In Today’s column in the Star, I explain why the first fifteen minutes of any relationship is the most important…

Like most women in America, much of what I know I learned from watching Oprah.

I learned, for example, because Oprah said so, that how you treat the actual cash money in your wallet tends to mirror your general attitude toward handling your finances. As someone who keeps currency and receipts scrunched into tiny clumps stuffed in her wallet, and also organizes tax records by leaving piles of paper all over the house that make perfect sense until the cat scrambles them chasing a dust-ball or a forgotten pile emerges from under the sofa with really juicy deductions from tax year 2009, I recognize that there may be some truth in this. Besides, that Oprah knows money.

I learned from Oprah that Tom Cruise is prone to fits of irrational relationship exuberance, that vast wealth cannot buy permanent weight loss, and that while a live studio audience may enjoy viewing Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts in the flesh, nothing excites them more than a goodie bag full of complimentary swag cherry-picked from the list of Oprah’s Favorite Things.

I also learned that the true mark of a best friend is one who will give you your own spin-off television series, and why mine hasn’t done so is among the many disappointments in our longtime friendship, along with her persistent need to remain younger and thinner than I am.

But one of the most useful things I learned on Oprah was this: A person will tell you everything you need to know about your future relationship within the first 15 minutes of meeting you. Not only have I found this “FirstFifteen” rule to be true for friendship and romance, it has been extremely useful in business as well.

For example, I once hired an employee who was late for her first day of work, calling breathlessly from the road to report that she crashed her car. “I don’t want you to think I’m the kind of person who has accidents and is late for work,” she apologized, assuring me that “this has never happened to me before.” Two years, three cars, and multiple vehicular incidents later, I should have known from the “FirstFifteen” how it was all going to go down.

The annals of dating are rife with similar examples. A person who answers their cell phone or sends text messages during the “FirstFifteen” of a date will never make time for the relationship. A person who can never find your phone number or remember making plans is not going to become “less” forgetful. On the plus side, a person who can make you laugh during the “FirstFifteen” might just keep you smiling for a lifetime.

Occasionally you hear about couples who have a disastrous “FirstFifteen” but go on to marry. To them I say: you must have heard “something” intriguing in those “FirstFifteen,” or else you go to extreme lengths to overcome a bad first impression.

One caveat to the “FirstFifteen” rule is the Too Good to be True (TG2BT) exception. If during the “FirstFifteen” with a potential contractor you receive a long list of promised deliverables at bargain prices on an impossible timeframe, you are guaranteed never to hear from them again. And if the “FirstFifteen” of a date consists of someone with whom you “just click” explaining why you are perfect for each other while trying to book the second date, you might as well start drafting the restraining order now.

The reality is, though, no matter how disturbing the revelations during the “FirstFifteen,” it’s hard to heed the danger signs. We want to believe that his failure to bring a wallet to dinner doesn’t mean that he is cheap or broke, that bad taste can be re-educated, and that there is some very good reason why she was married three times before the age of 30.

Still — and this is key — if a person makes a flat-out confession to you during the “FirstFifteen” which you are tempted to doubt (“you won’t believe this, but my last boyfriend thought I was too clingy;” “I don’t seem to be able to hang onto a girlfriend for more than a month;” “My mother is my best friend”) do yourself a favor: believe them. But chances are that you will not, because you once knew a girl who had a college roommate who married a guy who had been divorced three times because he traveled constantly for work, but then he met the friend’s roommate and they fell in love and he started telecommuting and they just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.

I have reached the conclusion that we spend the “FirstFifteen” minutes of any relationship learning everything we need to know about a person and the balance of the relationship trying to rationalize why those things are not a problem. And if that information proves useful to you in the future, I hope you’ll remember: you learned it from reading Laura.