Here's how to separate the wheat from the chaff, people-wise. Administer a cruise in a small (or even a largish) sailboat. This is a test whose outcome cannot be faked.
You won't find this advice in Cosmo. There, you may be told that living together is a good test of compatibility. Or, perhaps the conventional wisdom will call for an astrological analysis to foretell the future of an impending marriage. Or a palm reader. Well, that's all bunk. If you want to know if he loves you so, and if he'll be the mate you want for life's extended passage, go for a sail together.
Amiable, curious, willing, adaptable, industrious, courteous folks, who can cook and who do not get seasick: that's what you want.
Churlish, timid loners, who are easily incommoded, don't cook but like to eat, and profess to be indisposed when cooking and cleaning are required: avoid these.
You might think it would be easy, in the ordinary course of life ashore, to distinguish between the two, and who in his right mind would elect to pass time, never mind a lifetime, with the latter? In fact, the rejects have over time become virtuosos of deception and disguise. In search of a good shipmate, or life mate for that matter, one may be tripped up by the well-groomed appearance and the ready smile. Often these will be added to the facile tongue, ever ready with a story or a gibe. Delighted to be asked, they say, when you make the invitation. So sorry to have to go with all this straightening up left to be done, they say, at the end. By the way, can you just pop these few things in with the laundry when you get home, then mail them on to me? I'll make it up to you another time. Sure, they will.
That sort of effortless, heedless affability may go a long way on dry land. People get married on less. But there are mysteries worth decoding as you separate the keepers from the rest.
And, even the desirable shipmates can fool you. Often, they keep their own quiet counsel. They are deferential, often to a fault. They fly under the radar. But get to know them, and they're stalwarts.
Getting to know someone on a small sailboat takes no time at all. A weekend's cruise, even a day's sail in blustery conditions, will reveal most of what you need to know. Heck, a half hour trying to anchor or dock a yacht in a busy harbor will tell you all you need to know.
To wit, a few years ago in Vineyard Haven, a fancy motor yacht pulled up to a marina dock. The husband was the captain, the wife the crew. From the bridge, he shouted instructions. She returned questions. At last, he'd had it. He left the bridge of the big cruiser and stalked forward to the bow, where his wife held a rope's end. Her face was a question mark. What are you doing? he demanded. I'm doing what you told me to do, she snarled, prepared to mutiny on the spot, if it came to that. Their unattended yacht floated away from the dock, while they nearly came to blows.
They've been at sea too long, someone observed.
Not at all, someone else said. The problem is, they never went to sea together when it counted - before they got hitched.
One morning recently, as a sailboat pushed its way across East Penobscot Bay in fog, wind, and rain, the watch on deck (actually the whole ship's complement, Vineyarders all) chatted happily beneath the dodger that failed to keep out the spray and rain. The hours passed harmoniously. Whatever navigation or other work there was to be done, they did it cheerfully. They took the helm in turns, they did duty as lookouts. They found their marks. In port, later in the day, watching over the drying laundry, the company, a "fellowship in the craft and mystery of the sea," as Conrad put it, and good shipmates every one, reflected on the success of their cruise.