My review of the experiment blog ’40 Days of Dating’ for the Huffington Post (12 September 2013), in which two friends try dating each other in order to attract attention, I mean, to explore their feelings and rethink their approach to relationships. It was an intriguing read, and a very nice piece of design.
So, Jessica and Timothy have finished their short, stressful attempt at dating in public. For those unfamiliar with the ‘project’, as its protagonists called it, 40 Days of Dating is a blog created by two young Manhattan-based designers, Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman, on which they publish an account of a compelling experiment. Jessica and Timothy have been friends for years but never romantically involved, and decided to try dating each other for 40 days, with each of them writing up their experiences daily on the site.
If all of this sounds like the plot of Hollywood’s latest romantic comedy, you’re not far wrong. Reports suggest film rights to the project are likely to be sold. There’ll be more than a few young starlets jostling for position in order to win the lead parts: my money is on Zooey Deschanel and Robert Pattinson.
The final entries – from day 40 – have now been posted on the blog. The experiment is over. And what have we learned? Well, first of all, the screenwriters will have to liven up the plot a little for the movie version. Because although 40 Days of Dating was an intriguing read, it was never particularly exciting. Partly, this was due to the unfortunate health problems Jessica suffered during the 40 days, but it was also a product of Jessica and Timothy being successful, well-adjusted people who approach every situation analytically.
Although constantly referring to each other as ‘crazy’, there was very little spontaneity on display – the relationship between Jessica and Timothy was as meticulously planned as their state-of-the-art web design. There were very few twists and turns in the story – nobody cheated, no jealous love rivals emerged, and there were no awkward yet hilarious encounters with each other’s parents. Self-analysis and soul-searching were the normal topics of the blog posts.
Jessica and Timothy even participated in weekly couples therapy sessions during the project, which revealed nothing more than stereotypical traits: she falls in love too quickly, he is scared of commitment. In truth, even these differences were exaggerated. Most people outside the relatively small Manhattan graphic design community would probably describe Jessica and Timothy as incredibly similar, including in their romantic backgrounds. They have the same job, in the same place, share the same friends and many of the same interests. Both have had a relatively high number of relationships (no judgement here, I promise) with a few serious ones. Timothy is probably more promiscuous, and Jessica moreready to settle down, but the differences are only of degree.
The worst thing about 40 Days of Dating was how beautiful it looked. This may seem a strange criticism, but too much beauty can get a little boring. Every post on the blog is accompanied by its own unique header, and filled with immaculate images of gifts Jessica and Timothy made or bought for each other during the project, and other pieces of dating memorabilia. In contrast, the writing itself was pedestrian.
Another criticism is the extent of product placement in the blog. The web design itself was a constant advert for the design skills of the participants – even without selling the film rights, it’s a sure thing that Jessica, Timothy and their friends will have plenty of lucrative opportunities in the design field on the back of this project. Beyond that, Jessica and Timothy name-dropped a host of New York bars, cafes and restaurants, and gave undue prominence to their design clients (especially Adobe). The giddiness Jessica and Timothy described about a trip to Disneyland was positively nauseating. In fairness, I have no idea whether any of the firms mentioned actually paid for the privilege – they got some fantastic free advertising if they didn’t.
It is hard to speculate on the true motivations of Jessica and Timothy. 40 Days of Dating certainly felt genuine as I was reading it. If it had been fake, it is safe assume they would have written a juicier plot. The underlying reality of the situation appeared fairly obvious: Jessica wanted a relationship with Timothy before the start of the project, but he didn’t feel the same way. So, they negotiated. Timothy agreed to date, on the basis that he had an easy get-out clause (the 40-day time limit) and there was an opportunity to make some money out of it. This approach might seem mercenary, but I’m sure plenty of successful relationships have less romantic origins, and at least it gave us the opportunity to watch the drama unfold.