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Many people (especially women, in my experience) like to test their romantic partners by engaging them in some interaction specifically designed to assess their character, without telling them in advance that the interaction is a test.

The most extreme example of this would be a woman testing her boyfriend by secretly asking another woman to attempt to seduce him. However, there are many much more minor examples of such tests, such as leaving a voicemail for the partner for no reason other than to see how quickly he/she will call you back.

Is this kind of testing moral? Obviously Objectivism would hold that it is moral to judge a person's character according to how he/she behaves in the course of normal interactions, but I'm asking about the propriety of deliberately creating an artificial situation or interaction specifically to test a person, without telling them in advance that it's a test.

I have always felt this practice is deceptive, untrusting and irritating, but I have difficulty saying why: after all, Objectivism says you should "judge and prepare to be judged". What do you think?

asked Nov 07 '10 at 10:20

Andrew%20M's gravatar image

Andrew M

In general, I think this is an improper way to interact with your romantic partner for a couple of reasons. The problem lies in the psychology of the woman "testing" her partner.

First, to "test" someone, in the manner you are describing, requires the woman to operate on the premise that she is at odds with her boyfriend. She must have already developed the idea or suspicion that her boyfriend is hiding something from her or is being deceptive about something.

If she truly thinks this, then she needs to examine her values. Is deceptiveness in a romantic relationship what she finds acceptable (either as an essential aspect of a relationship or a negotiable aspect of a relationship)? She needs to examine the facts. What facts support her suspicions? If she has none, then she cannot operate on this premise. Yet, if she does have valid reasons for believing her boyfriend is lying to her, or has undesirable character traits, then what is the purpose of "testing"? She either has valid reasons for thinking her boyfriend is undesirable/dishonest or she doesn't.

If she does not think her boyfriend has undesirable character traits or is not deceptive, then her actions constitute dishonest behavior. She is implying one context (a romantic relationship, and all that such a relationship implies--including admiration, respect, honesty, integrity, etc.), yet she is explicitly deceiving herself and her partner by trying to induce him to perform an immoral or undesirable action (or what she sees as immoral or undesirable).

In a sense, in both cases, her actions are contradictory. If she trusts him, she has no need to test him. If she doesn't trust him, the testing does not really mean anything. How do you trust a person whom you think is dishonest to begin with? How do you "test" a person whom you think is dishonest to the point where you can't discover his character traits by direct communication and observation? Incidentally, I think this leads to more than one instance of "testing".

In practice, I've seen this and experienced it. A woman does not leave just one voicemail or set up one "test" scenario. She will do it multiple times, over time. She will wait to see if you open the door for her over a course of weeks or months, not telling you that this is a concrete example of what she regards as "gentlemanly", a value she desires. Instead, she will see if this is part of your natural behavior. If it isn't, she becomes angry that you did not know her wants in advance. She will wait to see if you pay the bill at dinner. She may even attempt to pay first, to see if you will insist that you pay for her. Secretly, she wants you to pay, but she won't just come right out and say that. Her deceptiveness and genuine distrust of your character festers inside of her and replaces open and honest communication about her wants, desires, and concerns.

If she does not think that open and honest communication will work, or that she cannot observe a man's actions without manipulating him, then the relationship is already over. Continuing to put up a "front" by not telling her boyfriend that she distrusts his explicit actions and words is dishonest (dishonest at the very least with herself), which is immoral.

answered Nov 08 '10 at 10:55

David%20Lewis's gravatar image

David Lewis ♦

edited Nov 08 '10 at 19:26

Excellent answer, David, thanks very much!

(Nov 08 '10 at 18:51) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image

I think the fault lies in the inability of the, let's say woman, to know her own mind. What is really to be learned from any such "test?" The person who thinks this manner of learning about her boyfriend is useful really needs to do a lot of soul-searching about whom they find attractive and why. It seems, overall, to be an adolescent tactic.

answered Nov 07 '10 at 14:20

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

In general, I think this kind of "testing" is ill-advised and not healthy. Certainly, if some significant deception is involved in order to do the test, I think it's wrong.

In some cases, minor tests can be fine. For example, once I had a bit of a fight with a girlfriend over the phone. The next time we saw each other, I brought it up to make sure everything was OK. She then mentioned that she deliberately had waited a little before bringing it up herself, to see if I would bring it up. That kind of thing is fine. But there's no deception involved there.

answered Nov 08 '10 at 03:29

jasoncrawford's gravatar image

jasoncrawford ♦

Thanks Jason; yes, I agree.

I actually don't think the scenario you describe is even a test in the sense I mean: in that case, your girlfriend was seeing how you would react in an existing situation, not artificially creating a situation to test you. That's perfectly fine, as far as I'm concerned: as you say, there's no deception involved there.

(Nov 08 '10 at 18:54) Andrew M Andrew%20M's gravatar image

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Asked: Nov 07 '10 at 10:20

Seen: 2,511 times

Last updated: Nov 08 '10 at 19:26