In the Grown Zone, we constantly urge you to make access to your body (sex and powers of procreation), money (financial stability), home (personal safety) and heart (emotional security), the last things you give up to get a relationship or keep one going. Unfortunately, we are taught the opposite—to surrender one, more or all of these things to either prove our love, or to secure commitment from others. This “conventional wisdom” is the single biggest driver of unhealthy, adult-and-messy relationship choices. What we are telling you to do is to withhold access to these things until you absolutely know who you are dealing with—not just what they look like, what they have or what they can do, but who they are.

Newsflash: The point of dating people is to get to know who they are, to ascertain that they are safe for you—defined as ready, willing and able to engage in healthy relationships. The time to find out that he/she is no good/is a dog/ain’t sh-t is before you put your body, money, home and heart at risk. That way, if the relationship proves to be unhealthy—and the vast majority of relationships will—you can end it with a minimum of damage and long-term negative consequences. And remember, learning takes far more than just asking or assuming. Deceitful people will both outright lie as well as allow you to believe what best serves their agenda. The key to not being fuquitable—vulnerable to deceit and manipulation—is to not just trust, but to verify. What you don’t know can and will hurt you.

What do you need to know? Before you open your legs, your checkbook, your heart or your home to a relationship prospect, we’ve identified 13 things you must know about them. We’ll start with the first six:

Marital Status: We’re reminded of a joke one of our friends often tells. A handsome, impeccably dressed man meets an attractive woman while on an out-of-town business trip. When she inquires as to his marital status, he answers, with an inviting smile, “My wife and I are currently separated.” Not seeing a wedding band, she lets him buy her a few drinks and the night ends with passionate sex in his hotel suite. The next morning, she is dismayed when she wakes up to him on the phone with his wife. “I thought you two were separated?,” she asks. He replies, “We are, until tomorrow, when I get back from this business trip.” (For some reason, men find this joke funnier than women tend to.)

Is your romantic prospect married? Divorced? Separated? If the latter, is it court ordered or just by a mutual, but not legally binding, agreement? If separated, how and why? If divorced, how long did the marriage(s) last, and why did it end? What kind of contact do they have with their ex, and for what reasons?

If you are operating from a Grown agenda, anything but legally divorced is a deal breaker. If you can’t write them off completely, absolutely refuse to see them intimately (meaning never be alone with him or her, including private phone and online conversations) until you see the papers with your own eyes.

Relationship Status: Unfortunately, this is not the same as marital status. Too many people are married, but with years-long, ongoing extra marital relationships, often including co-habitation. People with two, three or more “on-and-off” or “open” relationships going at once will still describe themselves as single and unattached (even if one or more of their partners don’t know or accept it). Then there are the divorcees who can’t stand to live together, but remain on-call to one another for sex. A person’s true relationship status is a classic example of something you can only learn in time—as long as it takes—and with vigilant observation.

Sexual Lifestyle: Again, you would think this would be covered by relationship and/or marital status. But this goes beyond that, to values, habits, behaviors and beliefs about sex. Does monogamy and fidelity have the same meanings for them as for you? Does oral sex count as infidelity? Phone sex? Sexting? What about “down low” homosexual/bisexual activity? Does the person have a pornography habit? Does the person discount “meaningless” sex as an act of infidelity? (You know: “I was just screwing him/her/them. You’re the one I love.”) Does the person consider him- or herself faithful as long as protection is used during sex outside of the relationship? Do not  be fooled by the romantic notion that a person will automatically and permanently change their sexual habits, beliefs and lifestyle just for you and your love. The time to find out that he/she can’t say no to that one person is before you expose yourself sexually, financially and/or emotionally.

Sexual Health: What’s his or her HIV status? What other sexually transmitted diseases have they tested positive for? This one is simple: Get tested. Both of you. Together. If you both test negative, great. If one or both of you tests positive for one or more conditions—well, now you know, and are both free to either end the relationship, or proceed while taking precautions to protect yourselves and each other. Not ready for that? You’re not ready for access to each other’s body, money, heart or home.

Parental Status: Does he or she have kids? How many? How old are they? Under what circumstances were they born? What is the status of your prospective romantic partner’s relationship with the other parent(s)? What is the status of other parent(s) in relation to their children? Which kids live with whom and when? Is court-ordered visitation and child support in effect?

Living Situation: Where does he or she sleep? Who else do they live with, and under what terms? Who owns his or her living space? The time to find out that he still lives with his parents, her “roommate” is her ex (and their kids), or that “home” is a halfway house for recently released convicts, is before you share access to your body, money, heart or home.

Do not take their word for it. Trust only what you learn for yourself, by observation, or through reliable, unbiased sources. Until you know the answers to the above about a person, you do not know who they are. Do not become sexually intimate. Do not give or lend money, or take on joint financial obligations. Do not invite them to your home, nor accept invitations to theirs (or to any place where you are alone with them). If you want someone to love you for who you are, stop offering sex, money and possessions. Offer them who you are, seek to learn only that from others.

How long should you wait? Forget artificial timetables such as the “90-day rule.” Just remember this: The right person is worth the wait; the wrong person is never worth the risk. Take as long as necessary to learn the absolute truth about a person, in order to make healthy, self-loving decisions about his or her place in your life—or until you get tired of waiting. If you don’t have absolute clarity by then, a relationship is not worth the risk. Bypass anyone who resents or resists your efforts to learn what you need to know to protect yourself. There is a world of interesting people worth getting to know. At least one of them will be qualified for loving in the Grown Zone.

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