I once had a co-worker whose marriage wasn’t the cheeriest. One day, when I asked her some small-talkish question about how her family was doing, she gave me a surprising response: “Before you get married, do something to upset him on purpose so you can see what your husband will be like when he’s mad.”
My initial reaction, of course, was to simply feel sad for her marriage. After that, though, I reflected on her suggestion and decided that it was fundamentally flawed. While I agree that it is important to see a suitor in several circumstances, including those that might induce anger, I deeply disagree with the idea of intentionally creating an adverse situation to test a person’s response.
Remember the last time you prepared your brains out for an exam? You took practice tests, rigorously reviewed the study guide, lost sleep to go over your notes a few more times — and then the professor handed you an exam that was entirely different from what you’d expected. You knew the material inside and out, but you flopped because your inept professor didn’t give you a proper heads-up for what would be on the test.
Creating tests for a date puts them in this exact same situation. Your date shows up thinking his or her only task is to behave charmingly, treat you kindly and enjoy getting to know you. And then you subject them to some secret test they don’t even know is impacting his or her final grade: You purposely irritate them to gauge his or her temper; you tell one of your lamest jokes to see if he or she can handle your humor; you ask your date his or her view on some esoteric political issue to test their intellect.
All that said, I do think it’s crucial to a wise marriage decision that you know all sides of a person’s character. The only fair — or accurate — way to observe a person’s character, though, is in their natural habitat under natural circumstances. And this takes a while.
I would posit that the only fair test to put to a person is the test of time. Rather than compromising your integrity by surreptitiously subjecting your date to contrived circumstances, figure out why you feel compelled to test them in the first place.
Why are you trying to rush this decision? Maybe you don’t like this person very much and just need a scape goat to blame for breaking up. Or perhaps you’re afraid because this person seems too good to be true. Or you might be afraid of leading them on or wasting his or her time. Maybe you’re uncomfortable communicating about certain issues, so you’re trying to glean information without asking difficult questions.
Understanding your motivation for creating a test is almost certainly just as important for the future of your relationship as whatever information you were hoping to discern about your date.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said it best: “If you wish to marry well, inquire well. ... There should be dating, followed by careful and thoughtful and thorough courtship. There should be ample opportunities to experience the prospective spouse’s behavior in a variety of circumstances.”
“Ample,” in case you don’t know, means “generously sufficient to satisfy a requirement or need.” By allowing for a generous sufficiency of opportunities to observe a prospective spouse’s behavior, you get to see your date’s pattern of behavior rather than just an isolated event.
Rather than subjecting your date to a slew of pop quizzes, figure out why you'd rather create a test than take ample time to get to know this person. Avoid creating tests, which will probably just taint your relationship and provide spurious results. Instead, use Elder Oaks’ method. Allow yourself to interact in a variety of situations that will draw out different aspects of your date's personality. In addition to providing more accurate information, this approach will allow you to relax and enjoy getting to know each other.
Julia Shumway grew up in Centerville, Utah and is currently studying Maternal and Child Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. Her column, “Pairing Off,” explores the intricacies of the Mormon YSA experience. She’d love for you to contact her with your dating stories, questions and complaints at firstname.lastname@example.org.