There they were, sleep deprived, one eye open between the two of them, and up once again in the middle of the night. Brook Silva-Braga and Jill Andres were in the middle of one of their “dates” – 40 activities they set up to prepare themselves mentally, physically and emotionally for marriage – and it was starting to wear on them. This was date #8, called “Sounds Like a Newborn,” and the alarm was going off at 3am to get them out of bed to feed and bathe… a watermelon.
It might sound crazy, but the results are happy: midway through their test, Brook and Jill got engaged. Now, they’re happily married and have written a relationship memoir, The Marriage Test, recording their experience. The dates covered ten different areas, ranging from “Trust,” where one of their dates was going to the same speed dating event and watching each other interact with other people who were interested in them; to “Money,” where they swapped credit cards for a month; to “Kids,” where they borrowed a real baby for a weekend and pretended to care for the aforementioned sleepless watermelon for a week. In “In-Laws,” Portsmouth-native Brook and Jill visited their future in-laws separately to have candid conversations about their families and partners. In “Communication,” they spent a week being silent, and then later recorded their conversations so they could go back and examine what they thought they were saying in comparison to what they were actually saying.
Throughout the book, Brook and Jill are candid about difficult topics: their sex lives, their deepest fears, how they want to handle end-of-life choices, their hesitations about building a life together on top of their rocky four-year relationship. The Marriage Test is written in alternating first-person accounts of each date: Jill gives her version of the events, and Brook responds with his feelings, or the other way around. From the first page it’s clear that the two are taking a healthy, if nontraditional, look at their relationship, but their love for each other is so evident that the reader can’t help but cheer for them from date one. We sat down with Brook and Jill to discuss writing, love and, of course, the Patriots.
At what point in the test did you decide you were going to write this book?
Jill: It was fairly early on in the project. We came up with this test for ourselves, and shared the idea with some family and friends. We got such excitement, enthusiasm and positive feedback that we thought ‘hmm, maybe this is something that other people would find interesting.’
You two get really personal in this memoir. Were there any off limits topics?
J: For the most part, we didn’t set any limits. The only area that we were sensitive about is the sex chapter. We shared a lot, but we didn’t get too gratuitous.
Brook: No rules. I came to believe that as personal as the book is, we weren’t disclosing any earth-shattering things about ourselves. These are problems that will be familiar to many if not most couples. That made it easier to share.
You solicit a lot of opinions from your friends and family in this book. How did it feel to open your relationship up to that kind of scrutiny from other people?
B: The biggest instance of that was the writing of the book, where we laid it out in one place. Otherwise I didn’t feel too concerned about sharing with our friends.
J: I wasn’t so concerned by sharing with our friends – our closest friends knew some of these things already. I was a little more hesitant about sharing some of our thoughts with our families. In the end, they read the book and we talked with them about it and they were supportive and excited for us. It’s worked out well.
Were you more concerned about your parents or your in-laws reading the book?
J: My dad said he wasn’t going to read the sex chapter. He skipped that one.
B: It’s a necessary evil. Once we decided to do the project at all, we agreed that it only made sense to do it all the way. We couldn’t write a relationship book that didn’t involve the intimate parts of our relationship. We committed to that early, and we followed through with it.
J: It got easier the more we wrote. It felt more natural to share. And of course our story has a happy ending – we knew that what we were writing wasn’t a painful breakup story. We knew it was a happy success story.
Brook, what Rhode Island things have you introduced California native Jill to? Would it have been a dealbreaker if she didn’t like calamari?
B: Even beyond the book, we’ve had a longstanding state rivalry out of her California heritage. She sometimes likes to play the size card. It’s been a long education process. Jill now knows a lot of Rhode Island stuff. We’ve come a long way from Jill once attempting to explain to someone that Rhode Island is a series of islands.
J: I thought it was! He lives on an island!
B: I had to explain to her that actually most of it is connected to Massachusetts and Connecticut.
So Jill, do you like it here now?
J: I love it. My mom is from New Hampshire, so in a lot of ways, it feels familiar to me because I spent so much time in the area growing up visiting family. I love having my New England home now.
Is this an issue on football Sundays in particular? How do you handle sports rivalries in your house?
B: This is a good indication of Jill’s commitment to our relationship and to New England, because she has adopted the Patriots. She’s basically forsaken her 49ers.
J: I did. I kept my love of the San Francisco Giants for baseball. The Red Sox are now my American League team. It works for me. I can do both.
B: The concession I’ve made is that I will root for the Giants... provided they aren’t playing the Red Sox.
The Marriage Test is available from local booksellers. Curious couples can visit www.TheMarriageTestBook.com to take a quiz and see if the test is right for them.