I Use the ‘Bird Test’ to Find Deeper Relationships, Cut Out One-Sided Ones

For a huge chunk of my life, I didn’t know what a true friend looked like. I just gravitated towards people who were bubbly, shared my sense of humor, or had the same complaints about our jobs or childhoods.

This was not a foolproof strategy, at least not for making meaningful connections. Over time, I found that the peppy friends could be flaky, the funny friends could be dismissive, and the friends who asked for daily support could vanish once greener pastures appeared (aka, they got a boyfriend).

It wasn’t until I read about “bids” that I realized how to spot a quality relationship.

In a 2014 article from “The Atlantic,” writer Emily Esfahani Smith shared a simple yet potent tip from psychology researchers Drs. John and Julie Gottman, based on research they did on newlyweds in the 1990s.

“Bids” are requests for attention, and can be as simple and seemingly insignificant as one person saying “Look at that bird!” In a happy, long-lasting relationship, the partner would respond by looking out the window and commenting on the bird.

Now known on TikTok as the “bird test,” this tip is being used to subtly check on the reciprocity of all kinds of relationships, from romantic partnerships to friendships.

As someone who’s relied on it for a decade, I give the bird test an A++, because it finally helped me sort out the worthwhile relationships in my life.

It quickly shows me if I’m valued

Ok, so I don’t consciously approach every relationship ready to test a person, ruthlessly severing ties the moment they miss my bid. It’s more that I try to sprinkle in more details about myself, especially lighter topics like my hobbies.

When I meet a lot of new potential friends at once, paying attention to bids helps me figure out who’s worth investing time in. The people who demonstrate curiosity and enthusiasm about subjects they know nothing about are the ones I prioritize in getting to know more.

Over time, it’s shown me that true friendships aren’t built on how much you have in common or how often you see each other. I have friends I rarely talk to due to us living far away and having vastly different schedules — but when we do catch up, it always feels electrically mutual.

Bids even made me appreciate my partner more, because he always digs deeper when I bring up a topic and remembers small details I’d completely forgive him for forgetting.

I’ve distanced myself from draining relationships

To make room for fulfilling new friendships, I had to de-prioritize — and sometimes even cut out — ones that I realized were one-sided.

Because I have strong people-pleasing tendencies (sorry, I’m working on it!), I lived a lot of my life thinking that being a close friend meant always listening and offering support. But it left me quietly depleted and resentful, wondering why the people who could vent to me for hours never bothered to ask me one question after I hit a career milestone or went on a long vacation.

The bids are not hard-and-fast tests: sometimes, a friend might be too distracted, depressed, or just pumped about their own news to notice a bid.

But if the dynamic is consistent, it’s a sign that I’m outgrowing a friendship. It doesn’t mean I necessarily write someone off completely, but it tells me to give less of myself to a relationship that feels uneven.

It makes me a better partner and friend, too

I now pay a closer mind to other people’s bids as well — especially if they involve topics that I can’t directly relate to.

It’s taught me to zoom in on a small detail in someone’s life, ask deeper questions about it, and bring it up the next time I see them rather than just passively nodding along until I get to talk.

For example, a friend got really into a popular fantasy-romance novel — a genre I never read and knew nearly nothing about. But when she excitedly talked about it, I asked more questions and eventually read (and loved) the series, too. Listening to her bid brought us closer.

I also try to catch myself when my fiancé tries to tell me about an article he read and I’m too glued to a screen to fully hear him. I’ll apologize, put my phone down, and lean into the conversation.

Mutual respect and interest in each other is a cornerstone of healthy relationships. Noticing bids can even mitigate conflict because it reminds you that you’re two different people — each deserving of the other’s undivided attention.