When I was growing up in the small town of Fort Myers, Florida, where my family has lived since the 1920s, meeting someone new always involved finding out their parents’ names, which street they lived on, and other details my mom and dad believed were pertinent in deciding whether or not I would be permitted to associate with this person. If my new acquaintance had recently moved to town, it didn’t take long for the “coconut telegraph” (as Jimmy Buffett calls small town gossip patterns) to learn why the family moved to town, where the parents worked, and whether they would be a good fit for our circle of friends. Having numerous resources close at hand, including those of the Lee County Sheriff, who was a close family friend, meant I never had to worry about being friends with someone who would create a problem for my family and me. I never had a female or male friend who was not vetted by my parents until I moved from home to attend college. Even then, however, I preferred to associate with other people from Fort Myers, whom I already knew, than anyone else. I never dated anyone who was not from Fort Myers until after graduate school, when I moved to Jacksonville and lived alone. It was then that I realized how valuable my parents’ background checks on my potential friends had been and the extent to which their diligence had insulated me from rapists, murderers, and other weirdos who might want to harm me. I became similar to my parents (and this was during a time when computer based background searches were non existent for the general public) in finding out everything I could about men I dated. I became my own background check operation: I asked lots of questions; I insisted on meeting the family of my dates sooner, rather than later; and I did everything I could to ensure I would not be victimized. I soon found out that meeting my boyfriends’ families was a great way to learn lots of important information that otherwise would not have come to light. I must have become adept at this skill: David and his family passed my tests and we have been married for decades!
I am from the (relatively) big city of Jacksonville. Compared to Ft. Myers in the 60s and 70s, it might as well have been New York! I never had background information on my friends, other than those in a close circle around our family’s church. My junior high and high school was one that attracted students from throughout Duval County. This meant I had friends from miles away, and far from a circle of any familiarity. So, not having background checks on friends was my norm. But, upon meeting Melissa, I learned it was clearly important to her to meet my family to check out the situation, even though we were in our 20s, and had some mutual friends and contacts. I don’t know if it was the Sunday night pizza, or the fried chicken often brought home from Beach Road Chicken that did the trick, but clearly, something worked! I suppose it is even more necessary today to do background checks and at the same time it is much easier today to do so.