May 30, 2024

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Those TikTok Relationship “Tests” Can Be Fun… & Also Toxic

There was a time last year when TikTok brimmed with women putting their partners through “the bird test.” The gist: If you point out something pretty mundane but interesting to you (like a bird) and your partner shows interest, they’re a keeper. But if they don’t pay attention to you, well, that must mean they suck and maybe you should look for a new partner, right?

The bird test is one of a slew of relationship trends on the platform that encourage women to “test” their partners in all sorts of weird ways, including everything from the Barbie test, which inspired women to dump their partners if they didn’t embrace the film’s feminist theme, to the Beckham test, which prompted TikTokers to dance along to “Island in the Streams” and record their partner’s reaction. If their partner joined in, great! If not, you can probably guess where this is going.

By now, we know social media scrollers love a good trend, but we also know that TikTok is hit-or-miss when it comes to life advice. So, while engaging in these tests might be “fun,” do they really count as a litmus test for our relationships?

Are these tests beneficial?

It depends on how you look at it, according to one expert.

“It’s pretty attractive to think that there’s a simple litmus test to do. It makes compatibility-seeking seem easier than it might actually be,” Dr. Carol Queen, PhD, sociologist and in-house sexologist for Good Vibes, tells Scary Mommy. “But learning truly good communication skills, self-awareness and self-esteem, and watching the way a person’s ability to connect and care for you matches your relationship desires is a safer way to determine such things — plus ​a way better foundation for going forward as partners, if that’s what you decide to do. There will be a lot of things to confer about as you walk down the road of life that don’t have a lil’ test associated with them.”

Why are we so obsessed with these tests?

Because we are obsessed with relationships.

“Our society places a great deal of significance on relationships and the right kind of relationships. And relationships (especially when this kind of pressure exists to be in one) sometimes do not meet our expectations, which can be pretty rose-colored,” Queen shares. “With all the tumult we are exposed to about finding ‘the One,’ a notion that I consider sometimes harmful and toxic since it reduces the work of a relationship to a kind of mystical notion, it’s not surprising that we would look for signals that we are making the right choice in partners.”

However, she says, this testing focus can itself be extremely problematic. “Instead of being present in the relationship and focusing on awareness of compatibility and — even before that stage — reflecting on what our needs and desires are vis-a-vis a partner, we get quick and simple tests and advice from ‘experts’ that we often cannot vet,” she says. “[These tests] are really not a substitute for learning top-notch communications skills or seeing a couple’s counselor or coach to evaluate compatibility, values, etc.”

Further still, Queen says these relationship “tests” symbolize how influencer culture can slide right into our psychological DMs to make it seemingly simple to tell whether or not we have the “right” kind of relationship or that we have found “the One.”

Are these tests accurate?

Let’s call a spade a spade: it’s a TikTok trend. How deep can it be? In Queen’s opinion, the tests don’t go far enough, and she says if she found herself subject to a “test” that “all my girlfriend’s friends were also doing with their partners, I might be pretty pissed.”

Queen explains that this type of TikTok test is “sort of the opposite of trying to learn a lot about a person’s character via a process of building communication and intimacy.”

While she thinks the “bird test” is good for promoting the idea that someone we’re dating or committing to takes our communication and POV seriously, Queen is reluctant to think this “Oh, a bird!” strategy will yield a result you haven’t already gotten a hint of in communicating with the person.

“A first date-level thing, maybe? But people are showing you their character, personality, and communication skills all the time, and we should always be paying attention to those messages,” she says.

Queen also points out the level of nuance that should be assessed when taking these tests, sharing a comment on the bird TikTok she watched, which read: “My partner has ADHD; I don’t think it applies.”

“That’s a really salient point because there are lots of ways to communicate and interact,” she explains. “Neurodivergence is one pretty common factor that might change someone’s response from what’s expected, but I want to again note that ‘as expected’ might not be the way to evaluate people! If someone really wants a ‘normative’ relationship, it’s their right to have this kind of preference, of course. But I do not love the idea of TikTok training us in what is normative.”

How can these tests affect your relationship?

According to Queen, doing these tests could make a partner feel scrutinized and mistrusted, which won’t likely improve the relationship. She also says it can make the test-giver focus on something specific that, in the scheme of things, “might be really quite irrelevant, and hence be a red herring.”

For example, it could probably make a caring person having a stressful day look like they don’t care, or like the Barbie variant, it uses a piece of big-budget Hollywood entertainment as #relationshipgoals. And if that kind of pop feminism is centered in someone’s cultural sights, Queen agrees that “talking about it would likely yield some info about whether the person you’re dating sees the world the same way.”

However, “many happy couples disagree about a lot of things, and I think it’s a personality/maturity thing to keep some space in a relationship for those differences. Or even to just have different opinions about a movie!”

Is there such a thing as a good test for your relationship?

A “good test” for partners will differ for different people and partners, says Queen. Her advice: “Be honest with yourself about what your relationship beliefs are. What kind of inputs built those ideals for you? Are they realistic now? Are you ready for them, in fact? And if you can’t talk at length with a partner about things like relationship needs, desires, and boundaries, as well as sexual stuff, why not?”

In fact, she explains, these tests can distract you from what’s really holding your relationship back: “Being unable to communicate well about deep stuff is a bigger red flag than failing to be deeply charmed when you glimpse a bird.”

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