How we made “The Marriage Test” Book News

One night a bunch of nights ago, we met up with friends at a bar on 14th Street in D.C. and told them our idea: We were going to build a series of dating challenges to decide if we were truly right for each other. Most of our crew that night were in similar life situations—seriously dating, open to marriage but unsure how their relationship would evolve over the next couple decades.

We ran down the dates we’d come up with so far—a night of speed dating, a weekend borrowing each other’s phones, plans to meet up with our exes.

“How did you even come up with this,” one of them asked. It’s a question we’ve heard a lot since that night and now, with “The Marriage Test” nearing publication we can answer with an excerpt:

BROOK: The idea came to us on a sunny summer evening after work, in a rented kayak on the Potomac River. It was one of those warm and easy days—good weather, good jobs, good health—the kind of perfect moment we’re all dumb enough to think might last forever if we just keep waiting for the right person. Or, if we’re sick of waiting, it’s the kind of blue-sky day that tricks an incompatible couple into saying “I do.”

In the distance the sun was setting on our adopted city, the sky around the Washington Monument turning a burnt orange. We had been together a year in this new relationship and it seemed to be headed somewhere serious. But before we took that big step toward forever, maybe we should make sure this time really was different. Maybe we should make sure we weren’t avoiding or ignoring something important.

“What if we made like an obstacle course of challenges to see if we’d be good at being married?” Jill suggested.

“That would be hilarious. We could borrow a baby for the weekend and see if it survived.”

“What if we went on a date with our exes?”

“Oh my God, that would be so awkward,” I said.

“Do you think they’d do it? Don’t all your exes hate you?”

“At least one of them doesn’t,” I joked. Jill dipped her oar against the current and splashed me across the face.

It sounded like the kind of fun, quirky adventure we’d always been good at. And honestly, at the time, we were naïve enough to think we’d pass with flying colors. We got out of the kayak, grabbed our phones, and typed out as many of the ideas as we could remember.

Swap credit cards for a month.

Spend a week grading each other’s performance in the bedroom.

Trade phones for a weekend.

Over the next few weeks we asked friends and family to contribute date ideas. We defined “date” liberally; any activity they thought would help us reach a decision was fair game, and their suggestions seemed to cover every possible pitfall. The ideas also seemed to reveal a lot about their own relationships: a recently engaged woman kept suggesting more adventurous sex, my chronically single coworker was fixated on in-laws, and a married friend who was about to become a dad seemed to suggest we should see other people. We scaled down his idea and turned it into our first activity: speed dating.

We realized pretty quickly that they were more than funny stunts. The dates would help force the “should we or shouldn’t we” decision we had continued to put off. They would help us understand if our relationship was built to last by actively simulating the strains of marriage.

Most of the ideas fell into a handful of thematic buckets, so we started to group them and soon found ourselves with ten categories, a kind of Daters’ Decathlon. And then we gave our Marriage Test the ultimate stakes. If it went well, we’d spend our lives together. If not, we were done for good.

It took us a year to finish all 40 dates. Then another year to finish the book. But three weeks from today we’ll finally get to share it with you all and we can’t wait.