Does Your Relationship Pass The 'Bird Test'?

Here's what the viral TikTok trend means — and what it may say about your partner.
The "bird test" -- which concerns what are known as bids in a relationship -- can tell you a lot about your partnership, according to social media users.
Tim Robberts via Getty Images
The "bird test" -- which concerns what are known as bids in a relationship -- can tell you a lot about your partnership, according to social media users.

TikTok is once again validating our relationships... or maybe exposing them.

As folks assess their partners using the ”orange peel theory” ― which measures how willing your partner is to perform small gestures for you ― another concept has gained popularity on the social media platform in recent weeks: the bird test. The idea is to examine how your partner reacts to you talking about something seemingly insignificant, like a bird outside your window.

As TikTok user @alyssacardib put it, the bird test “states that if you’re with someone... romantic or not, if you say something that could be deemed insignificant, and your partner responds with genuine curiosity,” it’s “a really good sign that your relationship will last a long time.”

Basically, your partner’s interest in what you have to say could be telling. Does your significant other actually engage with your apparently trivial comment, or do they dismiss or ignore you? If it’s the former, then congratulations: The internet believes you to be in a strong relationship. If it’s the latter, your relationship might be in trouble.

The test is actually connected to research conducted by the Gottman Institute, which asserts that healthy couples are constantly making and accepting “bids” to and from each other. Bids are defined as “the fundamental unit of emotional communication.” Think of them as requests to connect, whether they involve a physical touch, verbal cues or any other type of expression (like wanting to talk about birds).

“I would say that the bird test is a sort of bid,” Georgina Sturmer, a registered counselor at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, told HuffPost. “After all, the motivation behind it isn’t about drawing our partner’s attention to our interest in [bird-watching]. It’s driven by a desire to see whether they are paying attention to what we have to say. And then noticing whether they ‘acknowledge,’ ‘ignore’ or ‘reject’ our bid ― to use Gottman’s terminology.”

The original TikTok video from @alyssacardib concerned her relationship with a friend, not a romantic partner. But even the Gottman study can be applied to non-romantic relationships. Bids (if not necessarily birds) are fundamental when connecting with other people, period.

The importance of bids in a relationship

According to the Gottman research, a bid can take many different forms, but they all have the same goal: to connect to another person. Overall, the idea is that a healthy, successful relationship involves a lot of bids that are received with appreciation and reciprocated often.

“These are the little exchanges that allow partners to become closer to one another,” said relationship coach Sidhharrth Kumaar. “Underlying needs and desires are frequently reflected in bids which one is not able to express in words.”

What’s more, Kumaar said, the acceptance of a bid will help partners “feel heard and important.”

Bids can be verbal and nonverbal, whether they take the form of observations, feelings, thoughts or other kinds of interactions. Verbal bids include invitations to enjoy a cup of coffee together, for example. They may also include invitations to chat about something mundane, like you see in the bird test.

Nonverbal bids, on the other hand, may take the form of facial expressions (blowing a kiss, smiling); affectionate touching (a back rub, a kiss, a squeeze); playful touching (dancing); affiliating gestures (opening a door, offering someone a chair); or vocalizations (laughing, grunting).

Your partner’s reactions to the behaviors can ― at least in your mind ― indicate how your partner feels about you, and can affect the way you act in turn.

Experts say the "bird test" doesn't necessarily indicate whether your relationship is trouble, but there are ways to bring up issues you have with the "results" to your partner or friend.
Willie B. Thomas via Getty Images
Experts say the "bird test" doesn't necessarily indicate whether your relationship is trouble, but there are ways to bring up issues you have with the "results" to your partner or friend.

Can the bird test really indicate whether a relationship is doomed to fail?

“I think what’s interesting about the bird test is that it highlights the importance of everyday interactions,” Sturmer said. “[It highlights] the importance of being attentive and appreciative of each other’s insights and opinions. In our busy, everyday lives, we are so used to making plans and debriefing each other on our days and organizing things that sometimes we forget how to just ‘be’ with each other.”

The viral trend, Sturmer said, also points to our need as humans to actually connect with each other ― whether on a romantic level or not ― and how that desire requires an effort to move away from complacency.

Kumaar was careful to note that although the bird test might carry some significance, it shouldn’t be used as the only measure for a successful relationship.

“A ‘failed’ outcome in this test should be used as an indicator for the need of rejuvenating the emotional bond in a relationship and working on re-establishing the ‘Cupid vibes,’” Kumaar said. “It may serve as a tool to do a course correction, more than clipping the wings of a relationship and breaking it up.”

Sturmer agreed with that assessment, noting how the test offers more of an indicator of how much attention we are paying each other.

“It reminds us to ask ourselves if we are trying to stay connected, and if this feels like a relationship that will endure,” she said. “If not, are we prepared to put in the work to make it happen?”

How can I bring up the bird test to my partner or friend?

For starters, simply talking about the spread of the idea on social media may facilitate a conversation about the importance of bids in a relationship.

If this is an issue you want to address, Sturmer recommended using “I statements” when explaining how exactly you’re feeling and what you are thinking about ― especially if you’ve tried the bird test on the other person already.

“After all, there’s a risk that they might feel as if you’re putting them on the spot, testing them and accusing them of something,” she said. “If you explain things from your perspective, it takes away any sense of blame and helps see things from your point of view.”

So, instead of pointing out the fact that the other person hasn’t technically “passed” the test, you may want to tell your partner how their lack of a response when you put out a bid made you feel.

Kumaar also advised to pay attention to the environment where you’re starting the conversation.

“Don’t bring it up all of a sudden, out of the blue,” Kumaar said. “It is imperative and essential to introduce it in normal flow of conversation. The more normal one is and keep the things simple, the responses will be more genuine and authentic in nature.”

Finally, don’t get discouraged. An approach as easy and funny as the bird test shouldn’t be taken as a make-or-break issue. Rather, look at it as a way to assess the strength of communication within a relationship. Which is all to say: Feel free to experiment on your partner, but if the results of the bird test aren’t what you were hoping for, make sure you’re up to doing the work of fixing the issues.

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