Since I was twelve or thirteen, I have been taking quizzes to find out who I really am. When I started, these questionnaires often appeared across from ads for “Love’s Fresh Lemon,” and promised to tell me whether I was “Date Bait or Total Turnoff” based on answers about my clothing, after school activities, and ability to wait until a boy called me. Lying on my flowery bedspread, I admitted to the glossy paper that I was a member of Chess Club, that I owned no “cool peasant blouses,” or “perfectly broken-in jeans,” and that I sometimes called boys I liked. I knew my answers paved the road to Total Turnoff land, but I clung to the possibility that my choices were not as blatantly nerdish as they seemed. I imagined a Personality Scientist somewhere who wrote the tests based on reams of data corresponding to each answer on the quiz. Maybe there was a high correlation between playing chess and being “Date Bait,” no matter what anybody said at school.
During college and the dating years, I was reeled in by quizzes with names like “What is Your Seduction Style?” that required data about everything from the color, cut and pattern of my underwear to my favorite vacation spot – Cancun, the French Riviera, Nantucket or Aspen. Needless to say, “a cottage in northern Michigan with your parents” was not among the choices. As I matured, secure in my ability to get a date, and even a husband (who is happy to be seduced in any style), I gravitated towards tests like “What is Your Fragrance Personality” and “What Your Favorite Breakfast Food Reveals About You.” As always, these beautifully illustrated lists of inquiring paragraphs and lettered choices promised to resolve my longstanding identity crisis based on the answers to a few, simple questions. It was therapy without the Kleenex.
In addition to magazines tests, I have recently discovered the world of the Internet quiz. Sites such as emode.com and ivillage.com tease me with the chance to discover what colors suit me best, what city reflects my personality, which character I resemble from “Friends,” what career would be most fulfilling, and whether or not I am a good friend. Not content with mere fluff anymore, I have learned my I.Q. (okay), my E.Q. (pretty good), my Stress Index (stratospheric), my Spending Style (irresponsible), and my Diet Downfalls (many).
Every time I pick up a pen or set my hand on a mouse for a round of quiz taking, I secretly hope that I am on the verge of discovering the Truth after years of spent trapped in the life of an impostor. I list my choices, fascinated to learn that I am a Romantic dresser who prefers woody fragrances, and should be living in Seattle and working as a taxidermist. With the gentle guidance of the Personality Scientist, I will finally be able to plan meals, choose sandals and pick a time for parent-teacher conferences, confident in the knowledge that every choice reflects my real personality.
The path to self-discovery, however, is not easy. A recent magazine quiz asks the following questions. For a romantic evening with my “spouse or significant other,” do I prefer: a) dinner by the fireside at a cozy, country inn, b) sushi and drinks at an exciting, new nightspot in town, or c) cuddling at home with pizza and a video? None of the answers is correct. If my husband and I drove to an inn in the country, ate dinner and drove home it would take at least eight hours, and we would exhaust our babysitting budget for 2004. Rob hates sushi, and if I have a drink I fall immediately into a deep and peaceful slumber. If we stayed home and watched a movie, the romance would be severely hampered by our ringing phone, the kid nagging us for more Axe & Abercrombie, our dogs begging for crusts and our pizza-induced acid reflux.
After a long pause, I chose the sushi option. The cozy inn in the country and the roaring fire might be seen as clichés. Choosing an evening at home, although closest to the truth, seems to label me as dull and narrow-minded. As I circled “b” on the page, I considered the fact that my inaccurate choice might totally destroy the validity of the test results created by the Personality Scientist. What if “sushi” choosers are charismatic daredevils who love to surf at dawn off Maui, and have multiple piercings? By lying, I risked getting a result that was not a true reflection of my personality, but of a cooler, better one. I may briefly enjoy tallying my points and reading that I am a “hip, happening mom who hasn’t lost her groove,” but I will know that if I had answered truthfully on question number 16, I would have discovered that I was “more Betty Crocker than bedroom bombshell.”
The truth though, is complex. Some days I am pretty hip, and some days I am Betty Crocker. As I grow older and more comfortable with myself, I more frequently ignore the Magic Quiz Answer when it doesn’t suit me. I’ll admit that I really was a “Total Turnoff,” in the eighth grade, and that my seduction style at age twenty-three genuinely was “too shy to try.” These days, though, I know that my preference for blue over yellow doesn’t really mean that I’m “a confident, enthusiastic leader.” It just means I really like blue. People who actually know me will attest that I am rarely “enthusiastic,” never “confident,” and a “leader” only under extreme duress. Perhaps some day I will meet a Personality Scientist on a plane, or see one explaining the basis of her work on “Oprah,” and I will come to understand why my preference for cheese over chocolate as a snack food means that I should be living in Utah. Until then, I will continue to take quizzes and search for my True Self. With a grain of salt and a bite of sushi.