Brook Silva-Braga messed up: He cheated on his live-in girlfriend, Jill Andres — “the real-life version of a romantic comedy leading lady,” the one who never complained, the woman who was game to go whitewater rafting in Uganda.
But in their new co-written memoir, “The Marriage Test,” he claims that both of them created the problems in their relationship, arguing a la Bruno Kirby in “When Harry Met Sally” that cheating was just a symptom. (We can’t print Billy Crystal’s response in a newspaper. Suffice it to say: Once you cheat, it’s on you.)
Andres writes that she was so determined to be the adventurous, low-maintenance, sports-loving girlfriend that she was afraid to mention the things that bugged her. And as we learned from “Gone Girl,” (in addition to never, ever making a scavenger hunt for an anniversary), that girl doesn’t actually exist.
Many weeks of therapy later, Silva-Braga and Andres got back together. But they harbored nagging doubts: Were they still the “commitment-averse guy and no-demands girl” who imploded the first time? And how do you know a relationship is going to make it through the tough stuff: money trouble, kids, chores, sexual issues?
Instead of a scavenger hunt, they create an obstacle course: 40 dates that would simulate life’s rough patches — from sky diving to spending 24 hours handcuffed together. They even exchange cellphones and go snooping. They borrow a friend’s baby overnight, earning bonus points for navigating breakfast in a restaurant. And, of course, as part of the social-media generation, they document everything and draft their friends — and exes! — as participants.
When it comes to subjecting themselves to a week of sleep deprivation, Andres writes, “We needed a baby to take care of but didn’t want to traumatize an actual child, so we adopted a twelve-pound watermelon and named her ‘Mel.’ ” They set a random alarm to go off three times a night and do chores picked out of a bowl. “When we asked friends with children for suggestions, they mostly involved vomit, so at the end of some tasks we were required to take a shower.”
The results are sometimes unflatteringly illuminating. When they exchange credit cards for a month, Silva-Braga goes on a spending spree, buying two winter coats, a custom suit and “a million rounds of golf.” Andres, meanwhile, eats yogurt and agonizes about whether she should take a cab on his dime.
They also make a horror film: Silva-Braga, a documentarian who once worked at The Washington Post, records an argument and they watch it together.
Some of the dates in “The Marriage Test” seem more likely to offer insights than others. A candid look at your partner’s finances makes good sense. Talking honestly about dividing chores so that a puddle of gunk doesn’t take up residence on your apartment floor for a month seems preferable to letting the resentment, and microbes, build until your neighbors call in a hazmat team.
But under no circumstances should you force your friends to role-play you onstage or fill out a survey on your relationship: For one, your friends have their own lives. Second, although you are no doubt an adorable couple, you may be slightly less fascinating than you think.
As the story goes on, it becomes apparent that this dating decathlon is geared toward one partner in particular: Andres loves organization and data and challenges. As a self-help book, “The Marriage Test” has a limited shelf life. As a 240-page love letter, it’s rather sweet.
And although I don’t want to give away the ending, I have a prediction: Someone, somewhere is going to option this as a romantic comedy.
Yvonne Zipp is a writer in Boston.
By Jill Andres and Brook Silva-Braga
Berkley. 240 pp. Paperback, $16