If it wasn't immediately obvious, I'm a deeply analytical person. I analyze myself, others, situations. I largely live inside my head, and I think about things way more than I should.
Like my relationship — or, rather, all relationships.
My husband and I went through a pretty rough patch this year (more on that soon), and it's starting to feel like our heads are finally above water, gasping for air. I can see land. And in the midst of the most tumultuous period, I started to wonder if I asked myself the right questions as a young girl, dating. I always had an eye on the future — even when I was ridiculously too young to be having those kinds of thoughts. I looked at his future "what I wanna be when I grow up" dreams, and then his college major, for answers of financial security. I needed to know how he'd treat me when times got rough — how he spoke to me and spoke to others. I looked at his friendships (which was good), at his actions (also good), and at his past relationships. But the further I fell into love, the less time I spent analyzing and the more time I spent making excuses. The more time I spent being oblivious to giant, flapping red flags.
But now that I am a parent — specifically a parent to a little boy — there are some big questions that I never imagined to ask myself when analyzing a man's long-term relationship potential — especially not in the context of parenting. So as a companion to the Questions to Ask Before Getting Married (while pregnant), this takes one step backwards: questions that you might not think about before having kids. Not as deal-breakers, but to maybe understand this person's character — and your future life together — a little better than knowing what his major is:
1. What kind of relationship does he have with his mother? His father?
This is such a major, giant indicator of the expectations he might have for your family and for your children. If he treats his parents crappy, and your kids see this, then doesn't it condone that behavior? And maybe indicate how your son will treat you when you're older? And a peek inside of the father-son relationship — including all father figures in his childhood — is a pretty fair indicator of how he might relate to your son, and about what kind of models he's using to define "manhood." I know that I, personally, didn't realize how much this actually matters in terms of parenting. Yes I have a say in how my son is shaped, but there's a good chance that he'll largely learn what it means to be a man from watching and listening to the man in the family. And if there's some big looming issues with one or both parents — whether it was an absent parent, a neglectful parent, or some kind of major childhood trauma — that might be something to talk through and recognize before you actually have kids.
2. How was he raised?
So many of us have crappy childhoods, so it's probably not fair to judge someone on this. But in all fairness, the way we were raised is what defines our "normal." When all else fails — when life gets overwhelming or maybe just when kids enter the picture — this is our default setting. Pay close attention.
3. How does his family interact?
Are they talkers? Are they exploders? Are they passive-aggressive hold-it-all-in-ers? And does that mesh with the way that your family communicates? Again: default setting.
4. What kind of music does he listen to?
This sounds silly, right? But think about it. This is the music that your child will grow up listening to, providing a comforting soundtrack to his childhood. This is the very first music that your child will be exposed to — what he'll listen to in the car, bop around the house to. And doesn't a person's musical taste say a lot about their personality? Do I think you should avoid getting married to someone who only listens to that screamer music that makes your ears pool with blood? Of course not (she says while shaking her head yes). But it's something you might not think about in the context of raising kids.
I, personally, am grateful that my husband has such a unique and diverse taste in music, but I've seen it become a minor yet annoying issue in other relationships — and it's really exasperated when kids come into the picture. But if music isn't really your thing, then eh. Next.
5. Is there anything about him you assume will change? That you expect will change?
Because you should stop expecting anything to change. There's a good chance that habits might get worse before they go away — if they ever do. The sooner you understand and accept that you only have control over yourself — that it's impossible to change someone — the closer you are to an adult relationship.
6. What's his credit score?
This is another one that sounds trivial, but it's actually a tremendously accurate snapshot of who they are — their decision-making skills, their lifestyle, and their self-discipline. If a huge bank doesn't trust them with their money, should you? Something to think about.
7. If you were to have a baby boy, would you want him to be a carbon copy of this man?
Would you be proud of your son if he turned out exactly like your boyfriend? If your answer is an immediate and overwhelming "no," allow me to wave a red flag.
All being said, I think it's important to realize that marriage and love are far too complex to hold up to simple litmus tests. Even if he has a terrible credit score, an intolerable bad habit, and a distant relationship with his mother, that doesn't mean you can't build a happy life together. It might be a little rockier, a little more difficult to co-parent at times — but marriage is never easy, even for partners who look great on paper. Commitment and perseverance are far more important than a checklist. (And remember, a checklist can be made about you, too.) Still, if you have the luxury of thinking these things through before leaping into a cozy family of four, then pay attention to the details. If nothing else, at least be prepared to deal with them.
Of course these aren't the only grown-up dating questions to think about before settling down and having kids. What are some dating questions that you didn't think to ask way back when?