What You Don't Know About Your Partner Can Hurt You
There are often discussions during which people bring up other people’s sexual histories and past relationships, usually as a way to measure others’ worth or values as potential partners. Many of these discussions are usually centered around women’s past behaviors, choices, and whether or not their engagement in certain sexual activities or types of relationships make them “quality women” or “marriage material”. I don’t often find that men are raked over the coals as much, so-to-speak, and do recognize that the bias is against women; we’re expected to be pristine objects for the choosing of men who finally decide they’re done playing around and want to “settle down”.
Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes via Flickr
There are several layers to why this is problematic, though I won’t address all of them. First, these discussions are almost always heteronormative and erase the sexual and relationship experiences of women and men who are not interested in opposite-sex relationships of intimate or sexual natures. While I’ve not been privy to a whole lot of relationship discussions among lesbians, I have had discussions in which some speak of how heteronormative expectations exist in some lesbian relationship dynamics too. Women, it seems, are subject to being assessed and assigned value based on their past dalliances, affairs, and long-term commitments, regardless of sexual orientation.
Ignorance is not bliss, so another reason these types of discussions are harmful is because they almost silence women into not feeling open about sharing their own past experiences and learning more about potential partners. We need to have these types of conversations because they could mean the difference between life and death, and that is no exaggeration. The so-called “body count” or the number of persons one has had sexual engagement with is not particularly important. Because of stigma, however, women often avoid those conversations and any related topics. Because of fear, we tend to shy away from these very important conversations that could—and should—provide us with more information to make the best choices going forward.
What’s missing from these discussions is the information that is quite important. Here are a few areas of your partner’s past that you should take into consideration before taking next steps.
No one is perfect, right? Quite a few of us have had run-ins with the law or at least have done things that we knew were illegal. Some maybe have spent a few nights in jail, while some have only had to pay a small fine. Others have done significant time for crimes that can have an impact on where your relationship is headed. I believe in recovery and that people can change over time. I don’t believe in penalizing people further if they have done their time and paid their penances.
However, the nature of the crime and the person’s experience inside of prison are important factors. If the person committed a crime that totally goes against everything you believe in and you find that you’re uncomfortable even sitting in the same room with the person, you might want to walk away. There is no point in moving forward with someone around whom you don’t feel safe, but how will you know the person’s history?
Image: miss_millions via Flickr
Ever considered searching someone’s criminal history? There are two side to this, of course. On one hand, a person might feel that you’re digging too deep into his/her personal life and that you should only be privy to what s/he tells you. On the other hand, people have been known to keep secrets and those secrets have cost others their lives or jeopardized their health and wellbeing and that of their children. If you have a child, you want to know if someone is a registered sex offender or has harmed children in the past. You want to know if someone has been arrested for domestic assault or did time for some type of financial fraud or identity theft. It’s crazy that this is the world we live in, but this is very much what we have to consider.
The other thing to consider if how the time was spent. Was the person focused on recovering and becoming a better person? Did s/he capitalize on whatever opportunities were afforded him/her while incarcerated? What has s/he done with his/her life and time since release? These might give you indications as to whether or not the person will be a repeat offender or if it was a one-time lapse in judgment.
Your best bet is to ask outright and early on, “Do you have any criminal history I should be aware of? Have you ever been incarcerated or had any run-ins with the police?” At least you’re putting it out there and you can only hope for an honest response.
I think it is important to get a sense of a person’s medical history, particularly around sexual health. You don’t have to ask specific questions about the number of people, but it is helpful to know if the person ever had any STDs or has engaged in risky sexual activity. I recommend testing prior to having sex, as a rule, but it is still helpful to know if and how a person has handled these kinds of matters in the past. It will give you a sense of one’s approach to sexual health and you can judge if it is in line with your own.
Image: Dylan Cantwell via Flickr
Other conversations about medical issues can be important because what if something happens while you’re out together and you don’t know what to expect or how to help? Allergies, neurological issues, and other things can strike at any time. Again, these are things people will likely disclose on their own time, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, tactfully, at some point early on.
Other matters like diet and exercise are important, too, if you’re looking to make this person part of your regular life. People who are aligned in these ways tend to have more influence on each other that can strengthen a bond. When mismatched, it can be harmful for one person more so than the other. For example, someone who is a raw vegan and exercises 6x a week might not have as much relationship success with someone who all about meat and processed foods and is adamantly against any type of physical exercise. The negativity can flow both ways and possibly become abusive. It isn’t impossible to get along; it is just helpful to know what you’re getting into beforehand.
This is not about being a so-called “Gold digger”. I’ve noticed that women are often chastised for being interested in the financial status and background of a potential partner. This is an interesting turn because a few decades ago, men made a big deal out of showing off how well they could provide for a wife and family. Now, when (man-seeking) women are interested in a man’s financial stability, credit history, and income-to-debt ratio, they’re demonized as being gold diggers.
Image: MoneyBlogNewz via Flickr
These are important factors that, if ignored, can cause serious financial ruin for us. Before getting into any relationship, and committing to unite assets, you should take special care to find out your partner’s financial history. Are there bankruptcies? High credit card debts? Defaulted student loans? Any liens being levied against the person you want to move in with? Any car repossessions? This kind of conversation can give you a better sense not only of your partner’s money management skills, but also of how willing s/he is to be open to discuss these key issues that affect relationships.
Don’t be afraid to ask these questions and bring these topics up. You have every right to dig into someone’s past to protect your present and future. I am not an advocate of being sneaky, so I encourage initiating the conversation. You do have a lot of information readily available with a few clicks and searches, but that should be a last resort. Remember to always trust your gut and own your past (mistakes, indiscretions, and total screw ups). It’s all about having a safe relationship going forward. Remember that.