopefully be consistent with wanting a long-term relationship, such as, "I'm working on my MBA and saving for a house down payment." On the other hand, if they tell you they're saving up to sail their own boat around the world, or taking acting lessons and want to be a movie star, their dazzling smile should suddenly change in your eyes to a big, flashing red light.

Also, be sure to chat about mutual interests and background. What you're looking for is to learn whether someone's had long-term relationships in the past and whether or not they're close to their family -- both are indicators of someone's general inclination toward longterm commitments. It's easy. Just start with a little self-disclosure: "I don't get to see my family as much as I'd like -- didn't you say your folks live in Chicago? Do you get to see them much?" What they answer will give you some early clues about how they value family relationships.

The Checklist

Even if a new person passes the Commitment-Mindedness checks and you feel intensely attracted, keep your head. Never go out with someone blindly and assume they're perfect until events prove otherwise. Enjoy being with them, but keep gathering information. If you're headed toward a committed relationship with someone, you'll need to have answers to all of the following questions.

  1. Are they honest? When you're with them, notice whether or not they lie to other people. (If so, odds are they'll lie to you.)

  2. Are they responsible? Do they take good care of their plants, pets, and children if any?

  3. Do they show up when they say they will, or call if they're running late? Could you count on them to be there if you needed them?

  4. Do they have lots of old friends? What do the friends say about him or her?

  5. Are they on speaking terms with ex-lovers and/or ex-spouses?

  6. Are they on loving terms with their parents and siblings?

  7. Do they seem financially stable, or are they wildly extravagant, or always scrambling to pay their bills, or into gambling?

  8. Do they take good care of their health, or do they drink too much or need drugs all the time?

  9. Do they get along with your friends?

  10. Do they appreciate you? Do they express their feelings to you? Are they willing to spend a lot of time with you?

  11. Do you feel secure about them in the relationship, or do you worry a lot about them straying?

  12. Do you feel happy and safe when you're just hanging out together, or are there a lot of awkward moments, or have you ever felt physically threatened?

  13. Do they show clear signs of being capable of sharing?

  14. Would you consider spending the rest of your life with them?

  15. Are they okay just the way they are, or are you going to have to make a lot of "improvements"?


The idea of the checklist is to find these things out BEFORE you're madly in love, so that if the answers are turning up negative, you can get out without a broken heart.

So speed up the process by arranging little tests. Lend him or her a book and see if it's returned without you having to ask. Ask him/her to feed your goldfish or water your plants while you're away and see if everything's alive or dead when you get home. Make dates far into the future and don't call to remind him or her when the time comes. See if he or she remembers.

Call on them if you need help with something, and see if they volunteer to help or tell you they're busy or it's your problem. You can quickly find whether you can depend on them or not.

If their immediately-prior ex lives in the same city or area, you may get a chance to meet the person at a social or community event. Don't miss the opportunity, and don't be bashful. Introduce yourself and say something like, "Hi, I'm Norm NewGuy (or Norma Next), and I know you were together with Perfect Patty (or Tom Terrific) for quite a while. I'm starting to get pretty involved with her (him) and I wondered if you had any words of wisdom or warning for me..." They may not want to talk, or you may not believe much of what they tell you, but whatever happens, you'll learn something.

Pass on anyone you can't trust or about whom you hear horrible stories from more than one source. Don't waste time with someone with whom you wouldn't want to share a checkbook or a credit card. Forget about anyone who is abusive, cold, critical, uncommunicative or unkind. Just get out, quickly and efficiently. (See "Ending It.")

I don't want you to waste a year of your life dating someone and then find out that they're crazy or married or a flake or a drug addict or under indictment.

Dealing With A Mystery Man Or Woman

Let's be clear about something that should be common sense. Unless you're making a fool of yourself chasing someone who doesn't care about you, the feelings in your deepening relationship should be mutual. The person you're falling in love with should be "inviting you into their life," and should be totally forthcoming about themselves.

This means it should NOT be tricky or difficult to find the answers to the 15 Checklist questions in a normally-developing relationship. But what if the object of your affection seems loving and attentive and nice, but just won't tell you anything about themself and their past, or what they tell you floats in a vacuum -- no corroborating evidence anywhere. "Oh, my folks died years ago. No, no brothers or sisters. My ex? Oh, she's crazy. I never talk to her." And so on.

If you're in such a situation (and I've had many clients who were), you are not helpless. Stop plunging ahead blindly. Instead, plan a party to which you will each invite some of your oldest and closest friends. If he or she refuses to cooperate or claims he or she has no friends to invite, see "Your Last Recourse" below.

But let's assume he or she cooperates. Make sure the party's large enough so that it's sure to break up into several conversation groups. A barbecue, with people meandering in and out, is ideal. Make it a point to chat with a couple of his or her oldest friends, and ask about him or her. Assign a few of your closest friends do the same. Don't worry about being obvious; your interest in him or her will seem perfectly natural.

What you hear about your mystery person will either start to fill in their past and corroborate what little they've already told you, or it will conflict. If it doesn't jibe or his friends are vague and unspecific, it's time to go on red alert. Again, in this case, see "Your Last Recourse" below.

Your Last Recourse

If all your efforts to unveil your mystery person have come to nought, it's time to be deeply suspicious. At this point, self-preservation must displace romance. Put your plans on hold, take off your rose-colored glasses and recognize that you're down to 2 options: A. do some detective work online; and/or B. directly confront him or her.

If you choose option A, don't feel the slightest bit guilty about snooping. You were thinking of committing your life to this person; surely you deserve to know who he or she is. If he or she doesn't check out, you've saved yourself a world of misery and heartache; on the other hand, if he or she checks out okay, you still must find out why they weren't more forthcoming with you.

If you choose option B, you might want to confront him or her in the presence of a relationship counselor. Tell your partner you're uncomfortable, that you're in love with him or her but you don't want to get more involved with someone you know so little about. Offer to exchange information right then and there.

Someone with something to hide will rarely admit it. They are more likely to blow up, accuse you of "conducting an inquisition" or some similar remark designed to make you feel guilty and then stalk off. If they do, don't take them back.

The Final Checklist

By the time you become engaged to a someone, you should know at least the following hard facts about them:

  1. Full name and address
  2. Social security number
  3. Driver's license number
  4. Birthdate
  5. Place of birth
  6. College, if applicable
  7. Military service information, if applicable
  8. Pending lawsuits or contingent liabilities
  9. Credit problems or prior bankruptcies
  10. Convictions (excluding minor traffic violations)
  11. Blood type (for a medical emergency) and any major health problems (heart condition, post combat stress syndrome, HIV positive, etc.)
  12. Marital history

I'm always amazed at the number of people who get married without knowing many of these basic facts about their spouse. Many people, especially women, find some of these questions very awkward to ask, so blame them on me. Say I told you you couldn't get married without this information.

And remember, you're not demanding audited financial statements. Assuming your about-to-be-betrothed has demonstrated their honesty in little ways that you've noticed, and their friends speak highly of their integrity, you can simply take their word when they answer your questions.

The point is, if there's anything on the list you haven't already discussed, now's the time to ask. You're about to become life partners; if both of you aren't comfortable knowing everything about each other, you should definitely think twice.

Related Keywords: Qualifying Someone, Bad Prospects, Your Requirements, Commitment

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