The Marshmallow Test

In the Stanford marshmallow experiment, young children were placed alone in a room with a single marshmallow. They were told that if they left the marshmallow alone until the experimenter returned, they would receive two marshmallows. Further studies indicated that children that could delay gratification had better life outcomes in terms of educational attainment and other life measurements.

If I had been administered the marshmallow test as a child by an absent-minded researcher, I would probably still be sitting in that 70s-themed room waiting for the return of the person in the white lab coat.

But is that a good thing?

Are there times when we are better off enjoying the single marshmallow rather than waiting for the promise of two?

I don’t know how I would label this trait in myself. I’m not sure if it is willpower, stubbornness or a fear of not playing by the rules. Probably a bit of all three. Regardless of its origin, I have never had trouble slogging through the muck to get to a goal. I might detour and I’ll certainly complain at times, but I will get there.

In my former life, this trait was put to the test many times. I drug myself through grad school for the promise of an increased salary that would benefit us both (or so I thought). I lived with a decaying deck for over 8 years until we had saved (or so I thought) to build our dream deck. I put off trips so that we could save money (or so I thought). I worked extra jobs, often tutoring 20 hours a week, to help save money for our future (or so I thought). I made sacrifices for the betterment of the marriage (or so I thought).

I was okay ignoring the single marshmallows on the table, confident that the promised two would soon be coming.

Except they never did.

While I was waiting, my ex, who I thought was waiting with me, was raiding the marshmallow stores. When I discovered his multiple betrayals and deceptions, part of my anger was that he was doing those things while I was making sacrifices. I gave and he stole.

As a result of all of this, I’ve changed my approach a bit. I am much more likely to balance decisions between the future and the present. I have learned how to spend money instead of squirreling it all away. I have learned how to enjoy the present instead of always waiting for the future. But I also haven’t really been tested. I’ve been able to live more for today, since my tomorrows have been so unknown.

I’m being tested right now.

I know part of it is that I’m a bit grumpy and frustrated over recent events. We usually go camping over spring break, but Brock had to be out of town for business. Then, strep throat cut short my Asheville trip. We were supposed to be camping this weekend, but this time weather foiled our plans. Hell, even the festival last weekend was impacted by my ex’s unexpected appearance. I’m whiny. I’m pouty. I feel like a kid proclaiming that it’s not fair. All I want is a trip. A break. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or prolonged. Just time away.

So, coming from that place and looking forward to the approaching summer, I brought up the idea of summer getaways with Brock over breakfast yesterday.

It was not the conversation I expected.

He kind of snapped.

He told me that he didn’t have time for trips. That just because I was off work, it didn’t mean that he was. He started talking about the house we intend to buy this fall and the need to save. Underlying these words is the pressure he feels as the primary provider and soon-to-be first time husband to support his family. In his job, unlike mine, more hours and more travel usually equate to a larger paycheck. He is currently choosing to sacrifice time for money for our future.

But he also said he understood my past and my fear of waiting for a future that never occurs.

It ended up being a really good conversation, even though I hate it when I realize how much my past still impacts me. So much of this comes down to trust. I have to trust that he isn’t stealing the marshmallows from behind my back. I have to trust that the promised time and trips will occur after the house has been purchased. I have to trust that we’re in this together.


Why is this so hard?

How do I find that balance between waiting and living? Learning from my past and being limited by my past? Trusting and being?

I am ready for a home. I have tired of my nomadic existence over the past four years. I yearn for a place to put down roots and a garden for them to spread. I have only recently allowed myself to get excited about the prospect, however.  Even as I have directed funds towards a down payment, the future home seems like a mirage that will disappear before it becomes reality.

I need to trust.

I can wait for the promised two marshmallows, trusting that they will be there. Trusting that Brock will be there.

Thank you for sharing!

7 thoughts on “The Marshmallow Test

  1. I don’t like commenting when I am not familiar with a person. But if he snaps and complains he doesn’t have time, when will he give you time?? I am familiar because I worked two jobs for over ten years to pay his debt, even got money from a family business I used to pay his bills. When the money ran out so did he. Maybe Brock had a lot on his mind, but I would probably run (just from experience)! My prayers are with you.

    1. That’s my fear since that’s basically what my ex did, but that’s not the current reality. He snapped because he’s feeling overwhelmed. We then had a great hour + conversation prior to spending an entire day together. He has been amazing and so patient as I work through the poisons from my past.

  2. I went to work, parented the kids, house cleaning, shopping, laundry, etc., etc., Also took night classes to get ahead, provide us with a better future, etc., but he was messing around with the neighbor.

    Feel so lonely. Talk a lot more to the dog and cat. I go to the store or the library. Can’t do to much because of health issues, but it seems such a strange way of life. I keep thinking things will get better and then they do, and then they don’t. Like living in a swamp and I keep going under.

    All the lies – God how I hate lies and lies and lies. ?All those years for nothing?

  3. Know what is funny, woman I know who treat their husbands like crap, expecting them to bring home all the bacon because any money they make they keep, they don’t do housework and expect to be treated like princesses are still married. Their husbands adore them. Woman who work their butts off, do all housework, and never complain get dumped to the curve. My therapist has recommended a book ‘Why Men Love Bitches’, I will definitely read before my next relationship (if I ever do have one, stupid me still loves the jerk!)

  4. Perfect article for me this morning.

    I feel at times I sacrificed so much of me for our family. When my x-wife’s mother was ill for almost 2yrs; I gave up a lot of me for the family. Took a lower paying job to be close to home, did all her normal chores the best I could, plus mine and helped our daughters with homework. I even took her mother to doctors appointments….etc. She passed away and a few months later, I found a new job doubled my income hired a maid to help her out.

    Then only to find out several months later that she hadn’t been taking care of her mother as much as she had been saying…. rather her co-worker.

    I was the waiting for that 1970’s researcher to come back; so I could get the 2nd marshmallow! Put off trips, anniversaries and so much more…

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