Here’s an unusual factoid about me: I’ve never had a boyfriend. Yes, you heard me right, 5th-grade girls from summer camp. It IS possible to pass the age of 18 without hunting boys for sport. Promise.
But though I may not have much experience in the area of romantic relationships, it doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about them. Sometimes a 3rd-party perspective is the most credible, and I certainly have a degree of objectivity. So I’d like to share some things I’ve learned about relationships…from the process of buying a car.
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What do a car and a potential marriage partner have in common, you ask? One is a high-tech metal machine that takes you places, while the other is a human being, full of opinions and dreams, with whom you will spend the rest of your life learning to meld. But both cars and lifelong relationships are huge decisions. And most involved decision-making processes have things in common. So as I was learning about transmission fluid and PSI, the writer in me was noticing things that could be cross-applied.
So here are the results:
Though I’d saved enough money to buy a car long before this year, I decided not to start shopping until I knew I had the income to support it (insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.). Now I’m glad I did–because once I put my hands on Baby’s wheel, I was so dazzled that it would have been hard to let go, even if I’d been financially unready for her. You kind of have to stay away from Craigslist entirely until you’re ready for the possibility that you might buy a car. I think the same goes for dating and marriage. Yes, my dear 11-year-olds–I’m talking to you. Not in the market to buy, don’t start shopping.
From the adult friend who coached me on used-car salesmanship techniques to my cousin who listened for rattles in the engine to the fellow Corolla driver who proudly declared that the trunk was large enough to fit 2 bodies…I got lots of advice before making my decision. Almost everyone over 16 has a story about buying, or at least driving, a car. No one person has all the answers, but by talking to lots of people, I got a big picture of some do’s and don’ts. Most helpful of all was the advice of my mechanic, a man who has made car health his profession for decades. When I got the go-ahead from him, I knew I could rest easy about buying this car. Similarly, when considering the possibility of a relationship, it seems sound to get all the input and advice you can, especially from those who are experienced judges of character.
One of the people I asked for advice told me, “When you buy a used car, you’re buying somebody else’s problems.” Since I didn’t want to end up stranded on a highway somewhere, from the moment I saw Baby, I started to look for what those problems might be. Sure, it made me feel like a cynic as I cranked all the knobs, pushed all the buttons, and made sudden sharp turns, but I didn’t want to rush into a purchase only to regret it later. Baby (even I will admit) isn’t perfect, but her flaws are mostly minor and cosmetic. I can live with those things, knowing I can rely on her to take me places reliably and safely. Likewise, evaluating a potential mate thoroughly at first can help prevent breakdowns on the highway later.
Since Baby used to be a rental car, the company let me rent her for the weekend to do an “extended test drive.” Lesson learned: extended test drives are really, really good. I had time to discover Baby’s strengths and weaknesses, imagine myself driving her everywhere, and sleep on the decision before entering negotiations. I loved not being rushed or put on the spot. And I’ve had almost no buyers’ remorse. If taking time to make a wise decision is so important for a car that will last 8-10 years, how much more important is it for a marriage that will last a lifetime!
People told me to expect to drive 10-12 used cars before finding “the one,” and to be ready to walk away if a car wasn’t right. I was ready to walk away. I honestly didn’t expect to find the ideal car the first time I called about a Craigslist ad. But all my prerequisites were in place: I was in a position to buy, I had lots of advice, and thanks to the extended test drive, I had a pretty good idea of what flaws I was facing. So when the first car that zipped into my life turned out to be perfect for me, I was ready to make an offer. It felt weird that I hadn’t experienced more options, but I know I would have been crazy to turn Baby down. Maybe it’s not necessarily about how many people you date, but about being ready when the right one comes along.